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Friday, 24 May 2013

Squad Review Part 2 - Defenders

Vermaelen - I hope he's not on his way out

Continuing with the four part squad review we move on today to the defenders at Arsenal this season. Despite the fact that most of us accepted we were defensively woeful until the final two months of this season the boys actually had a fine record. It just shows, I suppose, that statistics can be used to prove anything. The fact is that there was some pretty awful defending on show from various (if not all) members of the Arsenal defence at some point this campaign. I don't know what caused the up turn in performance from the beginning of March onwards. There is speculation that Steve Bould was finally allowed to recommence his work from the start of the season, and that seems to be a rumour with some merit. Ultimately we won't really know until Bouldie writes his memoirs, I suppose. So let's get on with the individuals and the way they performed.
Bacary Sagna
It looks like this was the end for Bac at Arsenal. Sagna had been Mr Consistency in his time at Arsenal. Throughout many years of defensive mediocrity Sagna was the shining beacon of quality at the back. Okay, he couldn't cross a ball going forward for toffee, but at the back he was really very good. Following two broken legs he has been nothing better than a poor imitation of his former self. Sagna seems to have lost a yard of pace. He is always so far away from his winger that anyone who can cross a ball from the left has our team in trouble. Going forward my heart sinks whenever I see one of our players pass the ball to Bac in an attacking area. You know that it is either going to slow the play down or be crossed as far as the closest opposition defender. With news that Sagna has not heard from Arsenal with regards to a new contract it looks that he is on his way out. Arsene might let him see out one final year, but Sagna himself will be looking for regular football ahead of the World Cup next season. With Jenkinson breathing down his neck he might not get that at Arsenal.
Sagna's best display of a tough season came as an emergency centre-back at Sunderland. It's fair to say that his performance in that game was largely what earned us the 1-0 win. I have to say that I think that could be the future for Bac. He has always been excellent in the air, and his now lack of pace would be less exposed in the middle. Whatever the future does hold for Bacary Sagna I wish him a lot of success before his career is over. He has been an outstanding servant at Arsenal.
Kieran Gibbs
One of the most improved Arsenal players over the last 18 months I believe Kieran is very much first-choice at left-back now. The fact that Gibbo has been recalled for the last couple of games after returning quickly from injury (for a change) shows that Arsene Wenger has faith in the boy. I know I'm biased but I would say he is second only to Leighton Baines in terms of English left-backs right now. His play in attacking areas is improving, but it's his defending that has been truly outstanding. If you just take the final two games where he was too quick, too strong, and simply too good for McManaman and Ben Arfa you can see that the future looks bright for Kieran. If we can have ourselves another Cashley, minus the personality defects, that would be really rather nice indeed.
Per Mertesacker
The jury is no longer out on the BFG, unless you work on Match Of The Day. Yes, Mertesacker is slower than a battleship on a narrow river, but his reading of the game is excellent. He organises the players around him and is constantly talking. With Koscielny alongside him his lack of pace is less relevant, though it can still cause us problems at times. If I have a criticism of Mertesacker other than his slowness it is that he doesn't jump his height enough. Here is a giant of a man who doesn't get off the ground. When Per does attack the ball he dominates, as you might expect. I remember the game at Upton Park where Andy Carroll beasted our centre-halves for 30 minutes, until Mertesacker realised he had to attack the ball and jump. Once that happened we didn't see any more threat from Carroll. In the final minute on Sunday he leapt high in the air to clear under pressure from Cisse and we got the ball to the other end of the pitch in time for the final whistle. Hopefully a bit more teaching form Steve Bould will improve him further in this regard. Overall I would put Mertesacker up there with Kieran Gibbs in terms of improvement this season.
Thomas Vermaelen
It's been a tough 18 months for TV5. I don't know whether he felt weighed down by the Captain's armband at Arsenal but he certainly played badly. It shouldn't really have taken until March and a defeat at Tottenham for Thomas to be left out. I realise Arsene Wenger was loathe to drop a man who he had made skipper back in August, but needs must at times.
What does the future hold for Thomas? I don't like the rumours in the papers today that Arsenal are willing to sell him. Right now we have three very good centre-backs. Bring in one more and we have a strong squad depth in that area, do we not? It would also be very poor form to sell a man who doesn't want to go having moaned so loudly about players who wanted out. I really like the way Vermaelen puts it all on the line when he plays. Personally, as I wrote in March, I would move him in to the defensive midfield position in place of Mikel Arteta, allowing Arteta to move further forward. If we've seen the last of yet another Arsenal Captain I will be very disappointed.
Laurent Koscielny
King Koscielny must have been seriously frustrated with the way his season was going until the last ten games. I wince whenever he is paired with Vermaelen but Koscielny has been the outstanding defender at Arsenal for the last two years now. He should not have been left out for as long as he was. When he did come back he was a commanding presence. Yes, he is still given to some stupid moments such as his rugby tackle at home to Manchester City, but give me King Koscielny over the others any day. He has also developed a Tony Adams style knack of coming up with important goals. Two years in a row he has scored the winner that has secured Champions League football. That makes him pretty priceless, I suppose. It would be a massive disappointment to me if he ended up going to Bayern Munich, as has been muted recently. Arsenal need quality, and King Koscielny is definitely quality.
