Tag Archives: defender

Bellerin For Captain?

Last season saw plenty of changes in what was Unai Emery’s first season in charge.

We saw the constant switching between three and five at the back. We saw the first eleven tinkered with in order to find that special slice of chemistry. We saw our press activate and disengage within minutes.

All signs of a fledgling regime, but another change was very much up for questioning.

The decision to grant the captains armband to Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil was examined closely by all and sundry. With Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech missing out on chunks of the season through injury and selection reasons, it left three men leading the team out for the majority.

Granit Xhaka, love him or loath him, is one of the few who show true leadership qualities on the field and warranted the captaincy, and Aaron Ramsey’s association with the club was a lengthy one and he held the respect of his teammates.

Mesut Ozil perhaps was awarded the armband on occasion to give him the confidence he desired, a clear signal of intent that he was needed and had a specific role to play. Lead by example, show the others what they need to do.

Did the decision to split captaincy responsibilities work?

That depends who you ask, but it could be a work in progress.

What about next season though?

With both Cech and Ramsey both having left the club, it leaves three from last season who wore the armband.

When you take into consideration that official club captain Laurent Koscielny has gone on strike to engineer a move away from Arsenal?

That whittles it down to two.

Mesut Ozil is not a typical captain, but will command the respect from his comrades, but are there others who would be leaders and could help elevate performance with their own take on what captains should do on the pitch.

One candidate who has been spoken about at length is Hector Bellerin.

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The Spaniard has been with the club since 2013 and counts as a homegrown player. His affection for the club is evident through his social media activity and his desire on and off the pitch has driven him to great things.

Just look at how he took to Emery’s new regime at the start, before his horror injury. He was one of the standout performers, one that took his game to the next level. He was a massive threat up top, facilitating our attackers, and his defensive side had tightened considerably.

He could command the eleven and ensure instructions are carried out. He is the ideal middle man, a conduit between Emery and his men.

Bellerin is due to return from injury early in the season, and stands alone in regard to the right-back spot. Maitland-Niles did an admirable job last season filling in and has done his future at the club no harm whatsoever, but Bellerin will no doubt pick up where he left off.

Sokratis is another player who could lead the players, but in terms of style, it would be a more vocal approach from the Greek – and Bellerin has plenty of years in the tank yet to push his legacy at the club. Sokratis is more of a short-term fillip we need to hold our defence together.

Hector’s values align with our own, he is progressive and he wants the club to achieve – he cares. Isn’t that fundamentally what pushes all captains?

Bellerin is one of the few players who is intrinsically linked with the fibre of the club woven deep. He will wear the armband with pride and rightfully so. He will deserve it. Age is just  a number, Bellerin has earned the shot to lead the team out – and it could be a masterstroke.

Kolasinac Deserves the Spotlight

Unai Emery has brought with him many changes since he was drafted in to herald in the post- Wenger era.

 

Many of them were not his choice. Backroom staff such as Raul Sanllehi were brought in slightly beforehand but are very much part of the new dynasty that Emery is meant to hone into success.

 

Others are very much stamped with the Spaniard’s touch. Matteo Guendouzi is part of the new breed for Arsenal, but some of the existing players have transitioned to the new methods far better than others too.

 

One of those is Sead Kolasinac.

 

The burly Bosnian has been the stampeding horse on our left hand side, so often providing the outlet our play needs when we are stemmed in the final third. Kolasinac has also been perfectly placed for Emery’s experiments with the wing-back system – five technically at the back, with the left and right backs flying forward to also provide the width sorely needed by our team.

 

It requires excellent stamina and the decision making that allows the player to gauge when to fly forward and when to sit back.

 

The stamina has never been in question, but the ability to judge when to assist his attacking brethren is sometimes lacking.

 

On more than one occasion we have seen a gaping maw on our left hand side that has been vacated by yet another Kolasinac rampage. The truth is though, that unless we have a full-back that is of the ilk of Bixente Lizarazu, Maldini and our legends of Dixon and Winterburn, we will never truly eradicate ourselves of that occasional weakness on the flank.

 

Mistakes will be made, no player is infallible. Kolasinac though, has at the very least, truly optimised his exertions in the final third.

 

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His unstoppable runs to the byline have seen him create more chances this season than any other Arsenal player. That is quite some feat with the creative talents on show at the club. The next best player in terms of opportunities made?

 

Another vilified player in Alex Iwobi.

 

Both have combined well and offered something different. True, both have their failings, but they are at least justifying their spots in the side.Iwobi is enjoying his best ever season in terms of return – at the time of writing he has four goals and six assists – yet both do not enjoy the favouritism that some players enjoy. The adulation never quite reaches them, but take them away and what do we have?

 

A team completely devoid of thrust, instead choosing to pass sideways. Like it or not, our left side has been predominant in terms of where our goals come from.

