Arsenal’s defensive problems have been a subject of discussion for a few seasons now. Granted the promotion of Steve Bould to the assistant manager’s chair has helped to steady the ship from a defense prospective but Arsenal still look considerably weak from a defensive midfield prospective. Alex Song has departed to the Nou Camp after winning a dream move to Barcelona and has never really been replaced. Diaby and Arteta have been adapted to become more defensive focused but neither is a true defensive midfielder in the same mold as Song. Arsenal were close to signing a player who could have fitted that mould only 3 years ago when they failed to bring in Felipo Melo from Fiorentina. The Brazilian eventually moved to Juventus where he stayed for only a year before transferring on loan to Galatasaray of Turkey. Arsenal again enquired about the player after his loan concluded but Juventus had other plans, agreeing to send him back to Galatasaray this season for the second season running. The Turkish club have clause in the agreement allowing them to eventually purchase Melo for only 6.5 million euros which is a snip of the money that Juventus paid for him only 2 years ago.
Melo has settled well in Turkey and has proved his worth for the team on several occasions with strong defensive plays. However none come close to the performance he put in last saturday in the league match against Elazigspor. Galatasaray went into the match leading the Süper Lig, Turkey’s top division but with Fenerbache, Besiktas and Antalyaspor breathing down their necks. The match started at a high-octane pace with both sides creating chances in the first half but unable to break the deadlock. At the start of the second half, Galatasaray manager, Fatih Terim making a change-up front, withdrawing Swedish striker Johann Elmander, and putting on Turkish midfielder Aydin Yılmaz in his place. Within four minutes, they took the lead through a goal from midfielder Yekta Kurtuluş. Elazigspor stepped up a gear as they looked to get back into the game making a double substitution on 56 minutes, switching out both starting strikers for fresher legs from the bench. Gala responded by bring on a more defensive midfielder in Çolak ro support Melo and cut down the opposition attacks. On the 80th minutes, both clubs made their third and final substitutions of the game in an attempt to capture the points.
But the drama wouldn’t unfold until the last few minutes of the game. Following some neat play, Elazigspor spotted a gap in the Galatasaray defense and played a long ball forward for substitute Gurler to run onto. As he made his way into the box and was about to make contact with the ball, he was fouled by the out rushing Galatasaray goalkeeper, Argentinian Fernando Muslera. The referee immediately awarded a penalty and dismissed the goalkeeper, despite protests from his teammates. With all three substitutes used and facing up to a penalty which could cost them 2 valuable points, Galatasaray looked around to see who would fill in as goalkeeper. Melo stepped forward, picked up the gloves and positioned himself between the posts. Elazigspor striker, Goksu Türkdogan, on as a substitute stepped up to take the kick that would level the match. But Melo guessed the correct way, diving to his right and saving the penalty. Mobbed by his teammates, Melo celebrated in style as the final whistle sounded as he knew he had secured the three points for his team.
If Arsene Wenger had been watching the match, he would have been impressed by Melo’s overall performance in the defensive midfield capacity that day but it could have given him further food for thought as he ponders his goalkeeping options as well. Melo however is unlikely to want to make this a regular occurence and is looking forward to getting back to what he does best – defending his back line.
To see Melo’s penalty save, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKwXc_1ZDQM