Who is Maximilian Arnold?
2014-15 was very eventful in the Bundesliga. Things didn’t exactly pan out how they were expected by the masses. Of course, Bayern did not disappoint in the league by retaining the title and also winning it a record 25th time. In recent times, positions below the 2nd spot have been up for grabs in the Bundesliga and there has been healthy competition for the fight to qualify for the European competitions. But this season, Borussia Dortmund, believed to be Bayern’s closest equal in terms of quality in the league, had a rather disappointing season as we all know, but we did strike some serious treasure from this adventure. Wolfsburg, the surprise title winners of 2008-09 took over the coveted second spot this season.
They even rammed the title winners to a humiliating defeat at the Volkswagen Arena when the Bundesliga resumed after the winter break. Wolfsburg’s season was filled with attacking football and it was mostly down to their setup. The team revolved around the creativity of Kevin de Bruyne and the goal scoring form of Bas Dost, but there was this one young German international who weighed in with crucial contributions through the course of the season. This young German is 20 years old, they call him Maximilian Arnold.
For many people around the world, Arnold was an unknown quantity. Fans outside of Germany assumed the player had a lucky break-through this year, but that is far off the mark from the facts. Born on May 27 1994, Arnold was raised in the Eastern side of Germany about 50 km from Dresden, the city with the historically glorious football side, Dynamo Dresden. Young Max joined the local club, BSG Stahl Reisa as a young kid. The club was used to competing in the top tiers of German football in the 70s and 80s, but in the early 2000s, they were plying their trade in the 7th tier of German football, following various name changes and reformations due to financial troubles. Before joining BSG Stahl in 2003, Arnold had being playing for BSV Strehla.
In 3 years, the time that Max spent at BSG Stahl, he was noticed and made the switch to the Dresden Giants, Dynamo. He was a little younger than 13 when he was a member of the club’s elite youth academy. Max made the right noises for 3 years and got noticed by the Wolfsburg scouts. He accepted an offer from the West German club and he made way to his present club aged 16. This year was also a real breakthrough year for Arnold as he got his call up to the DFB U16 squad. His rise had no obstacles since joining Wolfsburg. Arnold kept performing in the youth games and kept progressing through the various levels of the DFB youth teams where he was always a guaranteed starter.
Spring of 2011. Max was given his big debut in the Wolfsburg U19 team. The squad was chasing the title and Arnold fit perfectly, like he was the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. He played almost all the 90 minutes of every game including the big ones against Leverkusen and Kaiserslautern in the semis and finals respectively. Arnold even got his name on the score sheet in the semi-final win over the factory club. Naturally, the manager of the first team notices the intricate details when a player of Arnold’s quality performs consistently. Felix Magath, the then manager of Wolsburg called Arnold up to the first team, realizing the potential this young kid has in him.
2011-12, Magath gave Arnold his first taste of Bundesliga football with substitute appearances on couple of occasions, but the constant unstable change of tactics in the line-up that season for Wolfsburg hindered Arnold’s development. The final matchday of the season could be termed as a “core-memory” of Arnold’s career so far. The Wolves were playing away at Stuttgart and were jogging steadily to a victory. 30 minutes to the final whistle, Arnold came on as a substitute, Stuttgart seized the opportunity and came back to win it 3:2. Many people felt Arnold wasn’t ready for the big games yet, quite true to be honest and it resulted in constant bench warming sessions for the young boy under Magath until he was given the boot.
Magath’s replacement, Lorenz-Gunther Kostner was just the interim manager of the Wolves, but he was too stubborn to even change his line-up. Arnold was given another reserved seat on the bench throughout the season, thereby frustrating him and hindering his development. It wasn’t until Ivan Perisic’s inury in the spring of 2013 that was Arnold given another chance to show off his skills. And boy did he take it with open arms. He demonstrated skills that even the hardest of skeptics couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by his performances, it was as good as a rebirth for young Arnold. He was titled as “VfL’s new starlet” by the media, journos were in a frenzy and sports tabloids like Kicker were constantly featuring him in starting roles in their predicted line-ups.