 

Kolasinac especially, has done himself proud whenever he has donned the shirt this season. Compare this to last season when he was very much a fringe player, lurking in the shadows created by the reliable Nacho Monreal.

 

This campaign has seen the player that terrorised the Bundesliga come to roost at the Premiership, and we are benefitting from it. The Bosnian is one of our dangermen – and we should recognise how good he has been, rather than choose to focus on the one mistake he makes every two or three games – which is far fewer than most.

 

Kolasinac has been fantastic, and long may it continue.

 

The Best of Koscielny

Laurent Koscielny’s injury suffered during our Europa League Semi-Final not only ended his season, but his World Cup dream.

He had to watch from the sidelines as his compatriots enjoyed the perfect World Cup, lifting the famous trophy to be crowned World Champions.

All while Koscielny was nursing himself nearer to a return to the pitch.

It must have been pretty difficult to overcome the knowledge that if it weren’t for his achilles injury, the defender would have gotten his hands on the World Cup. It is a thought that is perfectly designed to torment for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Koscielny stuck gamely to his task and now we have our club captain back and available for selection – but is his Arsenal career now merely passing the torch to his students?

Koscielny has been a fine defender for us. His arrival in 2011 was pretty unheralded, despite the relatively high transfer fee. We saw a rough but adept defender, who resembled Kolo Toure in style, but with a shorter temper.

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Koscielny always had a tendency to jump into tackles, giving away needless set-plays thanks to his penchant for going to ground. It took years to coach out of him, but for the last five seasons, Koscielny, has been amongst the greatest defenders to grace the Premier League.

His reading of the game benefitted from partnering the sage Per Mertesacker. His aerial ability has always been strong, and his strength belies his streamlined physique. Koscielny’s greatest asset though?

His undying loyalty.

The Frenchman stayed with us through the miasma of struggles we have endured. In the seven years he has been with us, approaching eight, Kos has seen many stars depart for greener pastures, he has seen seasons crumble into the abyss, he has been humbled by the odd thrashing.

Yet, much like how we herald the fact that the likes of Rosicky stayed during times of distress and precious little success, Kos too did the same thing. He stayed because he loves the club, and we adore him too.

This is why we must keep Kos in amongst the squad. He has much to teach the likes of Medley, Holding, Chambers and others pushing through. He can show them what it means to put on the jersey, he can show them about recovering from a mistake, or when a partner leaves a path open.

Kos can pass on his learnings from seasons of under-par partners, from under-strength squads. He may have lost the peak abilities he once had, but he still has enough to see he is one of our stronger defenders, and is well worthy of a place.

We may have seen the best of Koscielny, but no one wants to see him go just yet. He deserves every bit of our respect.

Square Pegs In Round Holes – Xhaka at LB?

Injury fiasco’s are commonplace for football clubs.

Especially if you’re an Arsenal fan.

We know exactly what it takes when ailments, suspensions and plain bad luck conspire to rob you of a recognised position. In the past five or six seasons, we have seen players shoehorned into a slot that is a stranger to them. We’ve seen Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal use their defensive nous at centre-back. We have also had Mohamed Elneny play in the centre of defence, as well as Bacary Sagna.

As you can see, it has been in defence that we have mainly suffered. Of course, we have had our fair share of crises in midfield and attack, but when it comes to contorting a player so they fit into an alien position? It is always in the backline.

It has happened again this season, as we have been blighted by injury at full-back.

So much so, that Granit Xhaka has been chosen to play at left-back on more than one occasion.

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What is it though, that made Unai Emery choose our Swiss midfielder to play in the role?

Perhaps the answer can be found with the aforementioned previous instances.

When Sagna, Elneny, Debuchy and Monreal were chosen by Wenger to fulfill a role in the heart of defence, it was because they were well versed in the defensive script. Debuchy had a fantastic aerial ability for a player of average height. Monreal is a classy player who can adapt to most roles, Sagna was strong in the tackle, and Elneny?

The Egyptian is a solid player, one who will always give his all and never let the side down. He is also decent in the air and at winning the ball. A switch to the centre of defence is a natural move for Elneny given his playing style.

But Xhaka playing at full-back? Especially when our team methods involve a heavy amount of metronome-like activity from the left and right-backs?

Xhaka isn’t blessed with the ability to track runners. The Swiss man though, has an excellent tank on him, and can win the ball if given the opportunity. Since Emery arrived, Xhaka has been transformed too.

Xhaka has confessed that the arrival of Lucas Torreira has allowed him to play his natural game, which links up defence and attack with a swift ball. Does that translate to left-back though?

A certain amount of Unai’s decision to make Xhaka the left-back comes down to the commitment that Xhaka gives. He takes his role as part-Skipper seriously, and his desire to win is clear for all to see.

