I arrived at work this morning, made an instant ‘coffee’ and sat down to read an article that got me thinking. It was a strange thought, I must admit, and one that felt very alien to me. In fact, I wager, this thought may indeed feel strange to most Arsenal fans, and there is every chance that I will be questioned on my split-second judgement, and rightfully so.
But the thought is nevertheless a happy one, and one that I simply had to share. The thought was
Could we be starting to develop the best central defensive squad in the Premiership?
There, I said it.
Now before you tie me up in a sweaty Gunnersaurus costume, put toothpicks in my eyelids and force me to watch the Newcastle game in 3DHD (imagine Andy Carroll’s face *shudders*) remember that it is just a thought, and perhaps not a very well thought one at that. But something inside me can’t help but feel that it has some grounding in reality. Notice that I said ‘starting to develop’ – I am not inclined to commit to the view that we have achieved this just yet – but the seeds of this development are there to be seen nevertheless.
There have been two things this week that have lead me to this idea.
Firstly, in the wake of Sunderland’s win at the weekend Chelsea’s depth of squad is starting to come into question, and no more so than in defence. With Terry and Alex out Ancelotti was forced to play Ferreira and Ivanovic in central defence - a partnership that will have few attackers running scared. Ivanovic is admittedly a quality, rugged central defender, very much in the Chelsea mould, but he has been plying his trade at right back for over a season now and is therefore far from an ideal replacement. Ferreira on the other hand is a right back and in my mind calling on anything other than a centre back to play centre back when you only have two centre backs out makes your squad seem a little bit thin to me.
Arsenal on the other hand have had one, and often, two centre backs out for much of the season and have coped, to my mind at least, relatively well. Not amazingly well, but relatively well. But how well we have coped can be made to seem a fair bit more impressive when you realise that one of our centre backs has only just come back from a season-long injury lay-off and the other two (who have alternated) have only just come to the Premiership. This means that three of our four centre-backs effectively played no football in the Premiership last season and two of the three have never played Premiership football at all before this season. When you take into account relative adjustment periods for new signings and add in recuperation periods for likeanewsigning injury returnees you could actually say that we are doing fantastically well and I would not poke you or tease you at all for
Let’s take a look at the four main centre backs available to other teams in the Prem*:
*Sp*rs feature in this list courtesy of a Champions League place/to make my point clearer. Sorry. From this list I think that really only Man City can rival us for centre back squad. First choice I would say that Man U are arguably above us but taking injuries into account I may well take our four over their four. Sp*rs have King who is fantastic when fit but he can’t be relied on and I would take our squad again for sure. Man City however have options over and above those listed and if worse came to worse they could put out a decent pairing with three or possibly even four centre backs missing. But even so I would say overall our primary four are as good if not better than the four they have listed above and over the course of a season I think those four are what really counts. Also many of the their centre backs double up in other positions and so they may be using three or four of them in any one game which makes their squad usage a little less efficient than ours.
To be honest a fair amount of the above is debatable but let’s not forget just that. It is debatable. When have we honestly been able to say in the last few seasons, that it was even debatable! Not often or, more probably, never – especially with regards to Man U and Chelsea.
Which leads me onto to the other thing that lead me to this conclusion. (Remember there were two things? It feels like so long ago now.) The other thing that has given me such a positive outlook on our defensive situation can be summed up in one word: disagreement.
Disagreement you ask? But disagreement is not a positive word! Ah, yes it often isn’t. But it is when it centres around team selection.
We often hear of players giving managers a ‘selection headache’ and we are all aware of how fantastic this headache is (I want one!). Well we might just be beginning to see the makings of this very ailment with regards to our central defence. The Arsenal blogosphere is always full of – often negative and corrosive – disagreement but it has almost never been in disagreement over who should start at the heart of Arsenal’s defence! Never! But in the wake of Djourou’s performances over the last two games we now have some seriously delightful disagreement on our hands.
The article I read this morning was on Le Grove and on it put forward the view that the Djourou/Vermaelen ‘could be the real deal’, and that Djourou might well be ‘that big fu-k off centre back we’ve been crying out for’. That in particular caught my eye in relation to sentiments expressed not a million miles from here (okay, 0.0 miles from here, on this very blog) that Koscielny’s performances have been worthy of the nickname ‘The Cobra’ and that perhaps it should be him+1 rather than Vermaelen+1 who starts every game!
Now that’s exciting debate.
While no-one can doubt Vermaelen’s ability and commitment to the cause – he is still our first choice (despite himself only having had one year in the Prem!) – it is great that we are now struggling to choose a replacement partner in his absence. And who knows? If Kozzer and Djourou get a run of games together while he’s perhaps they could gel and form the best partnership in the league? You might think it unlikely but it’s certainly debatable, and I think that’s the ket.
The fact is that right now we have four very competent central defenders, of which two have fantastic potential, one has fantastic experience and the other has fantastic everything and scary eyes. I think that is something that we should be happy with and should be thankful to Wenger for. Now that the depth of other squads in the league are being exposed as nothing but smoke, mirrors and media nonsense we can finally look at our own and say we have something to be proud of.
And if anyone wants to debate that I would be more than happy to disagree with you.