Do Arsenal have the worst defence to lead the Premier League at this stage?

The Premier league has a new leader. On Saturday Arsenal ascended to the top of the table thanks to a misfiring Chelsea and a frozen pitch in Blackpool. Everyone knows about Arsenal’s fantastic attacking options providing the goals; Samir Nasri in particular is in the form of his life. But the most problematic, often criticised area is a defence which can give way too easily.

Image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald. Under Creative Commons Licence.

On Sunday night, Robbie Savage was asked on Match of the Day 2 whether the Arsenal defence are the worst to top the league at this stage. Robbie’s answer was a definitive yes.

The question is – is this claim true? And whether it is or not – what is the relative state of the Arsenal backline compared to seasons past?

Continue reading “Do Arsenal have the worst defence to lead the Premier League at this stage?”

Astute purchases pay dividends – Koscielny and Squillaci tested by Bolton

In seasons past Arsenal have been stereotyped, not without reason, as defensively fragile and naive. Arsene Wenger has sought to address that this season with the signings of two new centre backs, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci after a clear out of the defensive deadwood within the squad.

Against Bolton the back four was totally untested, consisting of Gibbs, Koscielny, Squillaci and Eboue. Last season the equivalent rotation would have left Arsenal with players like Silvestre at the back, players who never inspired confidence at the best of times.

Koscielny made only his third appearance for the club, whilst Squillaci made his debut, and apart from one obvious error from Koscielny they coped well with the threat of the physical Kevin Davies, Lee and Elmander.

Continue reading “Astute purchases pay dividends – Koscielny and Squillaci tested by Bolton”

The Famous Back Four: Arsenal’s defence – Where are they now?

The close season is a time to take a look into the history books and reflect on what Arsenal have achieved. This doesn’t mean that we are going to take a look at the most recent season though. I think the ‘two players short of challenging again’ and the ‘injuries hurt us’ arguments have been done enough on the blogosphere.

What I want to do today is go back some years and take a look at arguably the best back five that ever graced Arsenal football club. Let’s remind ourselves of David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Martin Keown. What did they achieve? Where are they now?

David Seaman – After signing from QPR in 1990, Seaman went on to become a true Arsenal legend. He may have had his moments along the way (Nayim and Ronaldinho!), but there is no hiding from the fact that he won 8 major trophies with the club and made over 500 appearances along the way.

These days, he isn’t up to a great deal. There is the odd television appearance where he is interviewed about Arsenal and England matters, but other than that he appears to be keeping himself to himself and enjoying family life.

Nigel Winterburn – Arsenal have had many excellent left backs in their history, but Winterburn has to go down as one of the best. He served the club for 13 years with great success, winning 7 trophies along the way. His tackling ability, aggression and energy was superb during his time at the club and it is a shame he only won a couple of England caps.

As for what he is up to now, well he still works in a broadcasting capacity for the club. In fact, he is regularly on our TV screens giving his opinion on all things football. He did have a brief coaching spell with Blackburn last year, but when Sam Allardyce took over, he was asked to move on. Overall, it seems likely that he will pursue the pundit’s path rather than the coaching one.

Lee Dixon – This right back made an incredible 619 appearances for Arsenal over a 15-year period that made him one of the most respected defenders in the game. His consistency, loyalty and defensive ability ensured that he was a favourite with the Arsenal faithful. He was also
threatening on the break though and managed to net 28 times during his career at the club. Dixon won eight trophies with Arsenal, the last of
which was the league title in 2002 just before his retirement.

In terms of life after football, he has been very busy indeed. As well as playing golf regularly, he has pursued a number of business interests, including one with TV Chef Heston Blumenthal. Elsewhere, he is a regular as a pundit on Score, Match of the Day and Football Focus. His analysis of games can often be seen on the BBC Sport website as well. Overall, it is fair to say that he is doing OK for himself since retiring from football!

So, that’s it for this article. On Friday, I will be taking a look at Tony Adams and Martin Keown. I might even glance an eye over what Steve Bould is up to these days.

