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I haven’t written a blog in a very long time. This is mostly likely due to the fact that I don’t really have a lot of positive things to say about Arsenal lately and I haven’t had the heart to put down all my frustrations in writing.

Living here in Canada can make it difficult to be a Gooner, but there are days when it makes it easier. When I’m sick of Arsenal and their constant disappointment, I turn off the TV, shut down my stream, log-off from Twitter and walk away. Watching the game at home or in the pub, I can complain to my friends on Twitter or the person standing next to me: I am allowed the right to yell at players, complain about our defense and even ask Arsene what the hell he is thinking even if it’s only shouting at the ether.

While spending my time following The Arsenal on Twitter, I’ve noticed a trend of “blame the home fans” tweets popping up. I often read them and think how easy it is to make these statements from the comfort of one’s living room. There is no expectation on me as a fan. I don’t have to cheer for 90 minutes, I don’t stand in the freezing cold being taunted by other fans and I don’t have to live with the media backlash for days after a loss. I’m allowed to voice my opinion without fallout or negativity and, most importantly, when I’m sick of Arsenal I can just walk away with no repercussions.

Home fans are there game in and game out. When it’s cold, when it’s snowing, when Arsenal go on a run of incredibly depressing, lacklustre and mind-numbing games, the home fans are there living it. We are all sick of hearing about financial statements and balanced budgets but without the home fans there wouldn’t be an Arsenal. The majority of the money that Arsenal make does not come from merchandise, television, sponsorships or CL money. Our home fans and the money they spend are what our team is built on and for that fact alone they deserve some respect.

Home fans are not responsible for the signing of players, how a player performs, where a player is utilized or when Arsene’s zipper fails. There is a myth of the 12th man on the pitch, that somehow these home fans are expected to be “super” fans who don’t feel the same frustration and disappointments that we do. A belief that if these fans chant a player’s name, he somehow he excels against all odds. These players are professionals. They are paid millions to do a job once or twice a week. They didn’t have thousands of fans screaming their name as they were learning how to play football, they should be able to be talented and productive players regardless of what the fans are doing.

I was privileged enough to attend a game at The Emirates thanks to the generosity of a season ticket holder. Being at The Emirates was an experience I’ll never forget. I attended the very first 5-2 North London Derby and the intensity of the emotional rollercoaster I experienced was overwhelming. I didn’t stand and scream the entire time, half the time I forgot other people where even there. I was so caught up in the game, the emotions and the constant silent pleas to the football gods that we would score, that I didn’t think to even attempt to start a chant.

It’s become commonplace to assign blame, to score points by bashing others, attach an acronym to a supporter with a differing view. The art of conversation and dialogue has been lost, we are a fanbase bitterly divided and it’s difficult to see a way past that. I’m hoping that we can return to a time of rational discussion, to hear and respect viewpoints which differ from our own and understand that no matter where a person watches Arsenal, we all want the club to succeed.

“After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between loving a player and loving a club,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaving

And loyalty isn’t always returned.

And you begin to learn that badge kisses aren’t contracts

And P.R statements aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your teams on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…

That even success can burn if you get too much.

So you support your team and love your club,

Instead of waiting for some player to bring you joy.

And you learn that Arsenal really can endure…

That the cannon is mighty

And Victoria Concordia Crescit really does have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.”

 

 

The original version of this poem can be found here. Hopefully Ms Shoffstall doesn’t mind the Arsenalisation

This whole series of blogs started with a conversation between Mimsie and myself. She had written a blog about fangirls, and her defence of them challenged me and forced me to view myself as a supporter in a new light. How was I seen? Could I fit the definition of a fangirl? How did the male Gooners I interact with perceive me? As I began trying to figure out answers to these questions I reached out to fellow female Gooners whom I respected and asked them to write about their thoughts and experiences. Mimsie as well wrote an excellent blog on her thoughts and experiences here, from which I will shamelessly quote as I attempt to explain my thoughts.

As I thought about my experiences as a fan, I discovered that it wasn’t about my gender, my preferred midfield, or how much I wanted Arsene as our coach that was important to me. What I wanted from interaction with fellow fans was a sense a community, a place to be heard, to listen, to be challenged and grow as a supporter.

