Déjà vu. Groundhog Day. A season supporting Arsenal football club. Nothing ever seems to change with our club, as we slowly slowly slide down the pole of mediocrity. What we thought would be an improved season after the first year of missing out on a top four place in 20-odd years has rather turned out to be a kick in the guts, by players who just have not pulled their weight; be it their own faults, that of the manager, or some combination of the two. What has been glaring though, has been the need for quality, strong reinforcements in the spine of the team: Goalkeeper, Central Defence, Central Midfield/Defensive Midfield and at Forward.
In this series, I will pick and talk about each position and whom I believe we can bring on board to strengthen these vital roles, on a series basis.
Click for Part 1 – Goalkeepers.
CENTRAL DEFENCE – PART 2.
In North American sports, it is a popular cliché that “defence wins championships.” This is despite the fact that one of the most dominating teams recently in Basketball across the pond are the Golden State Warriors; a modern day basketball team filled that utilizes a mix of flair, panache and mind boggling offensive skills to simply pummel opposition teams into submission. One factor that is overlooked though is their will breaking defence, which they call upon when things aren’t going well offensively. It’s why they have been one of the most dominating sports teams in the last half decade or so.
On the English side of the pond, you do not hear frequently the use of such an expression, but it really is one which finds its way into title-winning football. The best teams ultimately are the ones who can marry efficient offensive game play with a relentless defence to boot. Leicester City and Chelsea, are recent champions who proved a strong, consistent defence is as vital as a potent attack to becoming champion of England. Arsenal football club meanwhile for almost a decade has not seemed like we know the importance of the fine art of defending. If we did we certainly would not have made certain signings such as; Squillaci, Silvestre, Andre Santos, amongst a host of other terrible defenders. Purchasing strong, quality defenders has not seemed a strong suit of Mr Wenger, as he inherited the first set of defenders he utilized on his way to conquering England during the early part of his reign. Since then we have had a few quality defenders suit up for the red and white such as Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna, and Lauren.
For a club with a rich history of top quality defenders including Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Frank Mclintock, Bob Mcnab and Steve Bould, we have in the last decade or so proven ourselves inept at defending capably for the entirety of a season. When Pat Rice stepped out of the spotlight seeing to the promotion of Steve Bould to assistant manager, many Gunners rejoiced, as we believed his presence on the training field would put a nip in the bud of what slowly was becoming a collection of terrible defensive performances strewn with errors even Sunday league footballers would hardly make. Alas, that was just a dream, as Steve Bould has since fallen into the system of mediocrity and retentive ineptitude present at Arsenal.
We have on our books defenders who on some days play like they have channelled the spirits of Cannavaro and Maldini, whilst on others they play like that infamous Arsenal defence that allowed Messi bag four in a night. It is a conundrum, as players such as Koscielny and Mustafi seem like world beaters, yet a mix of injuries, complacency and ill-discipline ensure you cannot go into a game as a fan filled with confidence that we will come out of it with a clean sheet. Just look at how long it took for Cech to eventually nab his record setting 200th clean sheet. Others such as Bellerin and Chambers confident in their status as a part of a major London-based club have shown little to no signs of progress, except when it comes to hairstyles with the former. Ultimately the terrible state of our defence has to do with, in my opinion, a lack of character, inadequate coaching along with complacency.
What we need to find in the transfer window is a centre back with youth on his side, albeit with huge experience and a high footballing IQ. We need a centre back who can lead both vocally and with his performances on the field. There aren’t many top class young defenders around nowadays but we can do worse than aiming for any of the following players.
Malang Sarr is part of what is a huge number of young but immensely talented footballers coming out of France. Not even 20 but already a key player in the OGC Nice set up which finished third last season to the surprise of almost everyone. A left footed player naturally he is capable of sliding seamlessly in a back four or back three and imposing himself on whomever is unfortunate enough to be on the attacking side of the opposing team. His slight 5’9 frame may give you cause to underrate him but with a high skill level in addition to a stocky frame he can play bully ball as well as the smooth passing game cherished in North London. Snapping him up at this young age can ensure a long spell in North London.
Another player we would be mad not to target is Jose Maria Gimenez of Atletico Madrid. The 23 year old Uruguayan has worked hard to earn his place in what has for years been an uncompromising defence. He was lined up to replace a fellow Uruguayan, Diego Godin, and his ability to have done this quite admirably should be lauded, as Godin over the years has been a part of the best defenders in Europe. Jose initially had a hot temper but in the last year or two has been able to curb this and to rather channel it positively into his defending. He has bags of potential despite the huge experience he’s already amassed at the heart of the ATL defence and the only way to go is up.
Marcos Aoás Corrêa popularly known as Marquinhos, is the main player whom I believe would add loads of experience, character and authority to our defence. Only 23 years of age, the Brazilian whiz kid along with his teammate and captain Thiago Silva, for whom he usually deputizes, form the strong central defence base of PSG and the Brazil national team. The recent result against Real Madrid and an in form Cristiano Ronaldo might say otherwise but Marquinhos for most of the season has been capable when called upon. His passing is supreme and also his blocking an interception skills are a class above. Marquinhos can anchor a defence capably with his young, but wise years, and the club can make a splash by targeting him.
The club must definitely make a key central defensive signing this summer. That’s a giving. If the club leadership fails to see that with the problems we’ve been facing for years in that area of the field, then it is going to be another long season, after the World cup, probably the last of the Wenger Era.