Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Case For Arsenal's Defence So Far This Season.

I had almost forgotten how boring an international break could be, from an Arsenal perspective. However, it has come back to slap me in the face today, as the Arsenal news is as thin on the ground as I have seen it for a long time. On days like this I have to try to find something a little different to write about. I suppose at look at how the season has gone so far would be a pretty start, so I'll attempt to do that.

At the start of the season I was very worried about Arsenal goalkeeping situation, as I didn't consider either Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski good enough. As it has transpired so far I think my thoughts on Almunia have been proved right, as he still looks absolutely unconvincing when he plays. He may make good saves at times but he cannot control his area, he's too indecisive and the defenders have no confidence in him.
On the other hand Arsenal had the error prone Fabianski coming in when Almunia hurt his elbow and thankfully he has actually shown his potential and taken his chance when it came along. I'm not saying he's perfect, but no keeper is perfect in my opinion. We have seen bad mistakes from the goalkeepers at every team in the Premier League so far this season, and Fabianski has made a couple himself. However, in between the odd mistake his overall game is far superior to that of Almunia, and in between those very rare mistakes his confidence has not suffered. If he continues his current form I would be quite happy to continue the whole season with him in goal.

At the start of the season Arsenal's full back options looked fairly good with Bakari Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue on the right, and Gael Clichy and Kieran Gibbs on the left. For me Sagna has been back to almost his best in an Arsenal shirt but when Eboue has replaced him I have been a little worried as his concentration has been poor. Sagna  has got forward when it has been needed and I think his crossing has improved a little too. He took his goal against Everton very well last Sunday, and I am fairly confident that he will continue his good form.

On the left hand side the options would seem to be a lot better as both Clichy and Gibbs have real quality in my opinion. It would be nice to see how Gibbs manages with a run in the team, as he is still relatively unproven at this level, but it would seem that he gets injured every single time he plays. I know that's got to be an exaggeration, but he looks to be as injury prone as other players like Theo Walcott or Robin Van Persie.
That leaves Clichy as Arsenal's left back in almost every game they play, and although his form isn't as good as it was a couple of years ago I think he is still doing a good job. Of course he makes mistakes, as all players do, but Arsenal just seem to get punished more when those mistakes are made. He gets caught in two minds when he's in possession occasionally, and I think that he just needs a little more concentration to cut that out of his game. When he gave the ball away against Shakhtar Donetsk, and it led to their winning goal, I thought that he should have taken the player down and accepted a yellow card for it.

I still think that he will improve this season, and if he can get a regular pairing in central defence alongside him, that should be easier for him. His contribution going forward isn't all that it could be, and certainly his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. I think that he suffers from a slight lack of confidence at times when he crosses the halfway line, but as the team improves that should improve too.

At the start of the season Arsenal had two new centre backs to add to their squad, and also Johan Djourou was returning from a year out injured. It meant that they needed Thomas Vermaelen to be the rock at the centre of the defence, as he looked to have three relative unknowns beside him. Unfortunately Vermaelen picked up an injury playing for his country at the end of August, and he has not played a minute for Arsenal since then. It has meant that the other three players are all playing a little more than might have been expected, and to be fair to them they haven't done too badly at all. 

When I saw him at first I thought that Johan Djourou had a long way to go to recover from his season long injury, and he has gradually improved as he has played more games. His recent performances have been very good, and he is making a real case to be included in the team when Vermaelen returns. He is by far Arsenal's tallest defender, and he has being using that to the team's advantage in recent games as Laurent Koscielny has been suspended.

Koscielny himself has done fairly well too, but his two red cards in the league have meant that he has already been suspended for three of our 13 games. The double yellow against Liverpool may have been harsh, but the straight red for denying a goalscoring opportunity against Newcastle was probably justified. He likes to predict what is coming, and get in ahead of the man he is marking, but it has cost him on a couple of occasions. I think he has the making of a very good defender, although I don't know how well he would play alongside Vermaelen.

The last central defender is Sebastien Squillaci, and again he's a defender I knew very little about before he joined Arsenal. He has a fair deal of experience, and quite a few winners medals to his name as well. So far he has looked quite good, although he does look a little short of speed at times. I would be quite happy to see him play alongside any of the other three central defenders, but I think his role will be as a back up to them when everybody is available to play.

Looking at the defence as a whole it would seem that Arsenal are still leaking too many goals this season, but in fact only Chelsea and Man City have actually conceded less goals in the league this season. In Arsenal's last five league games they have only conceded two goals, and a continuation of that form will go a long way towards delivering a league title this season. Is it a coincidence that Fabianski has played in goal for those games? I don't think so, and I also think that the defence as a whole looks better with him behind it. When Vermaelen returns the defence will hopefully become even tighter, and that can only be a good thing.

Having taken so long to review the defence I think I should leave the midfield and attack until tomorrow. After that it will be my usual predictions on Friday, before previewing the game against The Spuds on Saturday morning. If any of that sounds good, don't forget to read my opinions on all of them on those days. That's it for today.

See You Tomorrow.

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