I realized that I have never made my gender an issue. I had never thought of myself as being different to any relatively new Arsenal fan. I love our team with a passion and with every passing year, my knowledge grows. Last season when I had the incredible fortune of travelling to London and watching the season-changing 5-2 NLD, I didn’t view myself as a female surrounded by male supporters. I felt like I had come home. I wasn’t excluded; I was embraced, maybe a bit too roughly while being pounded on the back with excitement, but I wasn’t complaining.

As in the quote below I had viewed my fan experience as ordinary until I was reminded by others that I wasn’t:

“It’s an extraordinarily unordinary fan experience, as far as I’m concerned. Which is fine, seeing as I’m just another fan. Every so often, though, I’m reminded — by blog posts, tweets, off-hand remarks — that this isn’t exactly true. Every so often, you come across a comment that feels like a slap in the face. Because women don’t actually like sports, it’s assumed. Women only care about how hot the players are, not how well they play. Only men can really appreciate football. And therefore men are better fans.”

I mentioned in my introductory blog that recently had my first experience of being told I wasn’t a ‘good enough’ fan based on gender, and while it was shocking and hurtful, it did cause to me to grow as a fan. I hated being degraded, I hated the insinuation that I was stupid and most of all I hated feeling like an outsider when Arsenal has felt like home. The worst moment happened later. While I was sitting up at night stewing over how someone could pass such a judgement, I realized that I have been that person.

I am a hypocrite. I have judged other Gooners based on their opinions, I have called other female supporters fangirls, I have mocked and called into question the support of those who think Wenger should be replaced. I have made other Gooners feel the way a man made me feel and it’s not okay.

Once again Mimsie explains my thoughts better than I can:

“It’s ugly, this hierarchical code that expresses itself as the need to put down a fellow human being in order to feel our own self-worth. Either be the best, or at least make sure there is someone still lower than you on the ladder, and make it clear that you are superior to because of reasons x, y, and z.

It’s sad that we’ve been conditioned to believe such a lie, because superiority is a double-edged sword. The constant drive to prove your worth means you are never actually sure that you’re worth anything at all. The name of this game is insecurity itself.”

Although I didn’t enjoy being judged and questioned based on a gender-biased view, it helped me to expose some of the flaws in my own self and because of that, I will transform what was meant to be a hurtful and belittling experience and change myself into a better woman, better person and better Gooner.

I may not agree with your opinions, I may not care for your personality, style of writing or tweets, but I will treat with you the respect that all fans deserve.  When we met in a pub or hopefully someday at The Emirates again, if you are a Gooner you are welcome to sit with me.

Following on from yesterday’s  introductory blog on female fandom, today I sit down with some ladies I’ve come across on Twitter to get their insight into matters.

The one question I often get as a female supporter is: “how did you become a fan?” Often this is in an inquisitive manner, but sometimes it is asked to question my knowledge or judge if I have been a fan ‘long enough’. The worst-case scenario is when it is asked in the sceptical, “I bet she’s just here for the pretty players” type of way. I asked some of my fellow female Gooners to share their experiences and we spoke of how we became fans of football and what it’s like when people question our beginnings.

Kajal – When people say: “It’s so cool that you’re a girl who is into her football”, my only ever response to this comment is that I am not into football, I am into Arsenal. This results in some rather odd looks or uncomfortably toned answers such as: “Yeah but you still know your stuff”, as if to somehow mark me ‘credible’ in their eyes again.  My love for Arsenal derived from my mother who is your more unconventional football supporter. As a schoolgirl she had an affinity with the (dirty) Leeds, just as my peers toyed with a brief love-in of Manchester United because it was seen as fashionable to do so.

She also has a soft spot for Leicester but I’m more forgiving of that as she used to live there. Her true love, however, is Arsenal and all credit goes to Arsène Wenger for making her fall for his beautiful and more-than-digestible style of football, and not before long, so did I. I got some stick for beginning to follow Arsenal at a time when they were doing well as opposed to attending games from the age of 5 and watching the famous ‘1-0 to The Arsenal’s under George Graham (never by Arsenal fans, mind you) but I didn’t care. I loved everything about The Club from Highbury to the detail on our home socks.

