Tag Archives: backline

David Luiz – An Improvement?

A lot of conversation has taken place in the wake of our active transfer window – and most of that has surrounded our defence.

David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney were the defensive additions this summer, but do they constitute what we needed to revitalise our last line of resistance?

Mark Lawrenson recently commented on our purchases and how our backline will cope this coming season. He proffered that while David Luiz is an excellent footballer, he is not an excellent defender.

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but a lot of experts have spoken about Luiz’s struggles with lining up in a back four and his decent showings in a back three.

The Brazilian is known for his superior technique and ball control, so much so that he has often been utilised in midfield as a sentry figure and one who can distribute the ball.

With William Saliba on loan for the season and very much a figure for the future, we currently have Rob Holding, Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Zech Medley as our central defensive units. Do any of them have the missing attributes we have been searching for since Sol Campbell departed the club?

Being Arsenal, our defenders will always be held up to a higher level of scrutiny. We have the highest set of standards because we had what was probably the best defence ever seen in the modern generation. Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn are part of the fabric of our club and the benchmark.

Since they retired, only Campbell and Toure for a short time have come close to that level. What is the level though?

What is it we need – and do our current crop have it?

The two characteristics we are perceived to lack are consistency and leadership. The consistency can be bred over time and can be achieved with a settled backline. So that is very much up in the air. Plus, we have defenders who have shown they can perform over a stretch of games. Sokratis last season hardly put a foot wrong. Rob Holding before his injury was a revelation.

Then there is the leadership quandary. A leader can be someone who leads by example. Laurent Koscielny was one of these. Then you have leaders who rangle their troops together vocally and by the way they deal with adversity. A stout heart and a puffed out chest.

Do we have that?

Sokratis seems an obvious choice on that front, but Luiz has always been a candidate at every club he has been at. Perhaps giving him the armband is a bit much, but can he show the younger players the right way? Can he bring the best out of his teammates? That would be a yes.

Luiz was a regular for the majority of his times at Chelsea and at PSG. That doesn’t happen by accident. While his best years may be behind him, the short term acquisition gives us a body that can cover us more than adequately.

David Luiz signs

Harking back to the titans of the past is a fruitless exercise, aside from the sweet pangs of nostalgia. A lot of our defence can be our approach to the game, and a more adaptable midfield who can track back and press attacks – so Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock have a lot of pressure on their shoulders too.

For now, we can look upon our signings positively, and our squad seems well stocked in all regions. Players like Luiz will help us far more than the experts seem to think he will, and his struggles in a back four have been exacerbated a tad.

The bottom line is that will he improve on Mustafi? That is a definite yes!

Selling Bellerin to Solve Our Defensive Woes?

This season has been a calamitous one at best.

Our Premier League campaign is the worst we’ve had under Arsene Wenger, and we’re set for the lowest finishing position in his tenure.
It all points to a manager that has lost his grip on what it takes at the cutting edge of the game, and a squad that quite clearly needs a drastic overhaul.

But does it? Or is the fault mainly in our defence that is as porous as a sponge?
Well, our attack is as potent as Tottenham’s, United’s and Chelsea’s in terms of goals scored, and we have proven world class talent in the form of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

Our defence however, is a different story.

We have conceded more goals than the rest of the teams in the top 7, this is the reason that as of 15/04/18, we had lost exactly one third of our total league games this season – and owned the worst away record of ANY team in the top 4 leagues in England.

Our best defenders are Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal. Both are the wrong side of thirty and Koscielny suffers from chronic tendonitis. There is only one way for them to go from here.

We do have an answer though.

Hector Bellerin to Barca?

Hector Bellerin is 23 and the Catalan-born defender is under contract until 2022. It is common knowledge that he isn’t short of admirers. His price tag would be a handsome one.

If we did dispense of his services, with whatever funds are currently at our disposal, we could add to it with a rather tidy sum and it could replenish our depleted numbers.

With the World Cup, most transfer fees will be grossly inflated, and we could really do with a few extra pennies to spend, as our backline isn’t merely on its last legs, it really needs a new foundation.

Rob Holding and Calum Chambers have shown enough to merit some faith in their future and with more games, they will improve. Shkodran Mustafi has been a failed purchase thus far, and Per Mertesacker is retiring. We need at least three new faces in defence, and they can’t be works in progress either – they will need to be established players who have top-flight experience.

