What’s Wrong With Arsenal’s Defence? We Take A Closer Look At The Gunners Backbone

There is a myth surrounding Arsenal that Arsène Wenger is incapable of building a Premier League winning back four.

Arsène inherited George Graham’s famous back four consisting of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Steve Bould, and a segment of Arsenal fans believe a lot of Arsène’s early success can be attributed to Graham’s work.

In Arsenal’s double winning season of 1997/98, the famous back four, with the addition of Nigel Winterburn, conceded 33 Premier League goals. In the double winning season of 2001/02, Arsenal conceded 36 goals.

Had Arsène not guided a completely new back four to an unbeaten season, this theory may well have attained real credibility. But, after a 49 game unbeaten run, in which his back four conceded just 26 goals, it is clear that he does have the ability to build a top class, competitive defence.

So, is Mr. Wenger simply suffering a temporary defensive blip? Is it this current defence itself that isn’t good enough? Well, no. That isn’t it either. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have formed a very good partnership together and Kieran Gibbs is beginning to find form following an injury free spell.

However, despite an impressive defensive record at home, the current Arsenal back four shipped an unacceptable amount of goals away from home last season. Having only conceded 11 at the Emirates all season, teams such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City contributed to the 30 they conceded on the road.

We’re now 8 games in to the new season and Arsenal have already had 6 goals put past them at home, and 5 put past them on the road. But the problem isn’t solely down Per Mertesacker are co.

Of course, our defence do have to be held accountable for certain aspects of their game. There are many instances in matches when our fullbacks are too committed and are caught out by counter attacks. Our centre backs do find themselves out of position and scrambling back towards goal a little to often and, Laurent Koscielny’s propensity to give away penalties can’t be overlooked.

These aspects alone, however, do not constitute the entire reason as to why we let so many points slip and why we concede too many goals.

We won’t delve in to the current injury crisis at the club either, that’s an entirely different story. Instead, we’ll look at the recurring problem that has impacted the club since 2005.

During Arsène’s successful first 9 years in charge there was always one, vital constant in our team, a constant that, in the mid 2000’s, ceased to continue; A top class defensive midfielder.

During the 97/98 season, Emmanuel Petit partnered Patrick Vieira in the middle of the park in what is one of the best combinations of power and ability the Premier League has seen.

Following Petit’s departure in 2000, Vieira took over as the dominant force in the Arsenal midfield and he did a remarkable job. Opposition players would quake in their boots at the site of him. Even Roy Keane has now admitted that had they come to blows during that infamous incident in the tunnel at Highbury, Patrick would have killed him.

In 2002 Arsène signed Gilberto Silva, who famously partnered Vieira throughout the Invincible season. Patrick Vieira then left for Juventus in 2005 and in 2008, Gilberto’s time at Arsenal had also come to an end.

Arsène Wenger’s intentions about who would take over the defensive midfield role were clear. Abou Diaby had been earmarked as Vieira’s successor since his arrival in 2006, but a rotten affair with injuries meant that his career never took off.

Arsenal have suffered for a long time without the physical presence of a player such as Vieira in midfield and yet again, Arsène failed to strengthen that area over the summer.

Mathieu Flamini isn’t up to the job and Mikel Arteta has never been, and will never be, a holding midfielder.

Despite endless calls from fan over the summer that the signing of a defensive midfielder was of paramount importance, Arsène decided that Flamini and Arteta were of sufficient quality to do the job.

We are now 8 games in to the season and Mr. Wenger has finally admitted that maybe it is an area that needs to be strengthened, and has suggested that a suitable player will be brought in in January.

The league is already all but beyond us and, even if there was a chance of us clawing our way back in to the title race, injuries have seen to it that that won’t happen.

We can only hope that by the beginning of next season we have a top quality defensive midfielder sat in front of our back four to provide them with the protection they so desperately need.

When that signing is made, the defence, as a unit, will become much stronger, and in turn, much more capable of sustaining a legitimate title challenge.

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