The Myth of the Midfield Enforcer

Photo 1 - Chelsea's Frank Lampard (L) challenges Arsenal's Cameroon player... AFP/Getty Images

Watching Chelsea v Arsenal on Sunday, Alexandre Song had a chance to stake his claim in the central of midfield. Seen as the ideal player to partner Cesc Fabregas because he is strong in the tackle and fits the bill as an enforcer in the centre of midfield.

However the Cameroon ace had a nightmare first half as he floated around the pitch and couldn’t cope with the passing and movement of the Chelsea players. He improved in the second half as he became more disciplined and was told to patrol the area between midfield and defence.

Arsenal’s inconsistent form has been attributed to the lack of defensive shield hence the call for an enforcer, along with a lack of variety to open up defences up front. Regarding the defensive shield, Denilson and Song have played in the position however the Brazilian is in the top ten of best tacklers in the league with 45 successful tackles; so why isn’t he the answer? We all know stats don’t tell you everything as ‘football is a complex game made of simple things.’ The fact is a capable defensive midfielder must be able to tackle though they won’t win everything but must have a strong tactical and positional side of the game.

Arrigo Saachi the former Milan manager and one of the big influences on Rafa Benitez said:

‘ …when you have the ball, you dictate play. When you are defending, you control the space.’

The day before the match I was watching Fulham against Aston Villa who both beat Arsenal. Both teams don’t play with an enforcer, for Fulham Murphy and Bullard play in front of the defence and for Villa, Petrov. The Bulgarian dispossessing Reo-Coker for the place in the centre. Murphy and Bullard were organsied and positioned in front of the defence deny any real chances through the centre and although Villa had a lot of chances most came from the wings because of the two.

Man United won the title without an enforcer, playing Carrick and Scholes in front of the defence who can be described as interceptors instead but have the ability to tackle. Mascherano one of the only few players in the Premiership with the ability to do both.

If this is the case then how comes Arsenal haven’t won a title since Vieira left I hear you ask? This is a tricky one to put down to, maybe we were overall not good enough but we still had Gilberto and nearly won with Flamini last season. Regarding the Invincibles they had two players that could shield the defence in Gilberto and Vieira which allowed the attacking players to attack with such danger and express themselves. The same tactic gave United the title last year.

There was never a real need for an enforcer, but someone with discipline and a strong tactical and positional side of the game supported by quality attacking players which Arsenal have (though better movement may be required).

Being pro-active and controlling games is not only about being able to do unpredictable things with the ball, but also being able to vary your game plan, stop the opponent achieving theirs, and having as many players as possible capable of making and exploiting spaces.

The argument of whether Denilson and Song are good enough should be reserved for another day but the two are still learning; if Song continuing the way he played in the second half he could be the answer.
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Some Arsenal players have made small canvas paintings (20cm x 20cm) for The Willow Foundation, a charity set up by 1960s Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson in memory of his daughter Anna, to help seriously ill people aged 16 to 40, to raise money for the organisation. While not expected to be the next Picasso the pictures could go someway of understanding players’ minds.

You can see the rest at here on the Willow Foundation website which includes pictures from Arsene Wenger, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie, Eduardo and other Arsenal legends. My favourite is the one from Bendtner above because it shows you just how much he values the club and football.

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6 thoughts on “The Myth of the Midfield Enforcer

  1. I think we’re caught up in the term “enforcer” being of primarily a British nature. While Vieira and Gilberto were some tough tackling players they were also very smart and aware. Take for example Claude Makalele who’s central role and this enforcer concept is now almost universally phrased “The Makalele Role”, he was neither exceptionally quick, strong or tough tackling – he just knew how to read the game and get himself into a position to disrupt the flow of play and dispossess the opposing team, not necessarily through direct tackling, but more forcing of errors. Flamini was a work horse – his stats average 11 km of ground coverage a game – he wasn’t comparatively skilled or big in build, but he could run for long periods of time. Wenger used that to his advantage and basically just had Flamini make a pest of himself while the opposition had the ball. All it takes is to put one person under pressure to force a turnover.

    The problem I see with Song, though of the current team is probably the best choice for central mid, is mostly a lack of in-game intelligence. He is fairly quick, tall, strong, decent in the air but does not always know where he needs to be. He kind of just follows the ball rather than see the build up of possibilities in his head and looks to eliminate said options. So when we face a team putting 10 men behind the ball he’s trying to fight brawn with brawn, when instead he should be using brain to overcome brawn and play smarter rather than harder.

    Denilson is alot better going forward though he seems to pick inconvenient days to not be able to control the ball. I think he is still trying to learn the Arsenal way because he does not see the play as everyone else does and he does lose possession more often than we would like him to as a result. I honestly would prefer Denilson playing attack rather than trying to defend because he seems better suited for it.

    I will however continue to petition for Jeremy Toulalan to join our ranks or at the very least, after the Chelsea game, find a Clichy replacement and move Clichy himself into the middle of the park.He was everywhere, winning every tackle, and breaking up plays on the flank.

  2. WC- I believe yes we need someone that is more astute in positional sense and tactical.Maybe Song is will start to understand that after that Chelsea game.
    https://arsenalcolumn.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/the-role-of-the-defensive-midfielder/
    I think lets see how well these players do because that’s all we can do before such names are bandied around although Toulalan is a good player. Maybe Scott Parker? Injury prone is a problem as is his relatively untried quality at a top team but cheap and good technique work rate. But there are better players.

    Also Clichy in the centre; personally don’t think it’ll work but it is generally easier for a full back to revert to central mid than other positions and vice versa.

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