Hector Bellerin has not exactly been fantastic this season. In attack he is a great outlet, but defensively, he hasn’t improved since his first full season. The Spaniard is still making mistakes with the timing of his forward runs and he is still beaten a little too easily when one on one.

Plus, we’ve now got a ready-made replacement in Stefan Lichtsteiner.

Should Barcelona come in with a £50m bid, would we be fools not to take it? Of course we wouldn’t. We’d be retaining a player with bags of talent that could vastly improve. If we sold him though, and we actually invested the money? It could be the reinvention our defence sorely needs.

Next season the competition will only get tougher, and with the gap between us and the top 6 stretching, it’s time to stop what we’re doing and change things up – what we’ve been doing isn’t working and at the root of this – Wenger aside – is our defence.

One player sold, and we could solve so many of our problems. Let’s face it, Hector will be going to Barca in 2-3 seasons maximum anyway.

Shouldn’t we cash in?

What would you do? Would you sell Bellerin?

Elneny – A Good Fit For Defence?

Arsene Wenger has had his fair share of success and failure. This is inevitable after such a long career and more opportunities for error and calling things correctly. 

Broad shoulders are needed when making decisions on a big stage. There are plenty who are lying in wait for crumbs of a mistake, and when it does happen, Wenger is rightfully grilled on the reasons why he opted for that call, rather than other avenues.

We can all pore over many litres of spilt milk, but there are many other decisions made by Wenger that have been perfectly timed. Those thoughts that manifested themself into a seamless correlation on the pitch. Some of these have been the adaptation of the players he has signed.

Those men that have been signed to do a certain job and through intense scrutiny on the training field, have been earmarked for an entirely different role. Those that spring to mind are Lauren Etame Bisan Meyer, Emmanuel Petit, Kolo Toure and of course, Thierry Henry. These players had forged a strong reputation – with the exception of Toure – in their respective countries and they signed for Arsenal thanks to their strong displays in different positions. 

Yet Wenger saw something in them that made him mark them for an entirely new venture.

This pre-season just passed saw another player dip their toes into a new place in the team, and Mohamed Elneny did a fair job considering the change in disciplines. How is this different to when Nacho Monreal plays in the heart of defence though?

It is down to Elneny’s place in the squad. Since joining from Basel in 2016 the Egyptian has not let anyone down and can hold his head high. His days at central midfield though, have been limited thanks to the rivals he has for those two spots in the middle of the park.

Elneny is not a spectacular player. He is not the type that pings passes from deep, and he isn’t one to carry the ball around two or three players. He keeps it simple, is effective with possession and has a great shot when the fancy takes him. He is a typical squad player, but could versatility help him land more starts?

Being able to play in defence means he is twice as likely to get a game, given the propensity for injuries in the modern game. Has he the game for this different set of requirements though?

He does indeed. Think back to Kolo Toure, is Elneny any less talented with the ball than the Ivorian? He may lack the recovery pace that Kolo had in his pomp, but Elneny’s experience in central midfield means that he has the tactical acumen required to place himself in a superior position – thus negating the need for that burst of speed. 

It works for Per Mertesacker.

When asked recently about Elneny’s chances of playing in defence, Wenger said to Metro –

 ” Elneny is a player who has a fantastic attitude and mentality, and his main target is to help the team. When he plays there, of course he does extremely well. Of course he needs to learn the defensive side, but I always felt that a good central midfielder can be a good centre back. With the fact of course that when you’re playing in the back four you have to be decisive in the challenges, you have a bit more flexibility in the middle of a back three. He can do that.”

So the boss plans on utilising this new found adaptability from Elneny. Let us not forget that a firm bid was lodged from Leicester City for the Egyptian, which the player himself refused. He seems intent on making a success of himself on Arsenal’s stage, and if it be at the back or in the engine room, Elneny is the type that will give his all to the cause.

The Famous Arsenal Back 5 – Will We See the Likes Again?

Published in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up yours outside The Emirates on matchdays!

It is a rare occurrence when rival teams and Managers acknowledge another teams strength. When it does happen, it sticks in the memory.

Think Henry being applauded by Pompey fans after destroying them single-handedly. Or Real Madrid fans begrudgingly clapping Ronaldinho after the Brazilian had taught their side a footballing lesson.

It doesn’t happen often, but it is a sign that true, unadulterated genius has touched proceedings.

