The smell test. Something Jogi Low and every canine in existence executes on a daily basis. How credible a piece of news, or how healthy something is, usually follows an objective examination of known facts. The facts are determined and placed in a general order to help sort out how likely it is the event in question occurs.
With that said, this has led me to attempt to sort out exactly what is going on with Arsenal’s central midfield. Here’s a brief smell test in an attempt to figure out the news surrounding the current, known transfer targets, and what it all means.
- With Jack Wilshere leaving, there are three center midfielders who are locked in for the long-term at Arsenal: Granit Xhaka (who just signed an extension late last week), Mohamed Elneny (who signed an extension at the tail-end of last season), and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (who was one of Unai Emery’s focal points during his interview for the position of head coach at Arsenal). Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while not a natural center midfielder, has been deployed in this position in the past, with varying degrees of success.
- Aaron Ramsey, another CM that Emery also feels is crucial to Arsenal’s squad, is strongly-linked to be on the verge of signing a contract extension, but has yet to do so. If he signs, that makes four true CMs locked in at the club, who are coached by a guy who prefers to have two CMs behind a 10.
- Luis Torreira has been all but confirmed by every single Italian and Uruguayan media outlet and source, but has not been announced by Arsenal. If he arrives, he will be the fifth CM in the first team.
- Unai Emery prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, which means that either Emery will field his other three CMs on the bench, or some (or all) of them will be removed altogether from the matchday selection
- The once scoffed-at rumor linking Ever Banega, a center midfielder, to Arsenal now appears to be much more serious than previously-thought. If there’s actual weight behind this rumor and he eventually arrives at Arsenal that makes six center midfielders in the first team.
All of those above are true, and yet one (or more) of them must change or be hilariously inaccurate. Emery simply can’t go into next season with at least five first-team center midfielders on long contracts, all who most likely have designs on featuring for Arsenal. Does this mean Elneny is made available, given that Xhaka signed his extension under the Emery regime and the coach apparently values Maitland-Niles? He seems to be the odd-man out in this situation, given the facts at hand.
If Ramsey signs his extension, then what does that mean for the Torreira signing (and, to be honest, vice versa – if Torreira arrives, what does that mean for a Ramsey extension)? Ramsey’s not a 10, which is why you sign a guy like Mesut Ozil. Shuffling out your two best midfielders into unnatural positions is the opposite strategy if you’re a new coach like Emery and trying to win as many matches as possible out of the gate. Torreira is a natural deep-lying midfielder that would comfortably play next to a player like Granit Xhaka, who is most effective as a guy who can quickly transition play between the back line and the attack. One of these, in theory, has to give. Unless Emery deviates from the formation he’s made his mark in coaching with. The odds are quite long with that one.
And what if the Torreira transfer, which is still not official, has broken down behind the scenes? It could be said that, if Ramsey signs, Arsenal should look elsewhere this summer. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, given the Ever Banega rumors. The club, on the surface, appears to be desperate to strengthen this area of the pitch. Maybe we’re all missing something that others are seeing clearly, but I would much rather have Aaron Ramsey than Ever Banega. Unless Ramsey has made it clear to the club that he’s not signing a contract extension, regardless of the difference in how he views his value in the transfer market versus how prospective buyers view it.
So what gives? What breaks positively, or negatively, with Arsenal when it comes to center midfield? Because, as the facts show, there’s something that’s not going to happen, or current players that won’t be around to start the new season, and it all seems a bit of a mess. The longer the Torreira situation lingers, the more doubt enters into the grand plans Emery and the executives schemed when the transfer window opened.
The smell test for Arsenal’s center midfield conundrum failed, and because of that it needs to be remediated as soon as humanly possible.