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The Arsenal Midfield: An Embarrassment of Riches

Updated on October 19, 2013
Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are all part of the creative Arsenal midfield.
Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are all part of the creative Arsenal midfield.

Who do you think is the best Arsenal midfielder?

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Last year, the Gunners had one of the strongest midfields in the league, but this season, it seems they have more than enough quality central players to fill a few top sides - all which fit into their beautiful style of passing football. With the new addition of classy German playmaker Mesut Ozil and the vast improvement of Aaron Ramsey compared to previous seasons, they seem to be real title contenders. Below I have given a summary of the 5 top centre midfielders for the Gunners.

Mesut Ozil

Ozil taking a free kick against Stoke, on his home debut.
Ozil taking a free kick against Stoke, on his home debut.

This summer, the German playmaker, 24, joined the club for £42.5 million on a five-year deal from Spanish giants Real Madrid. The transfer makes him the most expensive German player of all time.

He is hailed across Europe as the 'King of the Assist'. Since 2011 he has assisted 47 Madrid goals, that's more than any other player across all the European leagues, a few ahead of one Lionel Messi. This isn't surprising considering the quality and creativity he possesses. He can put them away himself too, scoring 9 from midfield in La Liga last season. CaughtOffside.com ranked him as the 16th best player in world football.

He now has an impressive 47 caps along with 14 international goals, and has played a major role in Germany's recent success and was a contender for player of the tournament in both the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship. For Arsenal, he has made a strong start, linking up well with french attacker Olivier Giroud. He has achieved four assists and a goal in his first three games and looks likely to become something of a Gunner's legend.

Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso praises his former midfield partner.
Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso praises his former midfield partner.
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger with new German signing Mesut Ozil at a press conference.
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger with new German signing Mesut Ozil at a press conference.

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso described Ozil as 'the kind of player you don't find these days,' adding, 'He understands the game, sees things, combines and thrives between the lines, unlocking teams.' Manager Jose Mourinho said, 'Ozil is unique. There is no copy of him – not even a bad copy.' Mourinho also stated that, 'He is the best number 10 in the world. Everyone loves him and sees a bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him.'

After their Champions League victory against Italian side Napoli, Wenger said: 'He had an amazing first half. He had individual skill, team play, finishing and the final ball. You just sit there and enjoy it. I loved him when he was at Real Madrid. I thought he was great and we're just lucky to have got him.' The manager added: 'I believe he enjoys playing football. He enjoys playing with his partners. He has integrated quickly and he has come in at a period when we are doing well. Of course he has given a lift to everyone at the club and belief - and belief is a part of the success in football.'

Aaron Ramsey

Ramsey celebrates after scoring against Fenerbahce in the Champion's League.
Ramsey celebrates after scoring against Fenerbahce in the Champion's League.
The bone-crunching tackle that almost ended Ramsey's career.
The bone-crunching tackle that almost ended Ramsey's career.

This talented young Welshman, 22, joined Arsenal from his local team Cardiff in 2008, for £5 million. He is a traditional box-to-box midfielder, with a fantastic engine, a strong physical presence and the eye for a pass.

His career took a serious hit, on 27 February 2010, when Arsenal played Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, where a tackle by Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross caused a double fracture in Ramsey's lower right leg. He was quickly hospitalised, and it was later confirmed that he had broken his tibia and fibula. He began training again in October of that year, but was then sent on loan to Nottingham Forest and Cardiff for the rest of the season, to gain fitness.

For the next two years, Ramsey was heavily criticised by Arsenal fans and pundits alike, in the following years, with many believing he didn't have the quality to play for a team with the caliber of Arsenal. There were many calls for Arsene Wenger to drop him however the manager always stuck by his young signing and this year that seems to eventually be paying off.

He has begun the 2013-14 season in blistering form, having finally shaken off the mental scars of his horror injury. He has also showed he can put the ball in the back of the net as he has scored 8 in the first 8 games as well as racking up a few Man of the Match Awards, and this incredible form doesn't seem to be dipping.

Ramsey made his debut for the Wales National Football Team on 19 November 2008 versus Denmark in a friendly, aged 17, breaking the record set by Chris Gunter as the youngest Welsh international. In March 2011 he was appointed as the permanent captain of the side at the age of 20. He now has 28 caps and 7 goals.

Bruise brothers: Ramsey and Wilshere have both overcome major injuries.
Bruise brothers: Ramsey and Wilshere have both overcome major injuries.

