05 August 2014

Michael Owen opens mouth, spews nonsense...

There's no shortage of pundits or journos willing to hold forth on the topic of the day, whether it be something pertinent or something of their own conjurings. Here we are, together, after all, are we not? However, there's a gulf of sorts between those who are paid rather handsomely to blather on and those who are paid little if anything, if not in wages than in insights. With that in mind, I bring to you one Michael Owen, famous if for nothing else than in once helping Liverpool finish behind Arsenal. Good on him for that. Since then, however, he's coasted somewhat on his laurels, weighing in (mostly in favor of Liverpool, where he plied his trade most successfully) on the issues of the day. Most recently, he deigned to share his opinion of Arsenal's transfer-dealings. Spoiler-alert: he's not impressed.

To be fair, part of his job as a pundit is to wind us up from time to time, and I regret indulging him in that. Still, when his attempts at winding us up coincide with missing the mark, well, I can't help myself. I simply have to engage. It's one thing to be wrong; it's quite another to be wrong and compensated for being wrong.

Of what do I speak? Recently, Owen tweeted out his opinion on our transfer-dealings to this point. Responding to our 0-1 loss to Monaco, Owen saw fit to tweet "Reason for optimism at Arsenal. Improved squad but desperate for a commanding central midfielder. They were overran [sic] in there today." I'll agree with him on roughly 35% of that l'il tweet, which amounts to the first seven words. Yes, there is reason for optimism. Yes, we have an improved squad. However, to say that we are "desperate" for a "commanding central midfielder" is a bit wide of the mark. Yes, we have been looking for one. Chief among them have been Khedira and Schneiderlin, neither of whom dazzles as the "commanding" sort. Even if we add in Carvalho and Pogba as targets, the idea of a "commanding" central midfielder—by which I assume Owens means a brute, physical force—is quickly going the way of the dodo.

If we "desperately" needed a physical, commanding central midfielder, well, we might have worked a bit harder last summer to sign Marouane Fellaini, who is nothing if not physical. Check that: he is nothing but physical. The idea that we need some kind of burly, physical player in our squad reflects an antiquated, outdated notion. Yes, Yaya Touré shows that this kind of player can elevate a squad, but that's not to say that a squad simply must have a Touré-esque player if it expects to compete. Last season in the Prem, Man City managed to finish just above Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal, none of whom feature a muscled midfielder in the Touré mold.

I won't argue against the idea that we could use a defensive midfielder, one whose skill-set and mentality hew closer to shielding the back-four than to bombing forward. However, I don't think we need some kind of brooding hulk who refuses to cross midfield while scything down our opponents' attackers and then booting the ball up the pitch. That might have been the style fifteen years ago, but it won't work. Not in the Prem, at any rate.

Neither Arteta nor Flamini is going to intimidate opponents, that's clear. They're older, slower, and, yes, smaller than the defensive midfielders Owen might have in mind. However, they've been good enough to help guide us to one of the best defensive records in the Prem. More than that, though, Owen's opinion, for what it's worth, seems to me to reflect a bygone era, one in which British football was characterized by brute force over technical skill (which is perhaps why he ended his playing days with Stoke). Going, if not already gone, are the days when a squad could feature a couple of neanderthals whose main contributions consisted of hoofing it forward or hacking opponents down. Even Tony Pulis has shown that an old dog can learn new tricks. Why can't Owen?