I’m going to resist the urge to vent towards the pathetic nature of the FA’s charge of Jack Wilshere, for getting closer to the fans by singing songs, or the over sanitisation of modern day football and footballers as a result.
Instead, I’m going to plough on with my thoughts on how this season’s defence has performed as a unit and collectively.
If you were to try and think of a phrase that would describe the defence this year in less than five words, would ‘inconsistently consistent’ be a fair one? That’s what I’m going with anyway, because our season has seen only Per Mertesacker used throughout with relatively little game time. The rest of our defensive unit have all spent time out injured for some duration. But not the BFG who, interestingly enough, has attracted the most criticism of all.
It probably didn’t help his situation that he has had four different centre back partners during the course of the season, nor would his admission that motivation was tough after the heights of the World Cup in the summer. As a footballer approaching his 30s, you’d think he’d be realising that his career was but a fleeting one, so you have to make the most of every minute because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
But to his credit, when the regularity of his most experience centre back partner Koscienly became more commonplace in 2015, we all saw a marked increase in our gentle giants overall performances. His goal in the FA Cup final will no doubt be a highlight, but I thought he had a particularly good game at Manchester City away too this year. Koscienly took most of the defensive plaudits along with Santi and Coquelin that day, but it was a defensive display built on Big Per’s leadership that pleased me.
Koscienly is Koscienly. He’s brilliant. Recovery pace that supports Per and also gets himself out of some of his own mistakes, the man who wants his own song is by far our best defender and much like our season, has been hampered by that reoccurring injury (I think it was hamstrings) that needed him to sit out a chunk of this season at a time in which we looked fragile. There’s no surprise there. It’s funny because he’s a really strong guy and yet when I look at him in the flesh I never think that he has the physical power to go toe-to-toe with players like Costa or Benteke. But he does and has. Any title tilt next season must essentially mean that he’s been fit for a minimum of 80% of the league games.
If he’s not, then Arsène will look to Gabriel to step up and although it’s difficult to make a proper assessment of him after only half a season, what I have seen I like. He seems a simple – dare I say it ‘old-fashioned’ – centre half. The first words that probably came out of his mouth as a baby were ‘Row Z’. He’s intelligent at reading danger too and I’m reminded of the booking he took on his debut against Middlesbrough as an example of how he knew that the Boro play could be in on goal if he got passed, so the Brazilian Gandalfed him before anything serious could happen.
In addition to Gabriel, Chambers will be used with a bit more regularity at centre half next season and with the youngster I see a similar situation to what happened with Carl Jenkinson two years ago. With a run of games at the beginning he looked like he had a bit of the Tony Adams at that young age about him, but as the pressure to perform each week went on, he started to fade a bit and his time was limited in the second half of the season. His performances in the qualifying round of the Champions League were the ones that still stand out for me and it is those displays that I think we’ll see more often than the difficult times he had at right back against Swansea and Stoke away, or in defensive midfield against his old club. He’ll have learnt a lot this season and I think we’ll see a Chambers beacon to his early season form next time he takes to the pitch in a competitive game.
So, on to the full backs and perhaps we should start with Debuchy, who has had a torrid season with injuries. It’s a real shame because before he picked up his knock against Moneychester City, he was looking like the perfect Sagna replacement. He gets forward, has a decent delivery, is good in the tackle and I’m sure will be given another crack at being a first teamer come the start of next season, despite Bellerin’s meteoric rise.
It has been one of the great plus points, hasn’t it? Hector has settled in to the team and looks like he’s been playing right back for Arsenal for about five years consistently. No doubt his high point will have been the goal against Liverpool, but I think his first couple of displays when he began to start regularly (I think Stoke at home was one) were the bits he should be most proud of. His rise to prominence has seen the fans feel a bit sad for Jenkinson, because the performances of the Spaniard have surely ended the Arsenal supporting loanees chance of being a regular. Certainly for next season anyway. I don’t think Bellerin will start first choice next season, but the fact that it will be so close between him and Debuchy, shows how far his season has evolved from that difficult night in Dortmund.
On the other side of the back four we have another great battle on our hands. Monreal or Gibbs? Nobody thought that would be a serious question come August 2015, did they? I certainly didn’t and it’s testimony to an excellent season the Spaniard has had in which he’s been asked to play in a position he’s never in his life tried his hand at, yet he’s slotted in at centre back when the team needed him and whilst the performances of the team as a whole weren’t great, I think it was a little bit too easy of an excuse to blame Monreal for some of the more shocking games at the start of the season. Take the Anderlecht 3-3 for example. I seem to recall Monreal taking a bit of a lasting for conceding the penalty, but other than that I thought he was one of the better players on what was a pretty shoddy night.
When he was given his chance in his more natural position, he was excellent and much like Ospina, has never let his performance level drop even slightly to give Gibbs a chance of reclaiming the starter spot. That is the very definition of ‘healthy’ competition and if the club don’t tie him down for another three years this summer (he has just one year left on his contract!) then they’ve gone stark raving bonkers and we should be storming the garrison. Or doing something. A bedsheet with black marker maybe?
Monreal’s form has been the only reason why we haven’t seen as much of Kieren Gibbs towards the end of the season, because apart from getting a bit injured, he hasn’t really done a lot wrong. Even when he’s been called on in some of the FA Cup games where Arsène has rotated he’s been excellent and was the assist provider for one of Giroud’s goals against Middlesbrough. Much like the two right backs, there is a tough decision Arsène has to make, but unlike Bellerin and Debuchy, I’m not sure there’s as much of a hierarchy in place. I really couldn’t tell you who is the first choice come the first game of the season. Right now you’d say Monreal but will that be the case with a full pres season completed for both? Don’t know.
What I do know is that the defence that ended the season is not the same one that started it. I said yesterday that there is probably a case for another goalkeeper to come in during the summer, but I don’t think the same can be said for our defence. Even if you take out one player from every position across the back four, I think we have a good unit of players and I don’t think Arsène will be too concerned with that area this summer, which is ironic given that we’ve spent half the season moaning about it!
Anyway, that’ll do from me for one day, so I’m off for a bit of work. Over and out.