Morning folks – happy Thursday n’all that jazz.

I think i’ll do a few days in which I’ll take a look at the team by on-pitch section, so today I thought I’d have a think about defenders, i.e. what went well, what went wrong, what we might look at for next season.

I think if you’re going to do some kind of grading system, the back line would absolutely be getting an A* from most Arsenal fans. The numbers speak for themselves: most clean sheets in the season is nothing to be sniffed at and the fact we were even able to get to the final day still in with a shout feels to me as though it was mainly in part down to our back line.

At the end of last season it was our defence that cost us; you can’t concede the amount of goals that we conceded and just expect to outscore your rivals. It just doesn’t work. It didn’t under Kevin Keegan in the 90s and it doesn’t work today. Our back line and defensive set up is the reason we have been so good and when you consider the turnaround from 2022/23, it really is quite a remarkable feat.

But what is it down to?

David Raya in between the sticks

I was a sceptic, I still don’t think he’s made that much of a difference (i’ll explain why in a sec), but there’s no doubt that he’s been a calming factor in some areas. I love Ramsdale, I was sad to see that Arteta had no intention of following through on his comments about having two number one goalkeepers, but the way Raya claims crosses and seems so composed at times has been brilliant and I’m sure pivotal in calming those in front of him. I didn’t think he was enough of an upgrade on Ramsdale and I’m still not 100% convinced, but he’s our ‘keeper and he gets my full backing and support and has done whenever he’s been in between the sticks and as we go in to next season.

Saliba staying fit

This is one of the big factors, I think, and I’m sure you guys have seen some of the numbers floating around as to the fact he’s played every minute of the Premier League this season. He’s been immense; his ability to win ground duels, the fact he’s bossed the likes of Haaland this season, as well as the way he strides out of defence with the ball that enables us to disrupt the positioning and press of other teams, has had a huge impact. We all said it last season – that losing him could have cost us the title – but when you have other players saying it as well as he himself stating it, it shows just how important a cog he is in this team. But he isn’t the only one in that back line, because…

Gabriel is a man mountain

If Saliba is the cultured defender who strides and glides so gracefully, Gabriel is the muscle. But to simply label him as that would be a massive disservice to this footballer, because he has become imperious alongside his French teammate. He’s a lot quicker than people would think, he absolutely LOVES a duel, but also he’s a good passer of the ball too. I can remember countless times this season in which he’s played vertical passes in to the likes of Trossard, Martinelli or Havertz and I think that part of his game probably gets overlooked a fair bit. He’s a great footballer for us and I am so glad that nonsense at the start of the season was cleared up quickly, because I have no doubt in my mind that without him we wouldn’t have achieved nearly as much defensive stability. In fact, I’d go as far to say that he was our best defender this season. Last season Saliba blew our minds, but this season I feel like Gabriel has risen to the challenge and then some.

Ben White – Mr underrated

I love him, you love him, every Arsenal fan loves him. Quiet, unassuming, durable and such an adaptable footballer. It’s because of Ben White that if we did lose Saliba to injury next season, I’d feel absolutely fine about having him fill in. He could just as quickly adapt and become a top class centre half again, even though he’s been playing two season’s as a full back. When he’s fit and firing – and post Dubai that was definitely the case – his link up with Odegaard and Saka is phenomenal. I can’t picture specific moments, but repeatable moments; I’m sure you too could envisage White overlapping Saka which then creates space for Saka to either cut in, or feed him to put a ball in. The only sad bit of the season was his miss at Bayern to make it 2-0 to us but he’s a full back, so I don’t think anybody was digging him out too much with that miss. At everything else he excels.

Rice to form the perfect triangle

I think that the real reason above all that we are so good defensively is Rice acting as that screen in front of Saliba and Gabriel. Don’t get me wrong, those two are amazing, but the amount of block tackles that Rice has made to stop the ball even coming to a situation where our centre halves are stretched is, I think, a reason we also have such a low quality of shoit against us (and therefore the best xG against of any team in the league). That triangle of Gabriel, Saliba and Rice is immense. Long may that triangle stay fit, for sure.

This defence is brilliant. I love it. I just pray they all stay fit, because if we can get that level of consistency for next season and those key players can stay fit throughout the duration not to mention the hope that Jurrien Timber bangs for us, the hope is that once again we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Back tomorrow with some thoughts on the midfield.

Catch you all then.