Sandra – I’m 52 years old and originally from Brazil and grew up in Massachusetts in a heavily Portuguese area. My Brazilian family kept their love of football when they moved to the US but it was hard to keep up with it at that time. We emigrated in 1964. My uncles fostered a love of football in me so they had no issue about me being a girl. From an early age I grew up with a divided family in terms of football clubs – the Rio side being strong Flamengo supporters, and the other side being strong Corinthians supporters.

In 1970, my family (my uncles mainly) and Brazilian friends wanted to be in Brazil for the World Cup because Brazil had a strong chance of winning it. They planned to travel there. I really wanted to go but my mom couldn’t afford it so one of my uncles lent her money and we spent a month in Brazil watching the World Cup on small TVs. It was a family thing – though clearly it was men who knew the game better.

But I learned from them.

Later as a teenager, college student, grad student and post-grad school I traveled and worked in many countries around the world and went to many football matches.  I  have experienced several encounters in which a male would doubt my knowledge about football but I’d just shoot back with the amount of stuff I did know and then their attitude would immediately change, and they’d take me more seriously.

Jules – Many of today’s female fans grew up playing football. For me, I idolized the US Women’s National Team of the 1990s. They were female role models excelling internationally far more than the Men’s team.  In my personal experience I’ve been in love with the game since I started playing as a child. It frustrates me that there are people out there who consider me a dilettante just because of my gender.  And they almost certainly believe that I shouldn’t wear a jersey as I can’t be a “real” fan. I can’t possibly appreciate the role of a defensive midfielder, or gasp in awe at the beauty that was Andrea Pirlo’s free kick. That’s a false premise based on stereotypes rather than truth.  When I look at my Twitter timeline or the readers of my own blog, I know that there are a lot of female fans. This community has basically live tweeted matches all season and continued to do so for the Euros. Clearly women are still a minority among football fans, but we’re vocal. We’re blogging, podcasting, v-casting, and submitting pieces to magazines. It’s anything but passive.

I think about the female bloggers that I regularly read. I don’t choose to follow blogs based on the gender of who is writing them, but on the quality of writing. Discounting strong writing and analysis just because a woman wrote it would be ridiculous. There’s no reason to close yourself off from different perspectives. I don’t care if a person is from Mars, if they’ve got insight I want to know about it. Don’t worry guys, I read y’alls too. If I’m reading you it’s because I like you, and what you have to say. There’s no quota of types of football blogs that I read. If you’re good, I want to see it.

This past spring MLS suspended Simon Borg for 7 days after he made comments regarding passionate female fans being unattractive to the opposite sex. There were two issues present. One: All men think women who really like sports are unattractive. That’s easily disprovable by going to a professional football (soccer) match. Many men welcome the female presence, as having interests in common is typically a good things for a relationship. Two: Why does my interest in football have to be viewed through the lens of “will a man find this attractive?” It’s incredibly self-centered and heterocentric to think that women at sporting events are mostly worried about how they will appeal to men. This discounts lesbian and bisexual fans as even being considered fans, and also again takes the point of view that women are there to be enticing not cheering on their team. Guess what? We buy merchandise too, and teams like selling merchandise.

I guess the short version of what I’m saying is that I’m a fan. A kit wearing, tv yelling, euphoric from wins and despondent from losses fan. I know and like the game, so please don’t discount me because I’m a female. We’re all on the same side as long as you don’t consider club loyalties.

Does being a female fan mean being different? Is there an invisible line that separates us from male supporters?  As I wrote yesterday I rarely think of myself as being anything other than an Arsenal supporter. My gender has rarely come to mind but yet it impacts everything in life. Here we discuss what the implications of being a female fan has meant to us as individuals.

