In past seasons Arsenal’s defence has always been their Achilles heel; conceding goals left, right and centre, some of which could’ve been easily defended. Last season Arsenal shipped in a colossus 67 goals, some of which were painful to watch. Arsenal’s poor shape and organisation from set-pieces led to some stupid goals. Blackburn away for example, we conceded FOUR goals, two of which were set-piece tap-ins. It wasn’t just poor set-piece defending that led to a high amount of conceded goals, there were more factors.
Vermaelen bombing forward at any given moment led to exposure at the back, our left-back slot was usually left unattended when Santos went marauding forward, Song’s inability to defend meant that our defence had no cover. You could also argue the fact that, at one point, we had no full-backs and had to play Vermaelen and Koscielny at left-back and right-back, respectively. There were many factors as to why we conceded a high amount of goals but, hopefully, those days are long past us. This summer saw Pat Rice vacate his assistant manager role and take up a scouting role. Who took up the assistant manager role? Super Steve Bould – a former Arsenal defender who was part of the famous Arsenal defence that boasted the likes of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon. Many saw the appointment of Bould as a stepping stone towards an organized and solid defence. Oh, boy were they right.
Steve Bould’s approach officially surfaced in Arsenal’s pre-season friendly game against Cologne. Bould was known for his near-post flick-ons from corners, and when Mertesacker flicked the ball towards Vermaelen for Arsenal’s goal, you knew Bould had been the architect of this well organized set-piece. Bould’s impact didn’t stop there, fast-forward to this current time and Arsenal are on the back of three successive clean sheets. Arsenal’s defence has been revamped; concentration is high and dedication too.
Enough about Steve Bould, I’d like to take an in-depth look at our current back-four:
Jenkinson: Heavily criticized for his lack of pace, Jenkinson gives something different to the team. As a life-long gooner, Jenkinson fights hard for Arsenal and always puts in 110%. People are often critical of his passing but they overlook his defensive work; full-backs shouldn’t just be noticed for bombing forward and grabbing goals and assists. Jenkinson has made 14 successful tackles for Arsenal this season – more than any other Arsenal player; he’s also averaging 4.7 tackles per game. For a player who’s vastly inexperienced, I’d say those are some pretty impressive defensive stats, he’s only given away one foul in three games too. Against Liverpool, Jenkinson had to cope with Raheem Sterling’s blistering pace down the wing, he kept Sterling in his pocket and put in a fantastic performance against a ‘top’ side.
Vermaelen: The skipper. He’s demonstrated everything that a captain needs to be: vocal, strong, passionate and dedicated. Vermaelen seems to be sitting just behind Mertesacker in-case the German gets dribbled/ran past, this enables Vermaelen to use his pace and tough tackling to clear the danger. Vermaelen is the type of defender that any team craves for: he’s strong in the air (at either end of the pitch) and gets rid of any danger towards his goal. Vermaelen has made a whopping 18 clearances this season – more than any other player in the Premier League. When he’s not bombarding forward he’s, arguably, our best defender.
Mertesacker: Another defender who gets an incredible amount of criticism regarding his lack of pace, he makes up for it in the way that he reads the game. You don’t get 82 caps for your country if you’re a lousy defender; Mertesacker is a solid unit. His tackling is always inch-perfect, even when he was on a yellow against Liverpool he kept going into tackles, determined he would win the ball. Like the aforementioned, Mertesacker is another player who’s dedicated to the club and loves playing for Arsenal.
Gibbs: How Gibbs has only been capped by England twice I’ll never know. Gibbs mixes defending with attacking perfectly, making him one of the more promising English full-backs. Under the new defensive structure, Gibbs tucks in more often which incapacitates his attacking intent; when he rarely goes forward Podolski is always there to cover his position. Gibbs is great at breaking down opposition attacks, his 12 interceptions this season really backs that point up. All-in-all I think Gibbs is our 2nd best full-back just behind Sagna, I think Sagna’s experience and crossing edges Gibbs’. Potentially, Gibbs could be miles better than Sagna.
Koscielny: Arsenal’s best defender by a mile last season. Laurent put his demons behind him from the 10/11 season. His tackling and overall defending made him, statistically, the best defender in the league. He was hardly at fault for conceded goals and put in some superb last-ditch tackles. The dilemma Wenger will be facing is: should I drop Mertesacker for Koscielny? It’s very harsh on Mertesacker considering the magnificent form he’s on. Also, does Wenger really want to pair Vermaelen and Koscielny back up? They were a poor pairing towards the end of last season. But surely you can’t keep last season’s best defender on the bench after he’s just signed a new contract?! I reckon that Mertesacker will eventually be rotated with Koscielny and the latter will slowly instill himself back into the starting 11.
Do we bring this magnificent defensive form down to Steve Bould’s influence or has our defence finally come to the conclusion that they have to play for each other (as a unit)? Either way, it’s great to see some stability in our defence. Our next game is at home to Southampton which, fingers crossed, should be a comfortable win with a possible clean-sheet.
If you’re reading this on Chapman’s goal I’d like to point you in the direction of my own blog. I’ll be posting on here weekly. Cheers.
As first seen on Gunners ‘n’ Bees