Last year’s Arsenal defense was downright terrible. They made 15 errors leading to goals, which was most in the league. However, this summer has seen some defensive transfers in which should help improve the squad. Plus, some new voices in the coaching staff will hopefully pay dividends come next May.
This is the second season preview article for the blog; the ‘keepers came first, with the midfield and attack to come soon.
The 2018-2019 Arsenal Defense: Can’t Get Much Worse
Crowded in the Middle
When previewing this Arsenal defense, the first thing that strikes you is the fact that there are a lot of bodies in the middle. Right now, Unai Emery can call on five different center-backs; Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Dinos Mavropanos. Additionally, Laurent Koscielny should return to the team for the second half of the season.
Just like Wenger before him, Emery will be expected to field two distinct teams depending on the competition. The ‘A’ team, the duo who would play in the Prem, will probably be Mustafi and Sokratis, being that they have the most experience. Meanwhile, the ‘B’ team would be a bit more difficult to pick, as all three options – Chambers, Holding and Mavropanos – are fairly close on talent.
Regardless of the exact combination, though, expect to see at least a marginal improvement over last season’s performance. Not only is there seemingly nowhere to go but up, but there will be a fresh approach not only to coaching but defending.
Emery is a known video fanatic, not just for himself but also for his players. This focus on video review should help eliminate the many mental errors which plagued this Arsenal defense last season. There is also plenty of competition in the team, which will lead to players pushing each other to play better, yielding better results.
Who Stays, Who Plays?
With all that said, with a field of five central defenders, someone will get left out in the cold, at least until the injuries hit. Plus, the ranks will swell when Koscielny comes back somewhere around the new year, meaning a loan may be in order. So, who stays and who plays?
As mentioned above, the A squad of Mustafi and Sokratis will certainly get their chance. However, who exactly makes the B squad? For me, the first name must be Chambers.
The former Southampton man has been around the club the longest and has the other two beat when it comes to age. Chambers has also played with ‘Boro during their ill-fated excursion into the Premier League, meaning he has a relative wealth of experience. As he will turn 24 in January, Chambers is also nearing the time in his career when we will see exactly what sort of club he belongs at.
Top four? Perhaps a top-half team? Or maybe at a ‘small’ club? He should get one more year for the team to decide.
Meanwhile, both Holding and Mavropanos do have experience away from Arsenal, but not much. The Greek played in his home country before joining the club, while the Englishman has a year of Championship football from his time at Bolton under his belt. Both need more seasoning before being considered as a first-team regular.
Now, as far as which one should go out on loan to gain more experience….I’m sort of at a loss. My gut is telling me Mavropanos as he only has three appearances to his name at Arsenal. However, there is an argument to be made that if we keep him in north London we can shape his outlook on the game more. But, at the end of the day, let the coaching staff decide that one.
Balanced Out Wide
In relative contrast to the situation in the middle, the full-backs of the Arsenal defense almost pick themselves. On the right we have the still young talent of Hector Bellerin tempered by the veteran presence of Stephan Lichtsteiner. On the left is the evergreen Nacho Monreal and the hot-and-cold Sead Kolasinac.
Picking the proverbial first string is easy here; Bellerin on the right and Monreal on the left. As there are exactly two recognized first-team players at these position after them, the backup brigade picks themselves; Lichtsteiner on the right and Kolasinac on the left.
Things could change, of course, as Barcelona continue to monitor Bellerin. Plus, there are new rumors that say Emery is open to selling Monreal, especially after Joel Lopez joined the team. However, don’t read too much into these rumors.
Bellerin would have a huge price tag associated with him as he is under long-term contract and still has room to improve. Meanwhile, Lopez is still a teenager and won’t displace either Monreal or Kolasinac anytime soon.
The hope here is for Lichtsteiner to pass along some sage wisdom in what will probably be his one and only year with Arsenal, while Kolasinac should improve with another year in the country and another year with a consumate professional in Monreal.
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