Denilson’s back injury is a huge blow for Arsenal who will miss the Brazilian’s industry and protection he provides in central midfield.
“Denilson has a small fracture in his back,” said manager Arsene Wenger. “He will be out for two months.” The news nearly had me doing an Ashley Cole swerve off the road (incidentally Nicklas Bendtner was not in the same car as me, nor was it an Aston Martin). The Brazilian has become a crucial piece of the Arsenal puzzle, his hard work and expert reading of the game adding great balance to the side. But he still remains underrated and unsung; BBC Sport made it their top story when it broke but only offering a couple of lines and an old(ish) quote further underlines his under appreciation.
The criticism of Denilson reminds me of that of Ray Wilkins, now Chelsea coach but without all the ball throwing at referees. His tendency to pass sideways gave him the nickname The Crab but as one top Brazilian coach viewed it, passing the ball to the correct person was a skill which requires strong discipline, decision-making and a large dose of unselfishness. And while Denilson’s technique is not quite as strong as the former Milan man, the potential is there to become more expansive and all-rounded since he has played a creative role in the past. It’s always been his mental attributes that set him apart and one which enabled him to compete with those older than him while at São Paulo.
Denilson’s injury woe started against Manchester City, taken off early in the second half and with Arsenal behind, it was necessary for a defence-minded player to be replaced. But for some his withdrawal opened the floodgates for City to attack as three goals succeeded his substitution. And they may have a point too.
It would be unrealistic to attribute Arsenal’s slight dip of form since that game to one player but his non-participation has had a slight effect on the balance of the side. With the Gunners playing a high intensity 4-3-3 pressing game that means the distances both in attack and defence have to be right. With Denilson in the set-up, the formation can play close to a 4-2-3-1 when attacking allowing Fabregas to contribute ‘between the lines’ and in dangerous areas. When defending, it’s imperative to close down together and usually that means playing in a line so that the space and angle in the pass is shortened. A case in example is Iniesta and Xavi who drop back quickly if the ball is lost to help Yaya Toure. With Denilson, even if Fabregas was not quite as back as he should be, the organisation gave more steel to the side.
It will be up to Ramsey, Diaby and indeed Fabregas to make the necessary step up in terms of balance. Wenger was encouraged with Diaby’s brief cameo in defensive midfield against Manchester United and while he has all the tools technically, it’s his mental application which will decide if he remains an enigma. Ramsey on the other hand has thoroughly impressed Wenger on both accounts, now just lacking the experience to stamp his authority. The game against Olympiakos showed greater improvement in application and attitude with Diaby in particular providing better understanding of the defensive work required.
Rather ironically however, with Denilson out of the side the team picked up their first two clean sheets in the league. The proof may be in the pudding comparing the two performance levels but there is no doubt Denilson has made himself a vital part of the team’s dynamics.