Kajal – One comment that really struck me as a female fan (I don’t advocate the use of the word Goonerette – if you don’t want to be seen as different to male supporters, why use it) was the failure to understand how I could appreciate the way that Arsenal play without having played football myself. This was actually a valid point, and one that I had thought about on a few occasions. I played football at school when we had to in P.E, tried to join in with the lads at break time at Lower (Primary) School on a few occasions because we thought it was ‘cool’ and practised penalties with my brother when we were younger but I never really understood things such as the mathematics and precision behind free kicks or the weight of a pass in a practical sense yet these are amongst many things I appreciate and fawn over when done well. How is that so? I don’t know the answer to this but I also don’t know how any fellow human in this planet (whether they love football or not) could not be overawed by the magic and trickery of my one true idol, Thierry Henry.

Even discounting his many, many goals, it was his presence on the pitch, the way he was so strong yet ran so gracefully, his nutmeg of Danny Mills, the Trompe L’Oeuil pass to Reyes, his sarcastic goal celebration towards Mr ‘I’m A Celebrity’ Poll, who had given him a hard time about the placing of the ball for *that* free kick. I could explode just talking about this man! I can’t leave this paragraph without the inclusion of his solo goal and celebration against Sp*rs – now the desktop background of many, many Gooners, including myself.

No Arsenal-related, French love-in could be complete without a few words for Mr Wenger. I love the man. That is all. Well, it’s not really all. I look on the social networking sites and see our very own fans calling him derogatory names and I want to throttle the whole lot of ungrateful [insert profanity here]. I just about understand that the man is not infallible but I just cannot fathom why he is subject to abuse from fans, and I’m not just talking about our own ingrates but we know not to expect an ounce of morality from that lot down the road, and that other lot over in Fulham, and that other lot three hours up the M6. The media have to take a large portion of the blame but it’s 5.45am and I’m having to remind myself why Jess kindly asked me to participate in this blogging session so no more on that!

Onto Twitter. The joy and bane of my life. Not only have I had the pleasure of meeting other female Gooners (they really know their stuff y’know! ;-)) but also other Gooners from around the world. This has been extremely eye-opening for me as to how much worldwide recognition and admiration we have but also the dedication and unconditional love from our friends in different countries. The effect Arsenal have had is special, but not as special as the effect these fans have on the Club.

My Twitter followers will know that I do love a good moan so I’ll try not to deprive you too much on here. One of my pet hates on Twitter is a female using their affinity towards Arsenal to get attention from men and use it as a dating service. All female Gooners I follow are beautiful, funny and shame me in my knowledge of Arsenal – past and present! I think we’ve worked pretty damned hard to change the perception of female fans so therefore am vehemently against being tarred with the same brush as those wanting to use Twitter as Match.com (or Shaadi.com for any Indian readers!)

Sandra – In Brazil and other Latin American countries, the stereotype about women and football is typical of the old stereotypes of women and sports here in the US: women don’t get the rules, they’re not interested, they get annoyed that their husbands or boyfriends spend so much time with it, they don’t get the passion involved with supporting a club, etc. And much of that is true – a lot of Brazilian women don’t share their men’s passion for the game.

But at the same time there are always a strong, loud representation of women fans in nearly every game in Latin America. Certainly men are more predominant but women are always there. I’ve been to games in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Mexico. I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior among fans and certainly have been called misogynistic names by drunken male fans but whenever that happened I received support from other male fans who defended me.

Jules – Being female in what is traditionally considered the domain of males is interesting. For most people it’s not a problem, but for others my mere presence somehow cheapens the importance of their interest. Especially in sports culture, women have long been passively set to the sidelines as casual observers. Time and time again we’ve been told that we don’t understand the game, and football matches are often considered a perfect time for boyfriends and husbands to tell the ladies to go shopping. Those old standards don’t hold true anymore. All one has to do is look on Twitter to see that it’s changing. There are tons of female fans, and it’s a good thing.