When Jack Wilshere was asked about his teammate's form he said, 'His fitness levels are not normal. He’s naturally so fit, he can score at any time in the game. If he carries on playing the way he is and working hard, he can improve further. He’s got a great appetite for the game. He wants to improve. He’s training all the time. He’s not missing a training session. He’s fit, he’s young and he’s showing his best form.' Having also experienced a major injury, he added, 'His [injury] was tougher to get over mentally, because he can remember the tackle. For the first couple of months, or even a year, if you’re going into a 50-50 tackle, it’s in the back of your mind, but he’s over that now and he’s a key player for us.'

Jack Wilshere

Jack Wilshere drove Arsenal on against Swansea in the FA Cup.
Jack Wilshere drove Arsenal on against Swansea in the FA Cup.

Jack Wilshere, 21, came up through Arsenal's Youth Academy and impressed from an early age. He made his first team debut in 2008, becoming Arsenal's youngest ever league debutant at the age of 16 years, 256 days. Wilshere has earned a number of accolades including the PFA Young Player of the Year award, nomination to the 2010-11 PFA Team of the Season and Arsenal's Player of the Season award, as voted for by fans for his performances in his first full campaign for Arsenal.

Wilshere celebrates after scoring his only league goal for the Gunners.
Wilshere celebrates after scoring his only league goal for the Gunners.
Wilshere sees red against Birmingham.
Wilshere sees red against Birmingham.

He is known for his movement, vision, passing and combination play, as well as his leadership on the pitch. With all the tenacity, determination and aggression one could ever ask for, Wilshere epitomises the British Bulldog spirit but unlike many has the technique to back it up having been described by manager , Arsene Wenger as having 'Spanish technique, but an English heart'.

When it comes to picking the ball up deep and driving forward to make an incisive pass, the box-to-box young Englishman has proved himself to be one of the best. however, he has often been criticised for his finishing ability and fiery temper. In fact in the 68 league games he has now played for Arsenal he has only put the ball in the back of the net once, but has received 13 yellow cards and 3 reds. This habit of letting his overflowing enthusiasm translate into a poor disciplinary record has often left the Gunners stranded.

Like Aaron Ramsey he has had serious injury troubles himself, with a stress fractured ankle injury he picked up during an Emirates Cup pre-season friendly against New York Red Bulls in 2011. The injury proved a persistent problem throughout Arsenal's pre-season and on 26 September, Wilshere underwent successful surgery, and was to be ruled out for four to five months. However, on 27 January, he suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury,and in April 2012 he was ruled out for the remainder of the season. This means he did not participate in a club match for the entirety of the 2011-12 season.

Wilshere lining up before making his England debut against Hungary, 2010.
Wilshere lining up before making his England debut against Hungary, 2010.

He made his England debut on 11 August 2010, coming on as a 83rd minute substitute for Steven Gerrard against Hungary. This made him the 10th youngest player ever to play for the English national team. In February the next year he made his full England debut when he started in a friendly against Denmark. He impressed despite playing in an unfamiliar role just in front of the defence and was praised by Fabio Capello. He has now had ten national caps and has been tipped as the future England captain.

England and Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard has said, 'I think Jack Wilshere's got the potential to become one of the best in the world, I don’t want to add any pressure. That’s unfair. But playing against him recently and in training, he’s a one-off. He's a lot better than your normal Premier League midfielder. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's got a bit of everything, he can tackle, get up and down the pitch, create a goal, score a goal, can pass. He can tick almost every box, and he's going to get better and better. He's only 21 and a fantastic talent. We're all delighted he's back and happy to play with him. I hope he brings out the best in all of us. He's a top player and I hope he gives the dressing room a lift. And he'll get better, and better than he is now. Which is a scary thought.'

Santi Cazorla

Diminutive magician: Cazorla stands at a tiny 5ft 6 inches.
Diminutive magician: Cazorla stands at a tiny 5ft 6 inches.

On 7 August 2012, it was officially announced that Cazorla, 27, had signed a long-term deal with the North London club from Spanish side Malaga, for around £18 million. He became Arsene Wenger's third major signing of the summer after the arrivals of German Lukas Podolski and Frenchman Olivier Giroud.

When he arrived he stated, 'I'm so happy to be joining Arsenal. This is a club with great players, a fantastic stadium and huge support. The club has one of the best managers in football and their style of play is recognised and admired all over the world. I will do my best to help Arsenal challenge for trophies and make all the supporters happy.'

The tiny Spaniard made his debut on 18 August against Sunderland in a 0–0 home draw in which he was named Man of the Match and scored his first goal for the Gunners on a month later in a 2–0 win against Liverpool at Anfield.

He continued to impress throughout the season at his new club, playing in every league game, ending the season with 12 goals and numerous assists- not surprising considering the 65 chances he created in open play. All this led to him winning Arsenal's Player of the Season award, and accolade he could add to the Spanish Player of the Year award he won in 2007.