The proof is in the pudding though. How did Xhaka perform in his unfamiliar role?

He didn’t let anyone down and was solid, if unspectacular. There was no bombing forward a la Monreal and Kolasinac, although he did get forward at times. He put defending first and foremost, and there were precious few opportunities from the left flank that Xhaka gave away.

The decision still causes a few head scratches. Alex Iwobi (yes, Iwobi. The boy tracks back,) Zach Medley, Carl Jenkinson, Elneny. Just a few names that would have appeared a little higher in a list of prospective left-backs. Yet Xhaka was named and he did a decent job.

It just shows that the coach knows more than we do!

Hector On The Rise

Hector Bellerin is far more effective than people give him credit for.

The Spaniard wasn’t the only one to fail to reach their best last season, as the wheels came off in what was Wenger’s final season.

Yet, the defender was labelled as a poor defender, a liability. Bellerin had hit the wall, he wouldn’t progress further.

This season, under new boss Unai Emery, Bellerin has risen to the occasion and played out of his skin thus far, in both defence and attack. Despite this, Bellerin has still had his critics, throwing the same barbs as before.

What isn’t highlighted, is that Bellerin is doing the work of two men, and performing near-miracles on the right hand side.

Unai Emery seems to prefer a 4-2-3-1, but has shown he can vary his approach. His favoured formation though, is leaving Bellerin wide open to salvo’s from the opposition, yet the Spanish defender is on the money and giving everything to keep the leaks to a bare minimum.

With the new regime, we are obviously suffering some teething problems at the back. Playing out from deep, in the face of an effective press, will require more practice and time. The new instructions and pairings are gelling together slowly but surely.

So a drought of clean sheets is to be expected. However, if it wasn’t for the engine of Bellerin and his vastly improving defensive skills, we would have conceded far more – and scored a fair amount less too.

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Our manbun-sporting defender has been a huge asset in our attack, linking up at nearly every opportunity with our attacking quartet. He is grabbing assists and more often than not, testing the opposition keeper every game.

If you check social media or newspaper ratings though, you could be forgiven for thinking you watched the wrong player. A raft of 5’s and 6’s, labelled weak in defence, Bellerin apparently can’t escape the mediocre tag even when he’s playing well.

There is a lot of focus on Bellerin simply because there is a lot of possession going down his side, and with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and/or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bellerin is receiving zero cover.

Considering Bellerin is defending his entire flank by himself, it means that his forays forward need to be timed better than ever, otherwise he will – and the team will – be horribly exposed. So for Bellerin to have his best start to a season as an attacking player is evidence that he is using his footballing brain – he has evolved.

He is doing double the work, and is having his most effective season thus far. It is easy to forget he is still only 23. Ask any other right-back in the Premier League to put in his miles, make as much impact in the attacking third and also keep it as tight as he has?

I am convinced that none of his positional cohorts could manage what he has done.

Is it the arrival of an established rival that has pushed him on? In Stephane Lichtsteiner, Bellerin has massive pressure to keep his performances optimal, as he will be well aware that Lichtsteiner can stepin and keep him on the bench for an extended time.

Perhaps it is the threat of losing his place, maybe it is the fact he is learning and simply improving.

Either way, we have a right-back that is one of the best at both ends of the pitch – no matter what experts and some fans say.

Sokratis – Just What We Needed

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 at former club BVB

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.

Stefan Lichtsteiner Signs For Arsenal

Arsenal have made their first signing of the summer, with former Juventus defender Stefan Lichtsteiner joining the club.

The 34yr old right-back has joined on a free transfer, and his vast experience is not the only benefit to signing the Swiss defender, who is on World Cup duty with his country and will captain Switzerland.

Lichtsteiner is known for his lung-bursting runs down the right flank and his incredible stamina, and has been well versed in Italian defending, so his nous will be a welcome addition to our backline.

The defender won every domestic honour there is to win in his time in Turin, seven seasons in all, and also had three successful years at Lazio.

His addition is seen to be competition for Hector Bellerin, with the young Spaniard comfortable in his status last season with no real players vying for his shirt. Now Lichtsteiner has arrived, and will put genuine pressure on Bellerin to perform in every match.

Lichtsteiner also allows Bellerin to move up the pitch should Emery seek to utilise the flanks. With the Swiss man behind Bellerin offering real support, it means we can truly switch things up on the pitch should Emery need to.

Lichtsteiner, when questioned on his motives on joining the Gunners, mentioned that it was the project that really attracted him to The Emirates, and said that he “will work hard and passionately day in and day out to achieve our sporting objectives and to win trophies with this great club.”

Unai Emery spoke of his first signing, stating” Stephan brings huge experience and leadership to our squad. He’s a player with great quality with a very positive and determined attitude. Stephan will improve us on and off the pitch.”