There is the immediate assumption that if a female is a fan, she’s only there because she thinks the players are hot or is trying to win over a guy. I don’t really understand this argument as all of us have eyes. We can all see that someone is conventionally attractive.  Just because I might find a player handsome, doesn’t mean I rate him as a player if he doesn’t perform on the pitch.  The argument about shallow fangirls who only like the looks is annoying since from the Olympics of Ancient Greece, the athletic form has been revered by our culture. The ESPN Magazine Body issue continues that celebration. Furthermore, there is distinctly a difference between a women who fakes an interest in sports to attract a guy, and women who are fans. The unwillingness to note those distinctions and place all females in one category doesn’t address the personality variance that occurs across genders. There will obviously be fakes who are there for the eye candy, but they aren’t the female fans who watch all the matches, and fret over injury lists. It’s offensive to be considered vapid and ignorant just because I’m female.

Any memories that you would like to share, be it Arsenal-related or more general?

Kajal – Highbury was a special experience that I never fail to want to relive. The magic of attending your first match and have the coach pull up outside and Mr Wenger standing less than six feet away from you is something pretty indescribable. That’s something I miss at Ashburton Grove, it feels like the players are now too exclusive for their own good and your only chance of seeing your heroes off the pitch is if you wait long enough for them to drive out – and that’s if their chosen car that day doesn’t have blacked out windows.

Sandra – Two of the worst encounters I’ve ever had was in England – involving a couple of Spurs fans and one Stoke fan. All three treated me and my two female friends appallingly. With the Spuds it was outside White Hart Lane; with the Stoke fan it was in a pub watching an AFC-United game. They said we should go back home and start cooking, we don’t know shit about football, we’re ruining the game, etc.  They were drunk of course.

Most of the time I’ve found men to be incredibly happy and impressed that they’ve found a woman who knows the game and loves it as much as they do. But there are always a few who feel like we’re intruding into their space just by being at a game or at a pub watching it with them. Most men I find are also tolerant when we express sentimental attachment or physical attraction to players. That’s been my experience, anyway.

The one thing I’ve always had some trouble dealing with in football being around drunk men. Wherever I’ve gone, very very few women are drunk and a lot of men aren’t but a lot of men always are. Especially in England and the UK generally – it’s a massive drinking culture there. And I’m not much of a drinker (this always was a topic of jokes in my time in England). It’s not a moral issue with me, nothing like that. I just don’t drink a lot. I don’t mind a little now and then but it’s just not a big part of my consumption habits. Over time I’ve gotten used to it and a lot of guys are perfectly funny and pleasant when they’re drunk. But it’s something I’ve never been crazy about. Never stopped me from attending games, though :-)

Jules – I spent Easter morning 2012 at a pub in Brooklyn, NY watching Arsenal play Manchester City. Initially I was the sole female there, and my husband playfully teased me about being the only girl in the pub. I ordered a cream ale and ignored him. It was nearly match time, and all I could think about was how it was a must win match for the Gunners. Many a weekend morning has been spent watching matches with the boys. It’s amazing how the moment you prove yourself as knowledgeable the anti-girls attitude pretty much disappears. It’s not much different than the experience a new guy in a circle of soccer fans would find. You have to size people up and determine how much they know, which really isn’t different from any other interest on the planet. I don’t have any problem with that as I can hold my own, but I distinctly have been questioned about my knowledge of football spanning from the offsides rule to how I believe Messi would fare in a cold wet night at Stoke. I’d really like to see that match.

A big thank you to Kajal, Sandra and Jules for their contributions and insights. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s finale where Mimsie will share her experiences and thoughts

Jules’ blog can be found in it’s entirety here

Being an avid social media user, I have had the displeasure of seeing many different types of infighting between Arsenal fans. Foreign vs local, the Arsene Knows Brigade vs Wenger Out Brigade, pro-snood vs anti-snood, and the list goes on. What struck me recently and inspired the idea of reaching out to fellow female Gooners was that I’ve had very little interaction and experience in the debate of male vs female supporters.

Most of my experience in relating to fellow fans has been online. When I first started supporting Arsenal in 2008, I found a community of fans on a site called LiveJournal. I spend the majority of my time on ONTD_FOOTBALL and later branched out into ArsenalBBS. I didn’t conciously notice at the time, but all the fellow fans I interacted with and spoke to were female. While there was infighting that us Gooners have become accustomed to (you haven’t seen an online war until you’ve seen the fallout after a Sergio Ramos hair cut; I’m firmly in Team Long Mane) no-one ever questioned my knowledge or support of Arsenal based on my gender.

