After the loss to Kilmarnock after the winter break, many Rangers fans castigated Steven Gerrard for ‘tinkering with a winning team’ after trying to immediately shoehorn Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis into the side. The issue with that was simple - Rangers were behind in the league, and changes needed to be made. And with Celtic looking stronger than us again, it’s time to ask what we can do to improve, rather than simply tread water.
Even at the best sportsbook, you’ll struggle to find shorter odds than 4/1 on 55 making its way to the trophy cabinet this season. And while he’s escaped a lot of criticism this season, Rangers’ somewhat inconsistent recent performances might just be helped by taking another look at what Scott Arfield is bringing to the team.
The signing of an experienced Premier League player, as opposed to the previous experienced Championship and League One players, looked to be a big statement of intent and a sign of the increased ambitions in the transfer market under the new regime. But since arriving at the club, Arfield has largely been mediocre, and he probably needs a spell out of the team.
Arfield is certainly an all-action player, and his pressing certainly helps us out. The issue, however, is when the ball is won - Rangers attacks too often break down when they get to Arfield outside the area, who can usually be relied on for a ball behind an attacker, picking out the wrong player, or simply running into danger and allowing the attack to run out of steam.
They appear to be very different players, but it’s almost a repeat of the Josh Windass syndrome of last season. While Windass masked his lax touches and wasteful passes with large numbers of goals and assists, however, Arfield does the same with his off the ball work. Six goals and six assists in thirty-two games isn’t a terrible return, but it’s not fantastic either, and certainly not enough to justify the countless times he simply gets in the way.
A common criticism of Steven Gerrard’s management has been his extreme willingness to drop some players after a poor display (Nikola Katic, Borna Barisic, Eros Grezda) while persisting with others in a bid to help them break out of a poor run of form willy-nilly (Joe Worrall in particular, and earlier in the season Ryan Jack and Jon Flanagan.) Arfield firmly fits into that latter category too, and it’s time for a spell on the bench once the fixtures get slightly easier and his off-the-ball work isn’t so valuable.
True, the pressing isn’t nothing -and it does work in an offensive capacity too. It can be seen with the sheer dominance Rangers have had over the midfield since bringing Ross McCrorie into the team. But that’s just it - Arfield is ahead of two fairly defensively-minded midfielders to begin with, and Rangers should have few games where a trio of workhorses are required.
Of course, Rangers don’t have David Silva sitting on the bench, so is there any point in dropping Arfield if nobody can replace him? Well, we don’t know, because we haven’t tried. Steven Davis would sit deeper, but is certainly an option, while we could always try the likes of Grezda or Kent in the position. Even just keeping attacks going with quick passing would be an improvement at the moment - and at the very least, it might help spur Arfield on to improve his game for the run-in. It’s a risk, but Rangers aren’t going to win this league by coasting at their current level - in other words, it’s a risk we need to take.