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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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_