When I left the cozy confines of LJ to venture further afield to the new frontier of Twitter, I began to interact more with male Arsenal fans and for the most part it has been a good experience. In fact I never even considered the fact that I was female fan amongst male fans until recently. The majority of topics I discussed with my fellow female Gooners also extended into similar conversations with male Gooners. We talked about tactics, new signings, Pat Rice’s shorts, Arsene’s water bottle hatred and his often inexplicable substitutions. I’ve met male Gooners who are bigger fans of individual players than I am, who created parody accounts with us, who debated the merits of our One True Pairings (OTPs) and shared our collective sobs and heartbreak when that man Fabregas left. Over time I learned the art of the subtle unfollow for Gooners whose tweets I didn’t enjoy and I remained content with my eccentric and eclectic group of Gooners.

Then Robin van Persie happened, and in the midst of my shock, tears and crushing loss of faith in loyalty in football, I began to notice a different kind of reaction. Other Gooners began to tell me how to feel about Robin. I was told my opinions weren’t valid, that I needed to get over it and to “stop being so emotional already!” I noticed this happening to other female Gooners and the majority of the people doing the admonishing were male. I had my first experience in being told my thoughts weren’t valid because I was female. It isn’t an experience I’d want to endure again, but like most unpleasant experiences it pushed me to learn and to grow. I decided to reach out to my fellow female Gooners and listen to their experiences, hear how they became Gooners and discuss their experiences. It has been moving, informative and eye opening. There has been a lack of Victoria Concordia Crescit in our club lately – especially in the boardroom – so maybe it’s time for us supporters to show them the way.

Remember to check in tomorrow where I discuss the road to Goonerhood with @mimsicality@GreenieJules  and @SandraHelena39 and others.

As many of you can guess from my “Oranje_sky” username, I am of course a devoted fan of the Dutch National football team. This has been a painful Euros for me as you can imagine. What caused the most pain for myself was not the infighting and lacklustre performance of the Dutch, but the negative and often cruel comments and attitudes of my fellow Gooners on Twitter.

I can appreciate banter, and Holland deserved every bit of criticism they got, but the personal attacks, the questioning of my support of Holland, Arsenal and the Canadian Men’s National Team were all surprising to me. I understand internationals can be tense, fans who are normally supporting the same team are divided and it can cause tension. If you are wondering why people get so sensitive around international tournaments or simply don’t understand those who support a country, allow me to share why.

Watching football became special to me because it was something that I shared between my grandfather and myself.  Growing up in Canada it was difficult to watch international football and impossible to follow a club. Together we would make the effort to follow and track the Dutch national team as best we could.

As I grew older and we watched games together that would be one of the few times my Grandfather would share stories about living in an occupied country during WW2. Although the stories were always humorous and related to his football antics, they were tinged with the sadness and desperation of that time.  He threw himself into practicing tricks and developing techniques to avoid being in a house that was often used by German soldiers as a food base because of the large garden in their backyard. Football started as an escape and blossomed into a passion, which he was determined to pass on to me.

Being an Oranje fan has never been easy. Loving a team that is hell-bent on selfishness, drama and self destruction can be painful at best. They have traditionally shown the world incredible football allied with a legion of colourful and devoted fans.  My Grandpa taught me to appreciate the skill and vision needed to complete the perfect pass, the incredible talent and intelligence it takes to direct a midfield and the strength required to constantly probe and attack a solid defense. We always rooted for the players who not only showed great skill but were full of passion and drive. We were mutual fans of players like Edgar Davids and the de Boer twins. But it was Dennis Bergkamp who I fell in love with.  We watched his now famous goal against Argentina together and it has become one of my favourite football memories.

Fans who argue that club is more important than country often fail to recognize that, for quite a few of us, our Country lead us to our club. For me it was Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie who attracted me to Arsenal.  Although I have come to love Arsenal in its own right, I wouldn’t be a Gooner today if it wasn’t for the Netherlands NT and my Grandpa.