Hecking backed the youngster on the first match day of 2013-14 against Hannover, but Arnold threw it all away. Got himself sent off around the half our mark and that signalled a long period of exile to the reserve squad for Max. He kept playing in the regionalliga while Wolfsburg were taking some serious thrashings in the Bundesliga. Arnold received such a strong punishment for his first ever red card. He had to win back Hecking’s trust and it is exactly what he did. A short 8 minute cameo in the 1:0 loss to Bayern was the start of the rise yet again for Arnold. This was close to 2 months since the red card, but Hecking was left with no choice but to experiment with unknown yet capable players while Wolfsburg was languishing in the bottom spots of the League.
Arnold regained his spot in the line-up in a last ditch attempt to resurrect the season and that marked the rise of the Wolfsburg that we now know. Arnold on his return made a thumping impact. 4 goals in 5 games from him lifted the morale of the team and supporters, they started singing his name in the stands. In November 2013, Hecking was interviewed by Kicker, and he openly stated that Arnold was their most important player at that moment.
Style of play, strengths, and weaknesses
Arnold is a box-box midfielder capable of playing in the hole behind the striker as well. Very physical in his gameplay, along with endurance and fine dribbling, Arnold has the pace to take on players too. To cap it all off, he’s got a powerful shot with precision. When he hits them with his left foot, they stay hit and more often than not, find the target. He became Wolfsburg’s youngest goal scorer when he scored the opener against Hoffenheim before turning 18.
He was also Wolfsburg’s youngest debutant, thanks to Magath, and he’s even played in every position in the mid-field. This versatility earned him the tag of being Diego’s rival (used to be a “core” member of Wolfsburg’s squad). He often takes on the role of being the playmaker but with Kevin de Bruyne in the side now, those responsibilities have been transferred. Despite that, Arnold still forms a crucial piece of the link-up play.
Young Max has had his best Bundesliga run this past season. He made 27 appearances for Die Wolfe, as he formed a key partnership with Kevin de Bruyne. His pace, dribbling and passing were one of the main reasons why he became a key figure in the line-up. Scoring 4 goals, a number which may seem less for a mid-fielder who is more known for his attacking qualities, the signs suggest he can only add to the tally with a better 2015-16. Though he didn’t score as many as one would think, his real contributions came through creativity. Wolfsburg had a good chunk of chances created by this youngster alone, 43 (includes half chances) to be exact.
As you can see, he does do the big talk on the pitch. He completed a staggering 86% of the passes he attempted on average over 90 minutes, an impressive number boasted by only the best central mid-fielders in the game right now. Out of the 86% that he completes, 59% of those are forward passes. He has been compared to Mesut Ozil in the past, but Arnold is much more of a goal threat than a purely creative midfielder. Yes, the stats may say otherwise but the player seems to believe he is more of the goal scoring mid-fielder kinds. And possessing as precise a shot as one can ask for with that left foot of his, one can’t blame him for the confidence he has in himself but only hope that he backs it up with the required performances.
Hecking doesn’t seem to be sure of Arnold’s best postiton yet as the German is seen playing all over the field, but he does have the potential to finish as one of the best deep lying playmakers for Germany. There are some huge holes in his style though, that he can and should work on. He isn’t the tackling kind of player, which is a big down side for a player in the central midfield region. Contributing defensively also hasn’t been his cup of tea, but he really will need to soon as he increasingly rises to the role of a senior member of the side in a few years.
Curbing his attacking intentions could be a possible solution to most of his hesitation problems on the pitch but that would mean a change in his whole mentality. Stats seem to say the same story as Max has won only 42% of the duels that he is involved in, quite poor for someone with his energy levels and physicality. Naturally, one expects him to work on the box-box skills. It remains to be seen what will happen when he becomes a more matured player.
Max was an Arsenal target not so long ago. He was part of a 8m pound transfer saga but Wolfsburg managed to keep hold of him, but with performances like in the 9 game winning streak they had last season, Arnold is sure to attract interest from the big boys like Bayern, Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid and Chelsea, who are considerably a step above Arsenal and will have much more pull than the Gunners. It will be interesting to see how Wolfsburg manage to keep hold of him then or how much they make out of the deal to bolster the squad for their loss, if and when the move does happen.
Written by Alankrith Shankar