Ahh Thursday, how are you? It’s been almost a week since I saw you last, hasn’t it? No, you’re right, it’s been exactly a week. A week in which we learned our fate lies in the Champions League (qualifiers at least) and where hope has now sprung from the possibility of a proactive summer that will strengthen the team and put us in a position where we can hopefully look upwards to challenge rather than downwards to who is catching us up.
The subject of transfers will be a hot potato for the next few months and, whilst we would all agree that we need strengthening, one area of the team that surprisingly needs probably the least bit of surgery is our defence. Last year we leaked more goals than Julian Lestrange leaks politically sensitive material. We were subjected to abominations like the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford and you wouldn’t find too many Gooners that could argue that we had the basis of a sound and solid defensive unit. We looked beleaguered and devoid of any confidence at the back and going into every game you wondered what defensive lapse would occur today.
Fast forward to today and you find (this blogger at least) Arsenal fans that are looking at our defence and praising their stinginess when it comes to opposition strikers. We’ve conceded four goals in our final 11 games of the season and our defensive unit has been resolute in ensuring that we get into that top four spot. Most of those clean sheets came with a one goal victory, so it just goes to show how important the defensive side of the game has been. It’s true that our attacking impetus has perhaps been curbed somewhat since this defensive side of the game has been worked on, but in reality I’m sure you’d all agree that shipping very few goals and hoping we out score opposition is certainly more preferable to trying to play catch up after going behind. Although I appreciate that wasn’t the case at the mod point in the season – the 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool is a case in point.
We’ve got the second best defensive record in The Premier League. I’m going to let that sink in for a minute. Second best. As in, there are most other teams in the league that don’t have as many shutouts as we do. The perpetual knocking of Arsenal defensively over the last few seasons has been blown out of the water by some of our displays towards the latter end of the season, and it bodes well if we can continue that form into next season.
But it’s not just the back four that should be praised for the defensive aspect of our game and the improved work. In the latter part of this season the role that Arteta and Ramsey played in screening the back four has been vital in ensuring our solidity. That ability to track runners into the box and close down space in between defence and midfield has been a key component of how we’ve been able to build from the back.
Second best defence in the league. Just say it to yourself out loud.
At left back we’ve seen the arrival of Spanish international Nacho Monreal and, whilst it had many of us scratching our heads at the time and wondering why we hadn’t signed a striker on deadline day, there can be no doubts that Arsene made a good move in bringing the Spaniard in. Whilst doubts over Gibbs’ ability to play a whole season remain, the arrival of Monreal means that not only do we have genuine competition, we have two internationals vying for it. Both have been used effectively this season and both have helped to significantly contribute to our run in. Gibbs provides a bit more pace going forward, but Monreal has an assuredness about his game that puts us at ease about a million times more than Andre Santos ever could.
In the middle of the defence we’ve found our number one partnership, at the expense of the captain, Thomas Vermaelen. I feel for Thomas. The year of his captaincy has coincided with a dip in form that was probably at its worst during the 2-1 defeat at United when he mis-kicked his clearance straight into the feet of That Dutch Bloke. He was dropped for the Bayern game and the form of Koscienly and Mertesacker has meant he never really had a sniff at regaining his place in the side.
Mertesacker has been the one player that affords me a smug grin. All non-Arsenal companions that I have, have made comments about the BFG last season about Wenger buying another dud. It was the same the season before with Koscienly. But between the two of them, they have ended the season in tremendous form. I can say it now because the game has well and truly ended, but I think back to that last game of the season and if truth be told, for the majority of the game the Newcastle front line had slim pickings to feed from both Kos an Mert. They compliment each other so well. Koscienly has the recovery pace and Mertesacker has the positional sense. Unfortunately for Vermaelen, he’s not the strongest in either position and so he finds only a place on the bench right now. I’m sure he’ll be knocking on the managers door in pre-season, but it’s hard to argue your case when you have rivals for your position that are so miserly when it comes to conceding.
At right back we’ve had an interesting turn of events. At the beginning of the season there were real fears about losing Sagna to a free transfer or at the end of the season. As it stands now, there are some sections of Arsenal fans that I have heard say they wouldn’t be too fussed if he departed to Paris Saint Germain in the summer. Personally, I would like him to remain at the club. His form has not been its usual consistent self, but he has still been a valuable cog in that defensive unit. Perhaps the desire to see Carl Jenkinson become first choice has more to do with how far he has come this season, to the extent where he received an international call up for England, and now has many Arsenal fans hoping he can establish himself as first choice in the team next year. It’s understandable; Jenkinson is an Arsenal fan, he’s one of us, so we naturally want to see players who love the club as much as we do in the team. But he is still somewhat raw and with the experience of Sagna in the side, we have been in the fortuitous position that we can be afforded the luxury of questioning who could fill that right back slot, rather than a few years ago when we looked like we had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a square peg in a round hole.
Should we be looking to strengthen in the summer defensively? If I’m completely honest I don’t know. I guess it will come down to whether or not Sagna is moved on. I rate Jenko, but I’m not sure whether or not he’s ready to be the number one choice without a player who can challenge him for his place so if the Frenchman is moved on then i would say a definite ‘yes’. Jenko probably needs another 12 months of games and growth before he is ready. That is why I hope Sagna stays on. His experience will be useful, even if we lose him in the summer next year for free, so on that basis, I hope we don’t need to make reinforcements. There are other areas that are more in need of strengthening.
Have a good one Gooners.