Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge was blighted by poor form, which led to his lowest ever finish as Arsenal boss.
This was a symptom of a brittle weakness that saw us carved open by teams who smelled blood, pouring from our soft underbelly. Teams who had no right, on paper, to destroy us in the manner that they did.
It was our defence, from monitoring runs in midfield through to naive offside traps, woeful zonal marking and a general lack of organisation. This was the culprit that saw Wenger’s reign end in such circumstances.
The very same players are available to Unai Emery in his first match in charge. Both men couldn’t be more contrasting in their approach, and one thing that can fill us with optimism is the Spaniard’s dedication to looking at our opponents.
Still, all the video’s in the world looking at the minutiae of another team’s attack won’t be of any use if the personnel expected to act on Emery’s commands are inept.
Laurent Koscielny is 32 and will be out for the first half of the season through injury.
Shkodran Mustafi has strengths, but in terms of organisation and maintaining concentration he very much failed last season.
Konstandinos Mavropanos looks a real steal, but has made just a handful of appearances. A dip will come, and we don’t know when, how long it will last, or what it could cost us. One for the future.
Rob Holding had a fantastic debut season, but last season showed how far he still has to go before he makes it. Looks increasingly likely to go on loan to get the first team games he needs.
Then there is Calum Chambers. The England prospect looked to be on borrowed time until the latter half of last season, but Chambers excelled when called upon, and an extended contract is a symbol of the faith placed upon him. He looked to be the chosen one to lead this defence forward – but if he is, he’ll have to wait until next season after going on loan to Fulham for the campaign.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a recruit straight from the contacts book of a certain Sven Mislintat. The former Dortmund man is a seasoned veteran in terms of seasons spent in the top flight, having been with BVB for five seasons. Before that, he was at Werder Bremen for three seasons.
Interestingly, he was at AC Milan for two seasons, having been bought after impressing at Genoa. He made just five appearances in two years at the San Siro however, but what it does show is that he has experience from different leagues, which only serves to highlight why he will be so important.
Sokratis is now thirty years old. It means he will be our first choice centre back for probably a maximum of three to four years. What he can teach Holding and Mavropanos though, is invaluable. He has the potential to be a real hit in the teaching stakes, and the kids could soar next to such a grizzled warrior.
Sokratis is aerially strong and isn’t too rash either, something we can level at a host of other defenders in our past, and perhaps in our present. The partnership with Mustafi perhaps has shades of Campbell and Toure about it, with each defender performing different tasks. While Mustafi may not have the pace of Toure in his pomp, he is more than athletic, and is no slouch, as shownoften in recovering some messes he created himself in his time with us.
Sokratis has the physical edge we have been looking for, and he also is one who knows the seedier part of the game, a cynical slant, which will wipe the happiness from strikers faces, as opposed to before when they held no fear.
This signing is exactly what we need. Sokratis may only have a limited amount of miles on the clock, but if used right, and with the right partner, this could be a stroke of genius from our recruitment team.