Saturday, June 7, 2014

The SMR Arsenal Squad Review – The Defenders

With the season over and a trophy in the cabinet, I’m going to assess the season for each member of the Arsenal squad and rate them. I’m sure there’ll be some disagreements about some of my ratings, so feel free to comment at the bottom with your thoughts. Next up, it’s the defenders.
3. Bacary Sagna
It’s a massive shame that the Frenchman will be leaving Arsenal as he was back to his best in 2013/2014. I can’t think of a bad game that Sagna had, and after some injury problems in previous seasons, he was able to stay fit for the majority of the season.
Sagna was a warrior for Arsenal, didn’t shirk a tackle and was always solid when defending. Some of his best matches were when he covered injuries as a centre-back, with particularly impressive displays at Fulham, Sunderland and Norwich when pressed into action in the middle.
I can’t be annoyed at him for running down his contract because he did give everything when he played for the club, but a potential move to Manchester City loses him a mark.
Season Rating: 7/10
4. Per Mertesacker
The BFG is awesome.
Mertesacker understands the fans, understands what it means to play for the club and has become one of the most consistent centre-backs in the Premier League. He knows he’s not blessed with great pace, so he has adapted his game accordingly and has developed a superb partnership with Laurent Koscielny. Despite giving away the penalty in the FA Cup semi-final, he came up with the vital equaliser and produced one of the singing performances of the season with his rendition of ‘Arsenal till I die’ at the cup victory parade.
He’s clearly loved, respected, and at times even feared, by his team-mates, and should Thomas Vermaelen seek regular football and leave this summer, Mertesacker has to be the club captain.
Season Rating: 8.5/10
5. Thomas Vermaelen
It was a difficult season for the club captain as he couldn’t hold down a regular place in the team because of the excellent form and partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. He was also unfortunate with injuries as he would have got minutes earlier in the season had he not picked up a problem in pre-season.
When Vermaelen did play, he didn’t let Arsenal down. He put in some impressive performances, and his presence in the squad undoubtedly makes Mertesacker and Koscielny work hard because they know there is a quality player waiting to take their place. I hope Vermaelen stays because he remains an excellent centre-back and makes the competition for places strong in the squad.
Season Rating: 6/10
6. Laurent Koscielny
Like Sagna, Koscielny is a warrior when playing for Arsenal. His partnership with Mertesacker is much talked about because it’s been so good, with Koscielny’s pace being the perfect foil for Mertesacker’s height and organisation. The Frenchman is lightning across the ground and almost hasn’t had big enough pockets to fit the strikers in after his performances this season.
His knack of scoring crucial goals at the end-of-season is also very welcome. He took a whack from the goalkeeper, but it wasn’t a surprise to see Koscielny in the right place at Wembley to equalise in the cup final. He needs to give away fewer penalties, but otherwise there are very few weak areas in his game.
Season Rating: 8/10
17. Nacho Monreal
The Spaniard was in and out the team depending on the form and fitness of Kieran Gibbs. His competition with Gibbs for the left-back spot has made both players improve.
Monreal’s defending isn’t quite as tight as Gibbs’, and he doesn’t get to the by-line as much when going forward. However, he is still an excellent squad player to have considering that injury record of Gibbs means Arsenal need two good left-backs. The battle with Gibbs was probably the reason why Monreal missed out on the Spain World Cup squad as it would have been better for him to be playing regularly, but it was a sign of the increased squad strength in 2013/2014 that someone of the quality of Monreal struggled to hold down a regular place in the team.
Season Rating: 6/10
25. Carl Jenkinson
With Bacary Sagna staying fit for most of the season, Carl Jenkinson had fewer chances to impress at right-back in 2013/2014, but apart from a blunder against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, he never let the club down when he played. He’s probably the best crosser at the club, and whipped one in so good against Hull in the Premier League that even Nicklas Bendtner couldn’t miss.
There were great performances in the North London derby at the Emirates and he played his part with a few appearances in the cup run. His moment of the season was undoubtedly the goal at Norwich. A true Gooner scoring a goal for the club he loves. It was beautiful.
It’ll be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger gives him the chance to step up when Sagna departs, and whilst I’m not sure if he’s ready, there’s no doubting that Jenkinson will give everything he has when wearing red and white.
Season Rating: 6/10
28. Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs is incredibly unlucky that England seem to produce excellent left-backs, because he should be playing regularly for his national team. How he wasn’t even mentioned when the media discussed possible people in the squad I don’t know.
Gibbs has been consistent, had less injuries and been part of a good Arsenal back four. The competition with Monreal has meant Gibbs had to improve to keep his place, and after missing out on some bigger games in the middle of the season, he re-established himself at the back-end of the campaign. He did come up with the miss of the season in the cup final, but fortunately the win means it’ll soon be forgotten!
Season Rating: 7.5/10
Listen to the Sam’s Match Reports podcast end-of-season awards special!
Part 1Part 2Part 3