Andre Santos
Nobody was moaning about Santos at the end of last season when he was scoring at West Brom. But the fact is that his signing was money wasted by Arsene Wenger. The man is simply not Premier League quality as a defender. He is seriously unfit and has no idea of positioning or defensive discipline whatsoever. I don't agree with the stick he received before being moved on, but it suited everyone for him to leave. The only concern is that Santos is only on loan at the moment - we could do without him and his wages coming back next season.
Nacho Monreal
Monreal was signed simply because Kieran Gibbs picked up one of his many knocks at the wrong/right time (depending how you look at things). Arsene knew he couldn't rely on Santos and brought in the Spanish international. Rumour has it that he would have been here this Summer, but Wenger had his hand forced on 31st January and had to do a deal.
I've yet to make up my mind on Nacho. I think he made a very decent start in the Premier League, and scored a hugely important goal at Swansea. He is a no frills defender, which is something we've been missing badly at Arsenal. He undoubtedly made us stronger than we were with Santos as the back-up at left-back (and Wenger clearly didn't fancy Jernade Meade at all). Having said that, he was destroyed by the woefully average Andros Townsend at QPR. Townsend's pace, and he's no Theo Walcott, seriously troubled Monreal that day. Hopefully it was a blip, and he will settle more in to the English game next season. He is certainly a decent squad member, and I remember Ruel Fox always used to destroy Nigel Winterburn. I'm not unhappy that Nacho is at Arsenal.
Sebastien Squillaci
One appearance for the Squid this season at Olympiacos in the final Champions League group game. He is now out of contract and the best we can say is that he never gave less than his best. At least we now have his considerable wages off the books.
Johan Djourou
I like Djourou. It's a shame that his undoubted potential never was met at Arsenal. He was superb for six months a few seasons back, but he knew the game was up this year. He's had a decent loan spell and I hope he can move on and be a success elsewhere. It's a shame it didn't work out. All the best Johan.
Carl Jenkinson
The Corporal has had an outstanding season. I think most observers would agree that Bacary Sagna has been extremely fortunate not to have been ousted by the youngster. The improvement in a player who was so far out of his depth when he first arrived is nothing short of astounding. The one aberration on a fine season was his stupid red card at Sunderland that could have cost us dear. Other than that he was superb alongside the guiding presence of Per Mertesacker. Jenkinson has searing pace and a fine engine. He is probably the best crosser of a ball in the squad and provides a fine outlet when the team goes forward. Jenks was rewarded with an England debut part way through the season, though I suspect that had more to do with trying to tie him down for the future. He has since been ridiculously left out of the England U21 squad for the Summer tournament. While that marks out Stuart Pearce as an even bigger cretin than he already appeared, it means Carl will come back refreshed to potentially take his chance as first-choice at right-back for Arsenal. The fact that he is a true boyhood Gooner, unlike certain ex-skippers, marks him out as a clear crowd favourite - just watch his reaction on the bench to a goal being scored and it will show you what he feels for The Arsenal.
Martin Angha
The young Swiss made his debut at full-back against Coventry City in the League Cup, but was sadly way out of his depth. He has already moved on to pastures new.
Jernade Meade
For a lad who had seemingly been released by Arsenal two years ago you would have to say Meade has done outstandingly well to make two first-team appearances. He was impressive at Reading in the League Cup, but was the absolute stand out Arsenal player in the defeat at Olympiacos. The combination of Monreal's arrival and a bad injury finally put paid to any further first-team ambitions, though he should have been way ahead of Santos by that time if only Arsene didn't do most squad things based on seniority. It remains to be seen whether he'll still be an Arsenal player next season but, let's be honest, the lad is not going to make it here. At least he can always tell everyone "I played for Arsenal" and he played very well too.
Ignasi Miquel
Does anyone know where he's gone? I can only assume that Miquel is injured as he has hardly featured in the U21 side since Christmas. Versatile, and physically stronger than before, I would have liked to see more of Miquel this season. Again, he would have been a better bet at left-back than Andre Santos, but there you go. I suspect he may not be here next season, whether transferred or loaned to a Spanish second division side.
Hector Bellerin
Made the bench for two League Cup ties, but didn't get on the pitch. Bellerin is a highly fancied ex-Barcelona youth player. He looks a very fine footballer but whether he can actually defend is another matter. Nominally a right-back he is one of the few from the current youth crop who looks like he has half a chance.
Elton Monteiro
Monteiro was an unused sub at Olympiacos. I suspect that will be as far as he goes at Arsenal.
Sead Hajrovic
Another unused sub, another Swiss. Hajrovic is big and fairly mobile, but he doesn't stand out as being exceptional. Again, not likely to be an Arsenal player for the future.
So that's that for the defenders. I'll leave you today with a video of my Dad being interviewed (or at least the bloke is trying to interview him) outside St James' Park after the win on Sunday. Mind the gap.

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