Arsenal finds itself in a fight for Champions League positioning once again, and it's evident that the club lacks the proper steel in the midfield to contend.
It's another year, another Premier League campaign of disappointment for Arsenal fans so far.
After playing out a dreary 0-0 draw with West Ham in their last game, the Gunners now find themselves a whopping 19 points behind league leaders Manchester City. As pointed out by many, they are now closer to the bottom of the table than the top.
So Arsenal fans are left once against wondering, what has gone wrong? Much has been said about some of Arsenal's defensive frailties this term, the issue that some of their best attacking players already have one foot out of the door at the club, and the idea that the manager has signed one contract extension too many.
But it is seems more and more clear that Arsenal's biggest problem lies in the heart of their starting lineups: the midfield.
It is easy to look back at the glory days of Arsenal in the early 2000s and see exactly what the current team is missing. Arsenal fans have lamented not having a Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva type player in the team for years. We have cried out for someone who can be a real defensive presence in midfield who is also capable of starting and joining attacking moves.
Look around the other top six Premier League clubs and they all have a player who fulfills this role. Chelsea has N'Golo Kante, Manchester United has Nemanja Matic, Tottenham has Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele. Perhaps an unsung hero of Manchester City's formidable run is Fernandinho, who adds some much needed steel in City's creative midfield.
Arsenal's answer to this position is Granit Xhaka. A polarizing figure at the club who's performances have been inconsistent this season to say the least. A very talented passer of the ball when he sits deep, but sometimes can be exposed defensively. He also received the unfortunate record earlier this season for misplacing more passes than anyone else in the division.
Arsenal's rotating midfield cast certainly does not help players gel in the middle of the park. For years Arsenal's most promising midfielders have been marred with injury. Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, and Aaron Ramsey have had lengthy spells on the sidelines in the past. The Gunners' biggest current 'what if' story is what could have been if Santi Cazorla was able to stay fit.
While considering ways to solve Arsenal's midfield problem, it is interesting to consider the tactics that worked so well under the 'Invincibles.' When defending, Gilberto Silva and Vieira would drop off the screen the back four. Silva would sit deeper while Vieira would press the player on the ball to pass out wide.
When thinking about players who could do these jobs now, you wonder whether Jack Wilshere in his current condition has the legs to do so much pressing in the middle of the park. Having two left footed players in central midfield may also cause issues. Xhaka fulfills the 'Gilberto' role for now, but questions could be raised about his reliability and defensive capabilities.
One solution could be to recruit midfielders in January. Sevilla's Steven N'Zonzi is one player who has been linked to the Gunners who could have the aggressiveness and defensive discipline Arsenal need.
But ultimately, if Arsenal's problems in midfield could be solved then results on the whole would improve. Having a deep lying midfielder who is defensively capable would prevent Arsenal's defenders becoming exposed, which has happened on numerous occasions on the counter attack this season.
Having someone who can effectively press and break up opposition attacks would also help to utilize Arsenal's strengths in the fast paced counter attack.
The problems of Arsenal's midfield certainly is not a new one, but one fans hope the club can one day remedy.