Until then, what do you make of what these players have done with themselves since leaving Arsenal? Which of them was your favourite player at the time?

By Thomas Rooney

Read more: Kaba Diawara: Wenger’s Bargain Buy that Never Made it // Tony Adams: Where is he now? // Martin Keown and Steve Bould – Where are they now?

Was Emmanuel Eboue misunderstood?

The debate over Eboue is pretty one-sided these days, since the Wigan game I’ve been thinking about the player who was at one time regarded as our best right-back.

These days people see him as more of a liability in his role on the wing. But he isn’t actually our first choice in that position.

I don’t think he is a great winger, but he is a decent defender. A few months ago I wrote a post and one of the comments left was this:

“Wenger probably has been wanting to develop Eboue and make him into a Ray Parlour type player.”

This is partly true, people criticise Wenger for selecting him, but there are several points to be made about Eboue:

  • Wenger plays Eboue because we have no choice – Walcott, Rosicky, Eduardo, Nasri are all reguarly injured.
  • We lack experienced playerswho can fill in – Walcott last year, Vela this year.
  • Wenger may also select him because he sees potential to turn him into a midfielder.

Eboue has the potential to become a good winger – he can cross, we saw that in his days at right back. His main problem is dribbling and passing – he finds it hard to go round players and his control isn’t great – his scoring ability is also reminiscent of Francis Jeffers.

He has been utilised on the left this year – as Theo has made the right wing slot his own. This hasn’t helped – he has had to cut inside to use his stronger right foot. I think that he did have some stronger performances early this season – but he has also played very badly – the Wigan game is an example, I was there.

The Wigan game and the booing have knocked his confidence, and I think that it will take him a while to regain that. It really isn’t helping the team when fans act like that.

Overall he would never be my first choice winger – he doesn’t have the pace, the control, the vision or the passing, and his dirty play and diving only piss off most Arsenal fans. He dives way too much and is extremely petulant. He doesn’t contribute to the team in the way that players like Nasri do, and many attacks end with his mistakes. But the thing is that Eboue is Wenger’s squad player, Wenger doesn’t see him as a first-teamer.

He is a useful utility player, he only gets to play so much due to our injury list. Vela seems to be playing more games, and may eventually be used to fill in on the wings as his performances have looked classy. Eboue is just filling in!

Don’t get on his back – he isn’t a great player, and he does stupid things, but a bad patch of form is just a bad patch of form, remember that he has been played out of position, and when only just returning from injury.

In the end, I’m saying that Eboue  is a useful squad player, we shouldn’t turn him into a scapegoat when things go wrong. I personally will never boo him.

Wenger defends Arsenal style as Gallas is upset

Wenger has been defending our style of football in the papers after critcism of the draw against Spurs and loss at Stoke. He feels that our attacking, fluid game is the best way to win trophies.

“We have to be strong enough to keep on with the way we play and we can win the Premier League and the Champions League.

I would agree with him, we have won plenty of silverware in the past under Wenger, playing his brand of football. I think Wenger has the style right, what we are not doing is finishing games properly. This may be due to a lack of experience in the squad, and Gallas has also been saying that he doesn’t fell we always have the right focus.

Gallas is one of the players who I would pick out as sometimes losing his concentration, but others are guilty too.

The fact is, we are going through a bad patch of form, but things can be righted. Wenger pointed out that we went to Fenerbahce with a midfield of under-21s and won, and they’ve never been beaten at home in Europe. (Click here for the Fenerbahce highlights).

This is true, but our goal glut that night covered up the weak defence which Fenerbahce easily penetrated. If Almunia hadn’t played so well it could have been 5-5, not 5-2. Tottenham were lucky that they managed to score all their chances. (Click here for the Tottenham highlights).

Again, against Stoke we saw the defence struggling to cope with the long throws and strength of the oppostion. (Click here for the Stoke game highlights).

I’m not calling for Wenger’s head, I think we just need some hard work put in on the defence, and some refocusing. A new defensive player in January wouldn’t hurt either.

Gallas’ self-criticism – will he ever be the same?

