Friday, 3 June 2011

Arsenal Season Review 2010/11: The Defenders.

My season review started yesterday when I reviewed the goalkeepers performances for the season just passed. Today I'll move on to the defenders, and try to analyse how each of them performed individually and as a unit. The chances are that Arsene Wenger will be buying a new centre back at least this summer, and possibly another defender too.

I'll start with Bacary Sagna as he was Arsenal's most consistent defensive performer last season in my opinion. As usual Sagna was solid at the back, and on the rare occasion when he made a mistake it was a genuine shock to see him do so. His crossing is perceived as being poor, but without a target to hit in the box it's difficult for crosses to be converted. 

Sagna managed a couple of goals and he also had three assists to his name as well. He may not be the tallest defender Arsenal have, but he has the ability to position himself well enough so that he is rarely beaten in the air. He is one of the best right backs in the Premier League, and Arsenal need to get other defenders who are as consistent as him in order to improve their defensive record.

Gael Clichy performed pretty well at left back, but there is still a feeling among a lot of Arsenal fans that he's not the player he was a few years ago. He's the last tie with the invincibles in the current squad, and he is certainly one of the better left backs in the Premier League too. His crossing is certainly not as good as Sagna', and he rarely performs as well in the opposing half as Sagna.

In my opinion Clichy is suffering from a lack of confidence at times, and his ability to lose the ball when in possession in his own half is worrying. He seems unable to decide what to do with the ball at times, and it has cost Arsenal on more than one occasion. I think his positioning and overall defending are good enough except for those lapses, and he needs to sort out his concentration levels.

I'm sure Sagna has more options when he is in possession in his own half, but I'm equally sure that Clichy is far too hesitant for his own good a times. If he can sort that part of his game out I hope he can again be considered one of the very best left backs in the world. He has an uncanny ability to intercept the ball when opponents are attacking, and set Arsenal off on a counter attack of their own. There are rumours of Clichy wanting to leave this summer, but I hope they aren't true.

It's difficult to rate Thomas Vermaelen's performance last season, as he only played five games because of the injury he picked up on international duty. If he had been available to play all season things might have been different, but he wasn't and there's nothing that can be done about it. When Vermaelen arrived from Ajax the previous season he was a revelation, and hopefully he can be the defensive leader Arsenal need next season.

Johan Djourou's Arsenal career had been blighted by a series of injuries until last season, but he eventually managed to show why the manager rates him so highly. With Vermaelen injured so early on, and Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squllaci only new to the club Arsenal were very lucky to have Djourou available. He slowly played his way into the team after he had missed all of the previous season through injury, but by the end of the season he was Arsenal's best central defender.

At first he was used sparingly, as the manager said he would take time to recover from missing a whole season. However, at the turn of the year he became a mainstay of the team, and Arsenal started to show some real defensive stability. Unfortunately he picked up a bad injury in the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United, and when he returned almost a month later his form suffered.

He had a very good partnership with Koscielny when Arsenal looked to be at their best defensively, and he looks to have a very bright future in my opinion. He added some much needed height to the Arsenal defence, but his goal return for a player who is good in the air was fairly poor at only one goal. If he can continue the progress of last season he will give Arsenal some genuine options at the back for a few years to come. I would like to see how well he performs alongside Vermaelen, and hopefully they will get a chance to play together.

Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal's biggest purchase last summer, and he was expected to slot into the defence alongside Vermaelen. A red card in his first game didn't help him too much, but the partnership had just begun when Vermaelen got the injury which kept him out of the team until May. It meant Koscielny was now seen as the first choice centre back with only two Premier League games to his name.

He had been very impressive in a far less physical French league last season, but he struggled with the physicality of the Premier League at times. When he played with Djourou he looked a far better player, but his partnership with Squillaci struck fear into the hearts of Arsenal fans. Both players may be French, but there was very little understanding between them on the pitch, and Arsenal suffered as a result.

I think Koscielny had a fairly good first season in English football, but too much was asked of him at such an early stage in his Arsenal career. He has the potential to be a very good player for Arsenal, and even if he isn't first choice he will make an excellent back up. He can be very quick to predict what opponents are doing, and intercept the ball at vital times and he looks very comfortable when he is in possession.

At times he seems a little too anxious to win the ball, and it has led to him going through his man in dangerous situations and giving away free kicks and penalties. I think he needs to pick and choose when to try to intercept, and when to just stick closely to his man. I still think he will be judged to have been a good purchase by the end of next season. 

Squillaci was a last minute purchase as Arsenal desperately looked to replace the three centre backs who had left the club. He was playing in Spain at the time, and he has won quite a few league titles with different clubs throughout his career. He looked like he might be a reasonable back up to Vermaelen and Koscielny, but when Vermaelen got injured so early on he had to step into the team.

At first he formed a reasonably good partnership with Koscielny, but as time went by they were exposed more and more often. When he played alongside Djourou he seemed to be a little better, and the problem seemed to be with his partnership with Koscielny. As Koscielny was seen as the better of the two it meant Squillaci came in for the flack when things went wrong.

The own goal he scored against Wigan Athletic which cost Arsenal a victory was a low point, as he got so much wrong when he tried to challenge for the ball. The general consensus among Arsenal fans is that he was a poor signing, and he could well be on his way again this summer. He is not commanding in the air, and his speed on the ground leaves a lot to be desired too. It's probably in the best interest of both the club and the player if he is sold this summer, as long as a better replacement can be found.

Kieran Gibbs had yet another injury interrupted season for Arsenal which meant he had few chances to impress in the first team. He is seen as a real prospect for the future at left back, but he needs to keep himself injury free next season to progress. His attacking capabilities are better than those of Clichy in my opinion, but he still has a lot to learn defensively.

What can you say about Emmanuel Eboue other than he is a difficult player to assess. Since the low point of Wigan a couple of seasons ago he has become a cult figure among many Arsenal fans, but I just cannot see the appeal myself. I worry when he is on the pitch, as I genuinely don't know what will happen next.

He's as likely to beat two opponents and set up a goal, as he is to fall over and play dead looking for a free kick. He has to be judged on his defensive abilities, and I just don't think he has the concentration or positional sense to play at the level Arsenal want to reach. He is a loose cannon on the pitch, and in my opinion the club would be better off selling him and replacing him with a player who knows how to defend properly which is the prime requisite for any defender. It's hard to judge him on last season as he rarely played, but I think he has actually regressed.

Ignasi Miquel only played two FA Cup games for Arsenal, but in those games he showed enough to indicate he might possibly be a star of the future. Kyle Bartley spent the season on loan at both Sheffield United and Rangers, and particularly at Rangers he impressed. He was used in a defensive midfield role rather than his preferred role of centre back, but he also looks like he might have something to offer in the future.

Arsenal's defensive problems can't really be put down to a personnel problem, as it seems to be a lack of organisation and commitment at times which are costing them  dearly. As far as I know Arsenal conceded less goals from open play than any other team in the Premier League last season, but they were a shambles at times from set pieces. They need a ball winning centre back who will take no prisoners, and  stop at nothing to win the ball from set pieces.

Hopefully the return of Vermaelen next season will add some leadership to the defence, and hopefully the manager will buy the type of defender he needs for certain opponents in the Premier League. If those issues can be addressed, and Arsenal can practice defending set pieces until they have perfected the drill I think they can sort out their defensive issues. However, if the defence continues to suffer like it did last season it could be the beginning of the end for Arsene Wenger.

That's it for today.

Here's a little bit of Sagna.

See You Tomorrow

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