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Why Arsenal's midfield makes Man Utd look like southern softies

After last summer's big spend, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be preparing for another major outlay before the start of the season.

With Park Ji-sung on his way to QPR, Paul Pogba having defected to Juventus and no comeback date set for Darren Fletcher, United's midfield options are looking threadbare. That Ferguson managed to persuade Paul Scholes to go around again is a bonus, but the 38 year-old will have to be managed through the season and cannot be expected to do the midfield's heavy-lifting.

And it isn't so simple as to say for Park, read Shinji Kagawa, nor for Pogba, say Nick Powell.

Powell arrives from Crewe Alexandra as a more attack-minded player than the Frenchman. Ferguson was relying on Pogba to be his next prime ball-winner, very much in the style of Fletcher and before him, Roy Keane.

Park also is a very different player to former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Kagawa. The Japanese is a busy, pacy, will-o'-the-wisp type similar to Park, but will be employed further up the field than the South Korean icon.

The return of Tom Cleverley will be welcomed by Ferguson. But, again, he's no destroyer.

The former Bantam looked a natural at the start of last season and really gave United's midfield some snap, but his injury problems have to be a concern, particularly his struggles in recovering from that unfortunate clash with Bolton Wanderers captain Kevin Davies.

Behind the senior squad, little really springs out. A genuine box-to-box midfielder and FA Youth Cup winner, Ryan Tunnicliffe has a chance. Reserves coach Warren Joyce says he could be competing for a first team place this term. But he's still yet to make his debut and even if his potential is realised, is still a good few years away from actually bossing a Premier League midfield.

Bids are already in for Porto pair James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho, plus Fulham attacker Moussa Dembele. Sao Paulo dazzler Lucas Moura is also the subject of intense United interest. But the lack of a midfielder who can break up the opposition play in the mould of Fletcher is glaring.

Manchester City won the title last season with both Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong making major contributions - Danny Welbeck can vouch for that!

The great past teams of Ferguson's era always had a menacing, ruthless midfield general at their heartbeat: from Fletcher and Keane, through to Paul Ince and Bryan Robson. There was always that take-no-prisoners character.

United's dominance at domestic level has masked the need for a nasty, in-your-face midfielder. Only when they were exposed during a hopelessly lethargic Champions League campaign, or against City at the Etihad - did the weakness of Fergie's midfield become apparent.

No urgency, no intensity, no passion: this is what inevitably followed from venting United fans on talkback after the latest letdown in Europe last season. When Arsene Wenger chooses to take aim at Fletcher, he doesn't do so for the sake of it. The Frenchman knows Fletcher, more than anyother midfielder at United, has the qualities to dominate Arsenal.

The great irony now is, if Ferguson allows things to stand as they are, it will be Arsenal who will boast the steelier, more threatening midfield with the outstanding Alex Song and emerging Emmanuel Frimpong both to call on this season.

It's staring him in the face. If Ferguson really is to lift his squad up a rung, he needs to find that midfielder capable of putting fear into the opposition.


Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United)Long been linked with United, Tiote's mobility and snappy, snarling ways would complement perfectly the guile of Michael Carrick. Newcastle fear losing him this summer and have slapped a £20 million price-tag on the Ivorian in anticipation of offers arriving from United, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)Watched by United chief scout Martin Ferguson last season, Martinez can also play at the back and his contract carries a £34 million buyout clause. Barcelona and Manchester City lead the likes of United and Bayern Munich in the queue of European giants chasing the young Spain international.

Sami Khedira (Real Madrid)Ferguson made a serious attempt to land Khedira before the 2010 World Cup, only to beaten by Real Madrid for the then Stuttgart midfielder. After a stellar Euros, Khedira is considering his future over his limited defensive role at Real. Has been linked with Bayern Munich.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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