Squad analysis: Part 1 - Defence
Part 1 of 3 - Michael Strevens and Adam Pembrey review the shape of of Arsenal's defensive unit assessing the depth and quality of the keeping department, centre backs and full backs. Part's 2 & 3 to follow will assess the midfield and forward departments.
Michael Strevens' view
It may have been a painful summer and an even more painful start to the season, but we appear to have come out of it with a much stronger defence than we had this time last year.
Despite watching eight goals sail past him last week, Wojciech Szczesny was one of the few players to emerge from the Old Trafford massacre with any credit. Without him, the score could easily have gone into double figures. Decisive, brave and bursting with confidence, he has the ability and the desire to be our goalkeeper for the next decade and beyond. Lukasz Fabianski should provide solid back-up, as his performances last season suggested he has put the nightmares of the past behind him.
Over the last four years, Bacary Sagna has established himself as the best right-back in the league and we will need him to stay injury-free, as Carl Jenkinson is still very raw. Andre Santos is an unknown quantity for most of us, but it was vital that we have reinforced in this area as Kieran Gibbs’ persistent injuries and the departure of Gael Clichy have left us brutally exposed here.
In the centre of defence, Per Mertesacker will need to settle in quickly as Thomas Vermaelen faces another lengthy spell on the sidelines. Vastly experienced at international level, the big German has easily the most pedigree of all the defenders we were linked with during the summer. There is a perception that he lacks pace, but I also remember Vermaelen being written off for being ‘too short’, so I’m more than happy to reserve judgement.
It is easy to forget that Laurent Koscielny joined us having played only one year of top-flight football. He will continue to improve, but I don’t feel so confident about Johan Djourou who has shown few signs of arresting his alarming decline. The reinforcements we brought in last week make us look much more solid at the back, but we cannot afford to lose our best defender for as long as we did last season.
Adam Pembrey's view
I, for one, am very happy with Szczesny as number 1. I think it was telling that after what happened up north very few criticised him, he didn't really have that bad a game. Will he be perfect and make no mistakes? no but what keeper doesn't? There aren't many better keepers out there and even less that we could have bought.
As far as back up goes last season Fabianski showed himself to be perfectly capable, in fact some feel he is/was a better option than Szczesny. I personally prefer Szczesny but the competition between the two is healthy. As for number 3 I'm happy with Mannone, seemed solid enough in the pre-season friendlies, hopefully he won't be called upon too regularly anyway.
I'm pleased by the new signing, Santos. I'll hold my hands up and admit I haven't seen much of him but he has experience, he is established, he appears to have the right physical attributes for Premiership football and from what I read should add to our attacking threat.
We were short at left back as well so very happy he was brought in. I like Gibbs and in any given match he is playing I'm not worried however he simply can't be relied upon fitness wise, he's a good backup though and if he can prove his fitness and get ahead of Santos then fine.
On the other side we have the best right back in world football in my opinion. Sagna is a monster, he is solid as a rock, wins the ball in the air, plays his heart out in every game and is an example to the rest of the squad. His backup though is sub standard, which is not a dig at Carl Jenkinson, it's simply that the lad isn't ready for this level yet. So the problem is all of this squad building could be in vain if Sagna get's injured.
The main change at centre back is of course the signing of Mertesacker which I'm very happy with. Ideally wanted us to sign a player with a few years Premiership experience but he's better than a few of the options we were linked with, such as Dann, Alex and maybe Samba. I hate to go all Arsene Wenger, but having Vermaelen back is a huge boost and hopefully he and the German can strike up a good partnership.
As 3rd choice I think Koscielny can play well with either of those two but beyond him I'm not sure. I have lost all faith in Djourou and would prefer to see him moved on. Squillaci it seems is more or less surplus to requirements. I have liked the look of Miquel in the small amount I've seen of him so perhaps he can be 4th choice with another possible addition in January (Cahill?)
Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen provide a new top draw pairing at the back. If those two are available for the majority of the season there is no doubt that the defence will be significantly stronger than last term. Let's hope Vermaelen's one month injury prognosis is significantly more accurate than the two week one identified this time last season.
We can be hopeful and optimistic about Koscielny's likelihood to improve in his second season but Djourou has regressed shockingly in the past 6 months. Koscielny can be a little over eager at times Djourou's hesitance, as we saw against Mancester United, which will prove much more costly. Almunia and Squillaci were directly at fault for a large number of clangers last term, cringeworthy stuff but we can feel assured that both player's presence is now all but irrelevant.
One aspect that will be interesting this season is the level of ball possession. Will Arsenal's new look midfield control matches to the same degree of previous seasons? It has been a key reason behind Arsenal's decent record of not conceding many goals from open play.
Finally, on strengthening the back four further, I would hope we do not fall into previous season's trap and leave ourselves short on centre backs, especially given Vermaelen's injury record and Djourou's regression - more work to be done in January I feel.
Read Part 2 - Midfield
Read Part 3 - Forwards
Editorial | Panel