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Monday, 2 July 2012

Is Michael Carrick the answer for Arsenal?

Amidst the unrelenting speculation surrounding Yann M'Vila's potential move to Arsenal, I contemplated the acquisition of someone else, or at least someone of a similar mould. 

Michael Carrick has, since his move from Sp*rs to Manchester United, been one of the most underrated players in the Premiership. Perhaps because his role has been carried out with no thrills or spills; no 25 yard screamers or horror tackles, just comfortably sitting in his deep central midfield position, dictating the game in a similar fashion to what we have seen from Andrea Pirlo at Euro 2012. 

In my opinion, should the deal for M'Vila fall through, or perhaps regardless, it is Michael Carrick we should go for, or at least a player of a similar style. Indeed, M'Vila is not a too dissimilar player, and is by all accounts a terrific talent with even better potential. It is public knowledge that we want him. Gilles Grimandi even told a group of us last year in our Champions League qualifier in Udinese that M'Vila was our main target. 

M'Vila's strengths are varied; he has the technical ability to slot in perfectly at Arsenal, namely with his passing and through balls. And, perhaps more importantly as a defensive midfielder, is robust in his tackling and has the ability to maintain concentration for the full 90 minutes - something we could use at Arsenal. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for us signing M'Vila, but there's an alternative. Indeed, my Carrick suggestion is hypothetical and somewhat academic as I would be surprised if United sold him, but hear me out.

Carrick would be a more short-term investment and certainly cheaper than M'Vila. In many ways he encapsulates the "new breed" of defensive midfielders; his game is not based on power and brute force, but on breaking up the play and releasing the ball, acting as a catalyst for Man Utd attacks. Arsenal fans have seen the same sort of thing with Arteta, and the importance of this role, in our system especially, was evident after our loss of form following the Spaniard's injury. In any counter-attacking system, this role is vital. 

Last season, Carrick played 27 times for United, averaging 3.1 tackles per game. To put this into perspective, it is higher than the likes of Marouane Fellaini and our very own Alex Song. He displayed his tremendous reading of the game by averaging 2.5 interceptions every match - a figure many defenders would be proud of. This is emphasised by the fact he received just 4 yellow cards in 27 appearances - rarely does he dive in or commit himself. Instead, he judges the situation and carefully retrieves possession, aided by his acute positional sense. His lack of pace is more than compensated by his footballing intelligence and reading of the game. 

A sign of a good player is when they receive praise from fellow professionals or managers, and Martin Jol had this to say:
"Michael's biggest quality is to move play from defence to attack and win the ball. Because of him, other players play better.''
This is an extremely valuable asset, and the transition from defence to attack would be greatly improved with the addition of Carrick, especially considering Arsenal's pace in attacking positions. This is what Man Utd have done so successfully over the years. 

Now, onto what I believe to be Carrick's strongest attribute; ball retention. Last season he averaged 72.4 passes per game with an astonishing completion rate of 90% - a figure only bettered by Toure of the Yaya variety and of course Mikel Arteta. Imagine having Michael and Mikel at Arsenal; two of the best midfielders in the league at what they do - we'd keep the ball for fun. Additionally, as they are similar players, Arsène would be able to rotate them both, easing some of the burden Arteta faced last year. The fact Carrick made more passes and more tackles than any other player on the pitch when Arsenal were defeated 2-1 at home to United last season tells a story on its own. 

Turning 31 this July would, as aforementioned, make Carrick a more short term investment than M'Vila. (Again, I'd like to reiterate that this is hypothetical). This would allow him to act as a foil for our young midfielders; Frimpong, Ramsey, Coquelin, Wilshere etc all need time to develop before being thrown into the proverbial deep end. We tend to find ourselves in a situation at Arsenal where we are forced to rely upon our most inexperienced players, step forward Carl Jenkinson. More experience and composure in the middle is required, and Carrick certainly fits the bill. And of course there's the wonderfully gifted yet horrendously unlucky Abou Diaby. Ever since Dan Smith smashed his ankle to bits, the Frenchman has spent more time on the injury table than on the pitch. That scumbag Smith has a lot to answer for. 

Well, he does actually, seeing as he now works in a call centre. Karma's a bitch. 

I think the main aim of this post was to highlight the often overlooked ability of Michael Carrick, and what a great acquisition he'd be at The Arsenal. There's no doubt M'Vila would be a fantastic signing, however at the age of 22 with just three or so years of Ligue 1 experience, there's no guarantee he'd adapt to the demands of the Premiership immediately. Carrick, on the other hand, has over 330 Premier League appearances and has played in over 50 Champions League matches. Having won 4 league titles with United, plus a European Cup, he would without doubt add an extra bit of 'winning mentality' to the squad.

In my opinion, it is this kind of experience we need right now to not only aid the development of our younger midfielders without 'killing' their careers, but also add composure and 'know how' to the team instantly. 

Indeed, Carrick is no Pirlo, and most would chose M'Vila over him in a heartbeat. But if that deal goes tits up, he'd be the man I'd pick. 

Thanks for reading and remember to Follow me on Twitter. Oh, and leave your thoughts about Carrick, M'Vila or whoever else you think Arsenal should buy in the comments section below.

Up The Arse!

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