Thierry Henry. Dennis Bergkamp. Cesc Fabregas. Patrick Vieira. Robert Pires. The list goes on. There have been a myriad of world-class players at Arsenal in recent years.
The problem is they are all attackers. The Gunners have never been short of firepower (pun intended) but since the great flat back four of the 90s defensive frailties have constantly undermined their superb offensive prowess.
The precision with which Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn stepped up simultaneously with their arms raised in front of Seaman was a joy to behold but no defensive unit since has been able to recapture such quality.
But this season under the guidance of Steve Bould they have conceded the least goals away from home in the Premier League. Does this perhaps signal an improvement at the back for the Arsenal?
Safe hands & Butter fingers
It must be said to begin with that good defences need a safe pair of hands to order them around from behind with the goalkeeper. A lot has been made of the recent events surrounding Wojciech Szczesny's dropping and his father's subsequent complaints.
I must say I have been very impressed with both Lukas Fabianski's performances after such a long spell out of the team and with the way Szczesny has reacted to sitting on the bench.
At only 22-years-old Szczesny has shown remarkable maturity and has undoubted ability in goal but I feel he maybe needs a little guidance from a more experienced keeper before we can really be sure of his long term reliability between the sticks at the Emirates.
With this experience he should be able to wipe the mistakes out of his game that have perhaps undermined him so far. It seems Wenger has identified a need of another keeper at Arsenal and transfer rumours suggest he is either looking for an experienced player in Victor Valdes or even Casillas to allow Wojciech to develop or simply a replacement with the likes of Asmir Begovic and Simon Mignolet being linked with a move to Arsenal.
I think Szczesny has shown more potential than either of them so seems a more viable long-term option. The increased solidarity at the back in Szczesny is helping me quell nightmares of Almunia trying to stop anything and so I think their keeper situation is only going to improve with Szczesny in goal.
Gibbs & Jenkinson
At both right back and left back they have a similar situation: an experienced, solid but older player (Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal) and a very exciting, fast, attacking but perhaps defensively ropey backup (Kieron Gibbs & Carl Jenkinson).
I must first say how well they’ve done to get Monreal for such a low fee. A full Spanish international for under £9m is a great bit of business and I think he's significantly helped their recent push for a top four finish.
While Santos was a very likeable character, his performances were simply embarrassing and Nacho offers a lot more reliability. Similarly Sagna has not done badly but got very unlucky with the two leg breaks in one year.
Gibbs & Jenkinson have both shown huge potential and the overlapping threat both offer in attack is really important to the system Wenger has implemented.
The pace they possess is very impressive but defensive fallibility is a flaw, which certainly Jenkinson and maybe not so much Gibbs need to eradicate. Jenkinson's habit of flying into unnecessary tackles has threatened to undo work done by the rest of the team.
Sunderland away this year comes to mind where he was sent off and left his peers a nervy 20 minutes to hold on to a 1-0 lead. Marveaux and Ba too tormented Gibbs against Newcastle but his troubles were overshadowed by a quite brilliant performance from Walcott but to his credit I struggled to remember many other instances of him being caught out.
I'm sure you'll all remember is last minute slide tackle against WBA on the last day last season which secured third place and this tells me with a little help he is sure to become a quality player for them in the future.
The way Jenkinson dealt with Arjen Robben in the Champions League is also a moment where he proved he's destined for a bright future. Both players recently signing long-term deals is a big bonus as well.
I must finally mention young Hector Bellerin who has been nothing short of sensational for the U21 side as an attacking full back. The ex-Barcelona B wing back promises to offer much more to the Gunners in the coming years. The future Arsenal wing back partnership looks set to terrorise the Premier League in the near future.
The Holy Trinity
For the first time in a while, they have a choice of three quality centre backs. Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are all highly capable internationals and the rotation policy Wenger has adopted with them has come off well.
The luxury of being able to drop one of them on bad form with a good replacement is a very welcome one. The way Mertesacker reads the game, Koscielny's slide tackles and Vermaelen's 1-on-1 defending shows they are all class players but unfortunately it must be said they are all fairly error prone but it's my view that with every match, they are getting more experience and hopefully less error prone.
They all still have the prime of their careers to come and should offer much more to the club. I must stress here that I think individually they are all great defenders but we do need them to establish partnerships and hopefully Wenger or Bould or whoever is in charge of the defence can get the best out of them because a good defence is a lot more than the sum of the its parts. In the immediate future while those three are still at their best, they can be confident of solidarity at the heart of their defence but I don't see any obvious replacements.
Ignasi Miguel seems decent but nothing special while Johan Djourou is simple not good enough. For now, nothing needs to be done while they still have the quality trio but I can't help but worry about the future when they're gone.
I still have faith in Arsene and I trust he will find replacements.
Holding the key
All the great attacking sides of the past and indeed the present have a disciplined holding midfielder. Chelsea under Mourinho had Michael Essien, the Invincibles had Gilberto Silva and Barcelona have Sergio Busquets. Now obviously a defensive midfielder is not a defender but as it's often said: you defend as a team.
As well as relieving Cazorla and others from their defensive duties, a defensive midfield is key to breaking up opposition attacks and just being a general nuisance.
Most importantly though they prevent opposition counter attacks. A true defensive midfielder doesn't get sucked too far into attacks and is always alert and in position to support the defence. Their present situation has left them vulnerable quite often to being picked off on the break. Currently Arteta is playing this role (very well in my opinion it must be said) but he is not a natural defensive midfielder.
At Barcelona, Rangers and Everton he was primarily an attacker but he's playing in a more withdrawn position at the moment. I agree with many that they need a proper holding midfielder in the long term to take over from Arteta (not displace him).
I think having this is crucial and with many reported targets it looks like something is being done to sign someone to play that role. Maxime Gonalons of Lyon, Etienne Capoue of Toulouse and Sven Bender of Dortmund among others have all been linked.
For me Gonalons is the best option as the picture below shows especially as he is the only one on that list not playing for a world class club.
Two options from within the club in Francis Coquelin and Nico Yennaris may do a good job too but are probably not as high quality as they should be aiming for. The importance of a defensive midfielder has been recognised at the club and now they just need to find the right man to play there for.
The Bould effect
Sunderland 0-0. Stoke 0-0. Liverpool 2-0. The start of this season showed defensive stability; the like of which had been missed for quite a while at Arsenal. It coincided with Steve Bould taking up the role of assistant manager and the defence coaching and many as his doing put it down.
Since then they’ve been found out on occasions and most notably in the second North London where their near suicidal offside trap gifted Spurs two quick fire goals. When done well (as Bould and co. proved), the offside trap is highly effective but I don't know whether they simply don't have the right players to play it or the coaching staff is not implementing it well enough.
I don't know Bould on a personal level and don't know if he's stubborn enough to persist with it but all I can say is that if it brings more performances like the one against Spurs, I very much hope something is done to stop him.
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