Cazorla taking a corner for Arsenal.
Cazorla taking a corner for Arsenal.

A versatile and ambidextrous player, he can play on either flank as well as in the attacking midfielder position he now usually occupies for Arsenal. He is noted for his speed, shooting accuracy, capacity to change the rhythm of gameplay and excellent close control. He is also a dead ball specialist.

Cazorla playing for Spain.
Cazorla playing for Spain.

Cazorla has now received 59 caps for Spain, scoring 10 goals, and helping them to win the 2008 and 2012 UEFA European Championships. However he did not feature in their winning 2010 world cup squad.

'I think he is a bit of an under-rated player in the Premier League,' Wenger said of Cazorla on the Arsenal website. 'When you think he was not in the team of the season picked by the players, it's quite harsh. Personally I would have put him in there. When you look at his quality, that is of course outstanding, but also his attitude and work rate for the team. He is one of the players who has been absolutely outstanding this season.'

Mikel Arteta

Arteta, 31, signed with Arsenal on 31 August 2011 on a four-year deal for a reported fee of £10 million from Everton, just minutes before the summer transfer window came to a close. He made his debut on 10 September in a 1–0 home win against Swansea and scored his first Premier league goal for Arsenal in a 4–3 loss against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

Most completed passes, Arsenal, season-by-season

Season
Player
Passes
2006-07
Cesc Fabregas
2102
2007-08
Cesc Fabregas
1879
2008-09
Denilson
2213
2009-10
Cesc Fabregas
1414
2010-11
Jack Wilshere
1639
2011-12
Mikel Arteta
2023
2012-13
Mikel Arteta
2546
Arteta challenges former teammate Marouane Fellaini.
Arteta challenges former teammate Marouane Fellaini.

Although he played in an attacking role for the Toffees, since he joined the club he has taken over the more defensive role of Alex Song who left for Spanish giants Barcelona. He has proved himself to be very effective at sitting deep, protecting the back four and spreading the play. He has the unique talent of being able to control the tempo of a game and dictate the play for an entire 90 minutes. He is also a dead ball specialist being Wenger's first choice penalty taker at the club.

He is hailed as the 'pass master' of the Premier League, having completed over 2500 passes last seasons with a pass completion rate of 92.4% (and 90.4% in the opponent's half!). This means he was the league's and Europe's top passer in both respects, with only Manchester United's Michael Carrick making any kind of challenge. He also made the most tackles out of any player in Europe, as well as many interceptions.

However, Arteta has often been criticised for slowing down Arsenal's attacking play by passing the ball backwards and sideways when maybe a more incisive forward pass is required, especially when the team are on a quick counterattack. Also he can also be accused of conceding a few too many free kicks with some overly strong challenges.

Arsene Wenger said the Spaniard 'is very influential and he's a leader - one of the leaders of the team and he's a technical leader as well.'

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    • PositronWildhawk profile image
      Author

      PositronWildhawk 4 years ago from London

      Thanks for commenting, I appreciate the feedback.

      I definitely agree that Ramsey's been the best by quite some way so far the season, but I never thought that he was as poor as you make him out to be. In my opinion his work rate has always been absolutely world class and he was always clever with his movement. Despite this, things never really seemed to work out for him but I'm glad that's all changed now.

      When it comes to Flamini, I did consider him, as he is a real leader and organizer in the team but for me, quality wise at least, these five are far superior. Also I can only see him playing for the team for a year, maybe two.

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Excellent summary of the greatest midfield in the league!... and I like the quotes you provide. I suppose we can thank Spurs for Ozil. Real Madrid were so desperate to unveil Bale that they overspent and had to recoup something. I think they wanted to give us one of Di Maria or Benzema, but when that didn't work out, they gave us Ozil! I can't wait to see him and Cazorla in the same team.

      I voted for Ramsey though in the poll. I have been one of his biggest critics, but I'm now one of his biggest fans because I recognize what he does for the team. His work-rate is the best in the league, his passing has improved, and now he's recently added goals to his game. He's as useful to us now as Lampard has been for Chelsea. Nevertheless, he deserved the criticism he got in 2012. He was dire, and I think dropping him might have been a good strategy actually. I felt he was overplayed by Wenger.

      Wilshere and Arteta are both in poor form right now IMO. Based on form (or sheer class), our best midfield is Ramsey+Flamini behind Cazorla+Ozil+Walcott. Though, that's a bit unfair on Arteta who has only just come back from injury. I think Arteta has more quality than Flamini.

      I think the arrival of Ozil may attract other big names in the future. I can imagine plenty of top strikers wanting to be fed by Ozil. Who knows, maybe we'll pick up a real gem like Falcao... ahh, one can dream!