Well, the amount of other teams managers, players and hierarchy that have held their hands up and given Arsenal’s famous ‘Back5’ as an example of the finest defensive unit to grace these shores, since the iconic Liverpool teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s is long and noteworthy.

Long coveting looks across the pitch and gushing comments of approval have rained down on the men who comprised the immovable object that was Arsenal’s Back 5 for over a decade – and for good reason.

Singularly, they were the zenith of defensive solidarity, giving each and every attacker the strictest of examinations. It was as a whole though, that they excelled. Much like the greatest groups that existed, each strength that was brought to the table was a segment that when put together, made an unbreakable shield.

Like the 300 which battled fiercely in Thermopylae, the shield formation which was the demise of many Persian enemies is a succinct example of Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon and Seaman. 

If one shield drops, then the whole unit is compromised. It was each mans strength which gave the other man protection. It was a united effort. 

At the centre, the Captain. Born to be a leader, adored the club and led from the front. Every battalion needs a shining example to ready the troops before battle, and Adams stood on the parapet each and every time, sword raised, his battlecry inspiring his men. 

He wasn’t half bad on the pitch either. His reading of the game was modelled on England hero Bobby Moore, and he excelled. His aerial ability was unrivalled at both ends of the pitch, and he was his managers perfect middle man, making sure the plan was perfectly pitched.

Alongside him was Steve Bould. The forever follically-challenged Bould was the perfect foil for Adams, and each complimented the other. When both were playing, the foundation that the rest of the team could fall back on must have been a welcome presence.

On the right, Lee Dixon had an incredible engine, and whilst his frame was never imposing, his desire and tackling ability more than made up for his lack of height. His crossing was always a valuable outlet, and he never left his post, unlike some modern fullbacks today.

Nigel Winterburn was on the left, and he provided the same outlet that Dixon did on the opposite side. He also played on the edge, sometimes boiling over when he felt injustice.

Then the gentle giant David Seaman was the man between the sticks. A huge man with a gargantuan wingspan, he commanded his area with no room for error. Whilst the midfield could feel relieved to have the stout defence behind them, the very same defenders could rest assured that ‘SafeHands’ was standing true if any enemy broke through.

These paragraphs aren’t meant to do justice to these players. Their legacy goes beyond words. The reason their tenure at the club stretched for so long is that the essential factor of any defence – reliability – existed every year. Their excellence at what they did ensured that every season, the club would at least have a solid footing to fall back on. 

The perfect example was in Copenhagen in 1994, when Arsenal won the European Cup Winners Cup after beating Parma 1-0. The Italians had the cream of attacking talent and were widely expected to roll over the Gunners, but Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla grew more and more frustrated as the famous back 5 repelled each and every attempt they mustered. It was the perfect battle between attack and defence, and Arsenal’s backline won handsomely.

Arsene Wenger’s glittering start at the club would have been markedly different if he didn’t have this cadre of soldiers to fuse to his cosmopolitan flair. The mix in styles worked perfectly, and Wengers handling of the players training and fitness allowed these men to play on for more years than they ought to have with their previous regimen.

We have had defenders who have performed admirably for us since. Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and a few others provided top grade service to the shirt during their playing careers, but they never came close to recreating what the famous Back5 had.

The fact they are famous across footballing circles is because they were exactly what other managers wanted at their club – and still do.

Some factors in the sport are meant to be held up and admired through rose-tinted specs, and used as a prime example of what to aim for. Used as the ultimate achievement, but most will fail to attain such a standard. 

Will we ever witness such an amalgamation of titans again? A barrier so formidable that even the sharpest of attacks were blunted as they attempted to force their way through? 

As aforementioned, we have had elements of the equation before, but never as a whole. Could we now though, have all the parts to build the machine we require?

Petr Cech is still one of the finest exponents of goalkeeping in the Premiership. Hector Bellerin is already one of the best in his position, and at such a young age he will only get better. Koscielny had already forged a reputation as one of our greatest defenders, he just needed a partner. In Mustafi it appears he may have found one. On the left, Nacho Monreal has given us, and continues to, reliable service in defence and attack.

It is far too early to give a prognosis on the replication of such an immortal band of men, but the signs are good.

All they need now is a decade or more playing together, a truckload of trophies, and form that never dips below a certain level. 

Shouldn’t be too hard.