May 312011

Following on from the player ratings given to the goalkeepers earlier today, it is time to take a look at the much criticised back line that sit directly in front of them. As before, I’ll be grading each of the individuals and making suggestions as to where their futures lay.

This is part two of the four part review – check back tomorrow for the midfielders.

Right Back

3. Bacary Sagna

Frankly, if we had more players with the Sagna’s heart, we would be far more successful. One of the few players who approaches each game with equal intensity, he has been a warrior at right back all season. Unlike Clichy on the other flank, he is utterly consistent, and even the most cynical of fans can probably only point to a handful of glaring mistakes in his time here. Perhaps his biggest lapse this season was losing his rag against Man City and getting a red card, but time after time he nullifies the opposing wingers before embarking on surging runs of his own. Still needs to improve his crossing, but has shown a new willingness to use what is quite the rocket shot. In the absence of Vermaelen, he has been our best defender, hands down.

Rating: A-
Future: Has to stay. In the mix for a vice-captain role.

27. Emmanuel Eboue

From the sublime to the ridiculous. The cult of Eboue is officially dead. Credit to him for sticking around after dropping so low in the estimation of fans that he was booed off a couple of years ago, and credit to him also for being a positive influence in the dressing room. But his role isn’t cheerleader and friend to all, it is to provide an attacking threat from right back and show basic defensive sense when required. The official site doesn’t list him as a defender, and they may be on to something with that. Eboue is 28 next week, he should be at his peak, one of the senior members of the squad, providing guidance and leadership qualities to those many years his junior. He isn”t even close. He has always had raw ability, but he has never fully exploited it, and nor has he ever shown a desire to stop acting like a clown on and off the field. His time is up.

Rating: D
Future: Too many years of mistakes and idiocy. Good player on his day, but will never improve. Time to go.

Left Back

22. Gael Clichy

Clichy is a divisive one. A risk-taking defender, he makes more interceptions than most thanks to his aggressive tactic of nipping ahead of attackers, but the flip side is that when he fails, he is all too easily turned and taken out of the game. Furthermore, he still suffers the occasional brain fart which, more often than not, is punished by the opposition. That said, he is comfortably the best left back we have, certainly from a defensive point of view, and has the pace to make up for some of his lapses. Going forward remains a problem – his crossing is still largely woeful, and despite a rare goal against Leyton Orient offers next to no goal threat. Were he to provide more dangerous balls in from wide positions, the oft used tactic of packing the centre of the pitch and pushing us wide would be less effective. Right now, his ineptitude with that final ball is aiding the opposition immensely.

Rating: C+
Future: Still our best left back, but still cannot cross, despite countless opportunities. Needs competition for his place.

28. Kieran Gibbs

Often touted as the man to oust Clichy from the side, he has been unable to push on in the last year, partly due to a constant string of injuries that have denied him a run of games. But even when he has been playing, his defensive weaknesses have been exploited. His positioning is poor at times, as is his understanding of when to come across to support the centre backs. On the plus side, he has shown the potential to offer more going forward than Clichy, but needs to remove the tendency to take another touch to set himself before crossing – at the highest level this split second gives the opposition defender a chance to recover. He is an excellent crosser of the ball, but this habit means his efforts are blocked too often. But the biggest concern remains his fitness.

Rating: C
Future: Still behind Clichy in the pecking order, and needs to add more discipline to change that.

Centre Back

5. Thomas Vermaelen

It is impossible to judge how much Vermaelen’s absence has cost us this season, but it is fair to say he could have made a massive difference. He counters many of our weaknesses – good in the air, an organiser of the defence, dangerous at set pieces, and even willing to embark on surging forward runs when the team is lacking a creative spark. In other words, he is exactly the player the press think we should sign. And in a way, they are right – perhaps it is evidence of our threadbare squad that the loss of one player hurts us so. Even if the backups have technical quality, the do not possess the overall traits of the man who could easily go on to captain the side in the future.

Rating: No rating
Future: Utterly critical. Tie him down and clone him. With a new Achilles.

6. Laurent Koscielny

His first season in English football has certainly been eventful. An own goal in a 6-5 victory in pre-season, a red card on his Premiership debut, and that calamitous cock up in the Carling Cup final. But while he has certainly had his disastrous moments, he has shown immense promise, no more so that in the victory against Barcelona, when he was an absolute rock. And early season, he impressed with his tenacity, surprising aerial ability and accuracy in the tackle. There are plenty who doubt his credentials – I have to say I am not among them, and fully expect a strong second season.

