Tag Archives: luiz

Arteta and the New Defence

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so the saying goes.

For a number of seasons, Arsenal have been top-heavy. Ridiculously powerful up top, capable of out-gunning any opponent, but porous at the back, like putting cowboy saloon doors on a bank vault.

Or a bodybuilder skipping leg day so much that his top half looks like it’s mid-way through swallowing his bottom half.

When was the last time we had a solid defence behind us that filled us with confidence? The last time we came close to that was the peak years of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Before and since, we’ve been fed on a diet of mediocre or average, which has been off-kilter to what we’ve had in attack.

Unai Emery recruited the likes of Sokratis to beef up our weak backline, offer some physical security. But if you’re also asking that same defence to play out from the back, Emery was ultimately trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

Then there is the capacity for mistakes in our defenders. Shkodran Mustafi can withstand pressure from teams for 80-85 minutes and be a prime candidate for Man of the Match, but he carries with him a warning sticker, that lets everyone know that there are mistakes within that can capitulate the efforts of the team, and override any decent aspects that Mustafi has contributed previously.

David Luiz is a huge character on and off the pitch, helping youngsters grow and also being a conduit for the positivity and work that Mikel Arteta’s new regime extolls. But every once in a while, Luiz will put his studded foot in his figurative mouth and inexplicably gift the opposition a goal.

It is a characteristic that has beset us for more than a decade, unfortunately.

But Mikel Arteta is instilling something at Arsenal. Something special. Something that is getting all of the players excited and looking to the next game. This tantalising project is luring players in. Both summer recruits thus far – Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes – have both spoken of other offers for their services coming in before joining Arsenal. Why did they shun these other, more lucrative deals?

Mikel Arteta.

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Magalhaes even spoke of a phone call from Arteta to convince him of his growth at Arsenal and the end goal of the club and how Magalhaes can be intrinsic to that.

We now have a solid looking nucleus of defenders at Arsenal.

Magalhaes was wanted by top clubs and chose Arsenal.

William Saliba is another top young talent that lit up Ligue Un last season. The Frenchman is younger than Magalhaes, but both could form part of a new-look backline – especially if Arteta continues to get his players adapting to a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation. It involves a bank of three central defenders, with two wing-backs shutting down the flanks and then offering an avenue in attack. Put the experienced Luiz in the centre, with the youthful exuberance and skills of Magalhaes and Saliba, and we are looking at a brand new backline that is capable of following Arteta’s wishes.

We also have depth too. With the cultured Pablo Mari to come back into the fold, and Calum Chambers – who impressed last season before injury cut his campaign short – we now have the resources available to withstand the annual Arsenal injury crises at the back.

With the impressive Kieran Tierney able to play centrally too, Arteta may well have what he needs at the back to push this club forward and toward where he wants – and we want – us to be.

 

Support Your Own

Villains arguably make a story.

Would Die Hard be as epic without Alan Rickman’s star turn as the super-slick Hans Gruber?

Would Anchorman be as complete without poor-man’s Ron Burgundy, Wes Mantooth?

What about the scene-stealing antics of Bricktop in Snatch?

A bad guy gets the best lines, a bad guy evokes emotion.

The same goes for sport, and those players that you just love to hate.

Gary Neville in his playing pomp used to play up to the Liverpool fans. He was Public Enemy Number One in the red half of Merseyside, and he loved every minute of it.

Our fanbase however, have taken this and gone into overdrive.

It is but a portion of Gooners that have chosen to concentrate their ire on one player.

The problem with this is that it is one of our own.

Football needs candidates we can boo and hiss at, those that as soon as they pick up the ball, we let them know in our own inimitable way, that they aren’t very welcome round these here parts.

To do it to one of our own players though, is simply ridiculous.

First it was Shkodran Mustafi who was the subject of vilification for his performances in red and white. The German’s propensity for high-profile boo-boo’s meant he was an easy target for mock-up’s, meme’s and general anger.

Now, criticism is part and parcel of being a fan. We are allowed to bestow compliments on those who do it week in and week out for our team, and the same goes when highlighting how erroneous a display has been.

If a player is dipping far below what is expected of them, then it is moronic to say we cannot hold them up and say “this is far from good enough.”

The same thing can be said for the treatment that has been doled out to both Mustafi and Granit Xhaka.

Xhaka and Luiz.jpg

Now Mustafi is out of the side, a portion of our fanbase needed another punch bag to aim their vitriol at. Step forward Granit Xhaka, and some out of context stats that show the Swiss star in a terrible light.

So far this season, he has been dribbled past the most, been tackled the most and his rash tackle on Son that gifted spurs a spot kick in our last North London Derby was yet another example of the weaknesses in Xhaka’s skillset.

It does hide the fact that when he doesn’t play, we so often lack a bridge between defence and attack and how prolific he is in sparking attacks from deep.

This article is not an affirmation of Xhaka for the first team. It is merely intended to highlight the awful critique he and Mustafi have to deal with from our own ‘fans.’

It goes far beyond ignorance. You can overlook the benefits of both players – Mustafi for example had better tackling and aerial battle stats than £80m man Harry Maguire last season – but the negativity aimed at both from people who purport to be Gooners?

Unforgivable.

Criticise, show that they have screwed up and we should play alternatives from now on – but when they are in our shirt, we must support.

That is the very essence of being a supporter. Through thick and thin, through awful players and soul-crushing losses. We continue to stand, to shout and to sing.

We represent the club, and at the moment, some of the hate that is directed toward our own players is at times shameful.

Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi obviously have their own failings and they are perhaps below what we need in our team right now.

But they both give their all for us and, Xhaka especially, continue to be picked by coaches that know far more than we do about the minutiae of the sport.

If they make a mistake in the future – and we all fear that there will be more to come – can we put a stop to the threats and hatred?

We have a squad that is capable of lifting us above the level we have been at recently. Let us unite behind our men and give them the support they need to elevate themselves further.

Players need backing just like we all do.

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!