When you see people like myself – a Canadian with an Oranje heart – take a minute to ask them their story. It’s so easy to judge and criticse people’s love and passion for a National Team, but to me Holland is so much more than just Robben’s selfish behaviour, World Cup finals or fans in goofy wigs. The team carries the legacy of my grandfather, my introduction to football, and the start of the journey to being a Gooner.  Hup Holland Hup!

While writing this series of blogs with the ever excellent WengerBoy1 (find him here https://twitter.com/#!/WengerBoy1) we discussed how often we see our defense being blamed and agreed that it was an easy assumption to make but not necessarily correct. With a season of some unfortunate results such as  the unmentionable game against United, it’s easy to understand why people believe that our defence is just not good enough.  However while we have a knack for making defensive blunders and causing heart-attack producing moments, I believe that our backline – when not injured – is solid.

Bacary Sagna

Sagna is probably the best right-back in the league at the moment. He is consistent, breaks down attacks and has a surprising aerial ability for a player his size. He is tenacious when attacking and his dependability allows Walcott the space and security to keep pushing forward without worrying about being caught out.  While there are times Sagna can be outpaced and manoeuvred by skilful forwards, he is one of Arsenal’s most steady and important players.

Laurent Koscielny

Koscielny is Arsenal’s best defender and has been brilliant this season. Calm, solid, pacey, and strong, Koscielny has given consistent performances despite having inconsistent partners. He has faced the likes of Messi, Aguero, Ibrahimovic and Ba and remained controlled and comfortable while doing so.  So far this season he has proven his ability in tackling, clearances, interceptions and positioning while offering up one assist and a goal.  Koscielny has provided 2.7 tackles per game and has an impressive interception rate of 2.8 per game. This puts him ahead of defenders such as Vidic, Cahill, Ivanovic and Kompany. Perhaps it’s time we all forgave him for the Carling Cup error and appreciate his defensive skill.

Thomas Vermaelen

Verma is our most popular defender and brings an aura of steel and hardness that has been lacking from Arsenal in recent seasons. While there are times when he lacks alertness and pace, he offers a sense of leadership and organization that is vital in our defence. Vermaelen often makes important clearances, tackles and provides matchwinning goals.  He has struggles with injury and spent plenty of time this campaign at left-back. When given the chance and a consistent run of games, he and Koscielny have blossomed into a formidable due and the match of any other centre-half pairing in the league.

Kieran Gibbs

I have debated between Gibbs and Santos as our no.1 left-back for quite some time. Until I realized it’s not necessarily a choice between Gibbs and Santos that I was struggling with, but the need to understand the role of a left-back at Arsenal. In truth Gibbs and Santos are pretty much interchangeable; they are good players, maybe not great, and assets going forward. They can both struggle with their defensive duties and put unnecessary pressure on our centre-backs. At first I thought this position was the weak spot in our defence, when in truth I didn’t understand the tactical reasoning behind this. More than any other defender it is important for our left-back to have the ability to go forward and provide an outlet. Whereas we have Walcott’s pace and directness on the right-wing, the players on the opposite flank tend to cut inside onto their more natural right side. In order to provide width to our attack we need a defender with the pace and attacking prowess to move forward and on the overlap, allied with the ability to whip in a cross. So while the left-back is an important part of our defense, it is an equally integral part of our attacking play.

Wojciech Szczesny

Larger than life, passionate, talented and a true Gooner,  Szczesny has been inspiring and a revelation of a goal keeper.  While many of us were crying out for a keeper, Arsene had this man up his sleeve.  Saver of penalties and man of strength perhaps, the best thing Szczesny inspires in this team is confidence. The players trust him and this allows them to focus on their own duties instead of worrying about what is going on behind them. His double save at Anfield from Kuyt’s penalty was the stuff of legends and he secured us a spot in the Champions League with another penalty save against Udinese.  While there is room for improvement in his game – his distribution and record against free-kicks need improving  – Szczesny is one of the most promising keepers we’ve seen in the league and the long-term option for Arsenal.

Thanks to Darren_V_ for his tactical help on this blog.  Follow him here at: https://twitter.com/#!/Darren_V_