On the same day that Arsenal’s main defensive midfielder was confirmed as a Barcelona player, Everton overran Manchester United in a very impressive and fully deserved 1-0 win at Goodison Park.
The link here? United had no midfield. Sky called it a 4-3-3 in the pre-match buildup, but it looked more like a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney, Nani and Kagawa swapping positions behind Welbeck and ahead of Scholes and Cleverley; one is an ageing playmaker, the other a young playmaker who missed the whole of last season through injury.
Sir Alex Ferguson seems to firmly believe that signing Robin van Persie will capture the title for United this season, by virtue that they only missed out on goal difference last year. However, a lot of their fans were disappointed not to see some money invested in a midfielder, preferably more on the defensive side but with a bit of Scholes-like passing ability in there too – Daniele De Rossi being perhaps the best example. Fergie might be well advised to remember that goal difference works both ways, and that by conceding too many you harm your chances of success, as perhaps the six goals they conceded to City at Old Trafford did last season.
Everton were superb all round last night, but it was United’s failure to deal with Marouane Fellaini that ultimately cost them. The bulky Belgian played off the main striker Jelavic and continued to find space in the kind of areas that a Makelele kind of player would be blocking. Even when United’s midfielders made more of an attempt to surround him, he was simply too strong for them; Scholes and Cleverley are just not the kind of players who were ever going to win that kind of battle. In the end, Fellaini got the winning goal, losing makeshift centre-back Michael Carrick at a corner to head home. However, 1-0 with a set-piece goal does not do Everton justice; they played great football throughout and only de Gea came away with much credit after a string of great saves in the first half.
Arsenal would be well-advised to take note. Of course there will be games like our one against Sunderland, where a defensive midfielder seems kind of redundant as the opposition are making no effort to attack, but the Premier League is improving, and away games at teams like Everton will mean some quality players to deal with, more so than in the past. With Song gone, it’s a great opportunity to bring in someone who can actually do his job better than he did. Yann M’Vila is said to be leaving Rennes this week and although it is not yet confirmed who for (perhaps United might feel they want to make a bid) we should definitely jump at the chance to bring in a specialist in the Makelele job. I’m excited at the prospect of us bringing in Nuri Sahin on loan, but from what I know he isn’t a particularly defensive midfielder.
We saw more high-scoring games than ever in the Premier League last season, and perhaps a lack of protection for defences is part of the problem. Even Man City stopped playing Nigel de Jong regularly, and he is another who is excellent in that role. This growing emphasis on attack is providing great entertainment, but there are signs that it is perhaps a little careless; obviously there’s United’s defeat yesterday, but City on Sunday were nearly shocked by newly-promoted Southampton. Again, City had Toure and Rodwell as their most defence-minded midfielders, which really isn’t their speciality. As a result, a team that was in League One two seasons ago showed up to the home of the champions – with one of the most expensive group of players in history – and were able to play some good football, create chances, and eventually even take the lead.
It seems that along with this growing emphasis on attack, the promoted teams are having more success when coming up to the Premier League. It’s always hard to know if defending is getting worse or attacking is getting better, but perhaps we should be a little worried at how easy Swansea and Norwich found it to carve teams open last year.
Arsenal and Wenger have often been criticised for not moving with the times, and at the moment the times are getting more attack-minded. Hopefully the club will act and go against previous principles somewhat by investing in someone who will be content to stay back and break up attacks, otherwise there is the very real danger that the likes of Swansea and Everton will simply beat us at our own game, as Norwich almost did at the Emirates not too many months ago; we can’t take these teams lightly anymore.