WIlly Gallas has been talking recently about his inconsistencies this season. He has been under-par this year and his mistakes against teams like Fulham (click to watch highlights) have cost us points in the first 7 games of the season.

Gallas told L’Equipe:

“I can say we have not seen the Gallas from 2006 this term so far. In a few matches, I have not been so good. With the French team in Sweden and Austria, I was not very good at some moments.

“I would close my eyes if I would say I am strong. That would mean I don’t recognise I did have a few bad performances, as recently with my club against Hull City. Maybe I feel a little tired.”

“Do I experience the most difficult period since I joined Arsenal? We could say yes. Above all I miss consistency. One match is good, the other one is not so good. However, I am doing everything to get to my best again because I can’t accept not being in good form. I’m still young and have plenty of things to achieve.

He is a defender with good qualities, but Arsenal fans have been divided over him since he came to the club. He can play the ball fantastically and he has attacking qualities, but maybe he is best paired with a strong centre back.

There are quetions over whether Toure is the right man to partner him, and also over whether he is the right choice for captaincy.

ArsenalAddict suggests moving Djourou to CB and putting Toure as DM, this might work – Djourou is a tall, strong centre back, and Toure has the pace and style to play in midfield, but Wenger has already said he will not use Toure there.

I think Gallas will come good when he finds consistency, but we should be looking to replace him, not Toure, in the future.

I have a feeling Wenger will stick with them, he backed Gallas to be captain this season, but don’t be suprised if Silvestre gets a chance in defence as well as Djourou.

Related post: Vieira Backs Gallas

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What does Silvestre mean for Arsenal

Mikael Silvestre signed for Arsenal from Man Utd in the shock signing of the season yesterday. Reportedly the fee was around GBP 750 000, which I think is worthwhile for an experienced defender.

Silvestre is 31, he plays at left back and in central defence, and he is a good addition to the squad.

I still think that the one midfielder Wenger wanted is on his way, Silvestre was just a good bit of buisness he spotted.

It is worrying that Man Utd sold him to us, as maybe that means they don’t see us a title rivals, but if it turns out that he provides good cover, or even breaks into the first team and plays alongside Gallas, it will be a shrewd bit of business on Wenger’s part.

Last season we bemoaned the lack of experience and strength in depth, especially in defence and if Silvestre can clear that up then I will be very happy.

We shouldn’t have any animosity towards him, he may have played 9 years for the Mancs but he is an Arsenal player now. I hope that he provides a new aspect to our game.

Wenger won’t sign defenders – What does this mean for Arsenal?

Wenger’s recent comments about not needing a defender suggest that he will stick with what we’ve got there. He was talking about Vincent Kompany, the Belgian centre back, he played down the speculation saying:

“I have decided that defenders are no longer necessarily needed for next season.”

So it seems very possible that there will be no signings to bolster our defence.

On the flanks we have the best in the Premiership, Sagna and Clichy, I love them both and they are both world class players who are young, no need to strengthen there.

The main weakness is cover rather than replacement. Senderos and Song were the players who started when Gallas and Toure weren’t availiable last season, and Eboue, Toure, Traore and Hoyte sometimes covered on the flanks. This didn’t work brilliantly last season, and was one of our main problems. I am a big fan of Senderos he can be error prone.

There have also been questions over whether Toure and Gallas are a strong enough partnership.

I think we should strengthen the defence, but Wenger seems to be trusting in what we’ve got. The fact that Song got a new deal, and started so many games at the end of last season, suggests to me that he has put himself above Senderos in the pecking order, and Wenger has hinted that he won’t play Song in midfield.

So we will probably see the same defence lining up in the current season, but expect to see more of Song, and maybe players like Norveidt gettign a few games this season.

I hope that Gallas proves himself as an Arsenal player and captain this season, and that Toure gets his form back. If that happens then Wenger will be proved right, and we will have a top quality back four, with decent coverage.

So in the end I think Wenger’s decision may pay off, but it is a gamble, ideally we need a quality centre back to challenge for a place, many would argue that neither Song or Senderos are good enough.

What do you think?