Arsene Wenger doesn’t need to break the bank to plug the hole set to open up in Arsenal’s midfield this summer. The Gunners chief should just snap up Michael Carrick on a free transfer.
Signing the Manchester United veteran on a freebie wouldn’t set many pulses racing among an already disgruntled fan base. It would also require Wenger breaking his pattern of signing youngsters with a lot more spring in their step than the 34-year-old England man.
But acquiring Carrick has merit for an Arsenal squad needing some title-winning experience, and savvy technical quality at the base of midfield – all attributes Carrick still exudes, despite his advancing years.
More importantly, securing a deal where only the signing fee and contract terms will put a dent in his summer transfer kitty, would let Wenger focus his funds on the areas that most need help.
Specifically, the Frenchman should dedicate his resources, both scouting and fiscal, to solving problems at the front and back of Arsenal’s starting XI.
Wenger must come out of this summer’s buying free-for-all having signed a prolific centre-forward and an aggressive, commanding centre-back. It’s the absence of both that has really crippled Arsenal’s title bid this season.
In games where the Gunners have found goals easy to come by, they’ve been undermined by a fragile and porous defence. Think the 3-2 loss to Carrick’s United at Old Trafford in February, along with the 3-3 draw away to an Andy Carroll-inspired West Ham United.
The root of the problem has been a familiar one. Arsenal lack a decisive, rugged defender who will make the ball his, especially in the air. Wenger hasn’t been able to rely on one of those since the days when Sol Campbell was making every 50-50 an unfair fight for the ‘Invincibles.’
His current contingent of centre-backs are all too serene when it comes to the overtly physical aspects of the game. Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel can be bullied in the air, while Per Mertesacker’s name can rarely be mentioned without being accompanied by the phrase “lack of pace.”
Yet, as shaky as things have been at the back, this Arsenal side has most often been letdown by an inability to take its chances. So even when Koscielny and Co. have kept clean sheets, the Gunners still dropped points thanks to a blunt attack.
The balance just isn’t right up front, where the experiment to trust Theo Walcott centrally was always going to fail. It also doesn’t help that Alexis Sanchez, brilliant in fits and starts, rarely looks comfortable playing alongside target man Olivier Giroud.
Wenger obviously wanted his goals to come from a variety of sources this season. It’s a fine theory, but sound thinking can’t obscure the folly of trusting goal-shy strikers Walcott, Giroud and Danny Welbeck to put it into practice.
Arsenal won’t win the title without a match-winning goalscorer and a presence who will keep the shutters rolled down at the back. Finding both must come before adding to a midfield still well-stocked.
Despite the impending departures of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky, Wenger can still call on quality technicians Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.
Alex Iwobi’s promising emergence has added yet more creative verve to this platoon of pass-masters. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny are also capable deep-lying players.
This group only needs a slight top-up. Enter Carrick.
He fits as a player who combines the best of what Coquelin and Elneny can offer. Carrick can be as destructive as the former, while his class in possession even exceeds the impressive vision shown by Elneny.
Wenger wouldn’t want to play a midfielder who turns 35 before the new season every week, but he wouldn’t need to. Carrick’s know-how and quality would be invaluable in big games, particularly in the UEFA Champions League, where Arsenal most need a calming influence.
Intelligent and liberal use of Carrick as a holding midfielder would allow Wenger to still give match time to his legion of playmakers. It would also mean having a player smart and skilled enough to control the flow of possession and slow the pace of a game when the Gunners are leading.
Signing Carrick isn’t an idea out of left field. Wenger’s already been linked with a summer move for the midfielder he’s tried to acquire three times previously, according to Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Mirror.
Putting Carrick among an already deep and talented group of midfielders would be more cost-effective than spending monster fees on more touted names, such as Granit Xhaka and N’Golo Kante.
Meanwhile, France Football (h/t Jack De Menezes of the Independent) reports Wenger is already exploring a deal to take both Kante and Riyad Mahrez from champions Leicester City in a double deal worth £60 million.
Signing either would leave precious little funds for fixing the bigger problems in this squad. The Gunners don’t need Xhaka or Kante to win a league title, even though both are talented players.
Arsenal’s midfield is deep and capable enough, it just needs Carrick’s experience to steady the ship when the games get bigger.
But Wenger can forget about winning a fourth Premier League crown if his team is still profligate up top and suspect at the back next season.