Rating: C+
Future: Keep. Will have more competition with Vermaelen back and perhaps a new signing as well, but has the ability.

18. Sebastien Squillaci

Poor Seb. His first season at Arsenal has been a painful one, and he has ended it being labelled as nothing more than the new Silvestre, which is about as insulting as it gets. In fairness, he has become such an easy target that he gets blamed for problems that aren’t always his fault, but at the same time, he hasn’t shown any signs of being a defender of the level we need. Fourth choice doesn’t have to be outstanding, but they can’t induce the jitters to the level he does. That said, it would break the habit of a lifetime if Wenger jettisoned him after only one season, so I would be surprised to see him go.

Rating: D-
Future: Unlikely to leave after one season. But a new signing could push him out of the picture.

20. Johan Djourou

Opinions have long been mixed on Djourou. Injury prone for so long but also highly rated by Wenger, he looked decidedly rusty in his opening games, drawing early concerns. But from then, he was a tower of strength while Vermaelen was absent, a fact that is so easily forgotten because his performances dipped so alarmingly in the final month of the season. But overall, Djourou came on leaps and bounds this season, and will look to push on next year.

Rating: B
Future: Stay, improve and become more consistent.

One final thing I’d add to this – when fit, it is difficult to look at any individual in our first choice back line and think them unworthy of pulling on the shirt. Somehow though, the whole is less than the sum of the parts – whether it is organisation, concentration or a lack of understanding between the players, there is a definite problem that simple signings may not fix. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the summer is uniting this part of the team.

Come back tomorrow for the midfield ratings, check out the keeper ratings from earlier, and feel free to given your thoughts and ratings in the comments below.

(part 1 – Holding the gloves)

(part 3 – The midfield mix)

  9 Responses to “Groan’s player review 2010/11 part 2: A case for the defence”

  1. well said about Koscielny v. Barca Leg 1. world class and one of the best single-game performances by a Gunner of the last couple/few sesasons.
    right about Djourou, too. any chance they could make a right back out of him?

    • I’d actually be all for giving Djourou a go as a holding midfielder. He would be a true holder – he hasn’t displayed the attacking verve that perhaps Wenger requires (and Song has improved at), but he has the power and the technique to succeed there, if we ever found ourselves with an abundance of centre halves (or to cover Song for the ACN in January).

  2. I’d maybe give Kos a B but agree otherwise. The thing that always infuriates me about our defence is that individually, they’re all good defenders.It’s as a unit where they are less impressive. I think Clichy is our weak link and he’s stagnated for so long. He’s not going to improve so I’d ship him out this summer, especially with his contract going into the final year. I’d go for Leighton Baines or Aly Cissokho but even more importantly, I’d get a damn defensive coach in to tighten them up and give WS53 the protection he deserves.

    • Agreed entirely with the individual v collective point – I always find it strange that our defence seems so flimsy despite the individuals being so talented. Big challenge to fix that.

  3. Yes, Clichy is definitely no longer the man for the job. Sagna made some mistakes as well, true, but there is a world of difference between them in terms of style and commitment. I think Wenger will get at least two full-backs in this window, but I’d be very surprised if they were players of experience. Unless Clichy himself decides it’s time to go (by not extending his contract), it’s likely Arsenal will get only more young promise for the sides.

  4. Wholeheartedly agree with the assessments but Koscielny’s case is interesting. His size and skills set are far better suited to DM than CB, and with the urgent need for a new top quality CB he should be given an extended run there. He would be far more reliable than Song who wanders forward and provides zero cover against counter attack…

  5. If Clichy goes who’s gonna replace him?

  6. If Clichy goes the defensive option is to replace him with Vermaelen, who played more often as a LB than CB before joining Arsenal, but the argument against is that he will not provide a threat on the attack apart from long-range shooting. I don’t have evidence of it but i don’t expect the Verminator to be a great crosser. It would lead to a very solid defense, similar to the Chelsea team that won the league conceeding only 15 goals with Gallas at LB.

    • And this would mean that Arsenal needs at least one more world-class winger. I’m not sure Arshavin can deliver as a member of the first XI, this season, he’s been more effective as the second choice backup man. Walcott is injury-prone and Eboue is apparently on the way out (beside not being a world-class winger). Nasri is not the man for the job in this case.
      But on another note, I don’t think Wenger would favour such a defensive move. In his world, both full-backs and center-backs play clearly defined roles in the offensive (wing support/crowd management in setpieces). As for who would replace Clichy – that I can’t tell. Ask Arsene.

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