We are now just past the halfway mark in our 2nd season with Steve Bould as assistant manager and based on our vastly improved defensive record during that time it’s clear that he has been massively influential.
Before I go into detail on Steve Boulds effect, massive credit must be given to Wenger who made two bold decisions to drop Vermaelen & Szczesny towards the end of last season. The Mertesacker-Koscielny partnership is absolutely world class and not many managers would drop their captain in order to allow it to flourish. Szczesny was also dropped, which proved another masterstroke because not only did he return a different man but Fabianski helped to stabilize our leaky defence when we needed it most.
Now back to Steve Bould, I wouldn’t necessarily say that he shouts all game and keeps the players drilled but he is fairly vocal and can be seen shouting instructions at some point every game. He is similar to Pat Rice in the sense that he is the voice on the bench while Wenger is the brain. Perhaps 1 thing he may have influenced the most on match days are the substitutions. No matter what the score and whoever we were facing, you could be certain that in recent years Wenger would make all attacking substitutions. We could be winning 4-0 or we could be scraping a 1-0, he would bring on more attackers rarely prioritising a clean sheet. These days however, if we’re winning we are lucky if we see attacking substitutions. A lot of the time we have had unfit players rushed back onto the bench so they were not able to be selected, and on most other occasions we were looking to secure the point so we opted to bring on the likes of Monreal & Vermaelen in games this season so far.
Steve Bould has obviously had a massive input on the training ground because for the first time since the 07/08 season we managed to concede less goals than games played last season (only just in fairness) and we are well on our way to emulating/bettering that stat this season. We have the best defence in the league at the moment with 18 conceded in 20 games which is remarkable considering we conceded 6 & 3 goals in our 2 blips of the season against Villa & City. Then you look at stats such as Mertesacker & Koscielny not losing a game since 2012 when both have played a whole match together and our 1st choice back 4 yet to lose a Premier League game then you see just how effective Steve Bould has been.
I think Steve Bould has really made Koscielny & Vermaelen understand their primary job is to defend rather than just leave Per behind as they attack. Before Vermaelen would rush out with the ball and go on a mad run up the pitch in the hopes of scoring but this season when he has played you can see he rarely does that anymore and just keeps his game simple. Koscielny made a few rash decisions earlier in the season but he has also made rapid improvements under Bould’s guidance. He is arguably the best centre back in the league when it comes to nipping in front of the striker as the ball comes in to them but he uses it very wisely now and only does it when he knows he can get the ball. He knows now that sometimes its safer to let the opponent have the ball at feet and press them quickly rather then get turned as you run in to intercept and the striker is now in behind you. He did the same last season but with Arteta’s injury early this season he was more exposed and perhaps panicked more than normal (Sunderland & Villa prime examples) but you can see with Flamini or Arteta sitting that he is very calm and composed.
Our fullbacks have also performed remarkably well this season. Sagna is outstanding in the air for a relatively short defender and has supplied some superb crosses for our forwards, while Gibbs constantly improves on the other side defending like a centre back and attacking like a winger. Liverpool at home was a stunning performance from Gibbs where he didn’t put a foot wrong, while Sagna’s best performance was Palace away in my opinion where he stood up to anything and everything thrown at him. Bould has had a less direct impact on the improvement of Gibbs and Sagna, which is natural seeing as he was a centre back. But it would be fair to say that our centre backs improving has allowed them to excel, which of course is down to Steve Bould.
I for one am very grateful for Steve Bould’s contributions to the team since his appointment. He has helped to make our weakest area on the pitch arguably our strongest. The amount of clean sheets and outstanding defensive performances we have seen from Arsenal in the last 2 years is remarkable when you consider how bad we were defensively in previous seasons. All we need now is Henry to coach our strikers and Vieira to coach our midfielders and we’ll be laughing to the Premier League title.
Photo by Ronnie Macdonald