2010-11 Season Review: Centre Backs
Here’s the third in wearethenorthbank’s mult-part review of those that wore the red and white of The Arsenal in 2010-11.
Johan Djourou has been one of the successes of the season. His Arsenal career has been blighted by injury but a relatively healthy season has underlined the reason many Gooners were so disappointed at his absence last term. He’s tall and decent in the air. He reads the game well and is comfortable on the ball – you can tell he used to play as a deep midfielder.
He still looks vulnerable to balls over the top and sometimes looks a bit rushed when he’s facing his own keeper, however these are traits that could be worked on at London Colney.
A question mark will remain over all our Centre Backs as long as our appalling set-piece record continues. For his size and competence in open play, Djourou could well do more in this area of the game.
Djourou looks a good fit for Vermaelen and I would be hugely disappointed if we sacrificed his development for a costly acquisition. Especially if that signing was Gary Cahill who would reportedly cost £17m and is not, by my reckoning, better than the Swiss. The fact is that we win more and lose less when Djourou plays – of the 22 Premier League games Djourou appeared in we won 14 drew 6 and only lost 2; one of which was the debacle at Stoke when the season was as good as over.
A typical Wenger signing. When he joined no one knew who he was. I remember being genuinely concerned when I first saw him and thinking that he looked so frail for a Centre Back; especially considering we’d spent the whole summer asking for a Goliath figure. Fears were compounded when he was shrugged off the ball by Diouff in the lead up to Blackburn’s goal in our early season 2-1 away win.
Like Djourou, he’s excellent on the ball and makes some first class interceptions. One of my moments of the season was seeing him intercept a pass in the 83rd minute whilst 1-0 up at home to United. Not content with that he burst forward into the box with the abandon that we’ve grown accustomed to even from our defenders.
He was absolutely imperious in that game – as he was at home to Barca. Those two performances did a lot to justify his inclusion to sceptical sections of the support.
Again, he’s not a typically dominant centre half and he doesn’t look to bark orders at anyone but, similarly to Djourou, I don’t want him replaced by someone more expensive but less talented. He’s shown enough ability to be given more time next season. When you think he’d only had one season in Ligue 1 before his debut in the Premier League, his performances look all the more impressive.
Next season he and Djourou need to work on their organisation from set-pieces. If they can do that I don’t see a lot to complain about. Many Gooners would suggest that’s a big ‘if’ though.
It seems pretty common to wonder what might have been had Vermaelen stayed fit all season. He showed during his debut season what a tough, solid, quality defender he is and we without question missed him this season. My only reservation is that his absence has inflated his reputation, as if he is a one man answer to our brittleness.
We lack leadership and organisation. As I said, I’d rather the Belgian played without question, but we shouldn’t forget that last season (2009-10) we lost all the major games we played with Vermaelen in the side. None of these results were his fault, but equally, he didn’t demonstrate Adams-esque fortitude to bolster the team.
Regardless of the return of Vermaelen or the signing of an unnamed Centre Back, we need to get on the training field as a unit and develop a coherent defensive strategy. There isn’t a defender alive that could solve our weakness single handed. We could do with a true leader but more importantly we need everyone to take a bit more responsibility.
In theory, Vermaelen, Djourou and Koscielny are the main three Centre Backs, so a fourth choice who has played at international level, won the French League, Copa Del Rey and played regularly in decent Champions League outfits doesn’t look bad. In practice, it hasn’t worked.
Whilst I don’t think he’s nearly as bad as some people would have you believe – if you don’t believe me look at his early season performances when Vermaelen was first out – for an experienced defender he doesn’t exude the authority we’re looking for. On paper you’ll be hard pushed to find someone with better credentials happy to play 4th fiddle however, as it’s often said, Football matches aren’t played on paper.
For Squillaci you can echo what I wrote about Eboue, a sentiment that will hold true for many of our fringe players: he’s not a bad player but he’s not shown the resolve or reliability needed from a reliable back up. Sadly, in contrast to Djourou, we’re more likely to lose when Squillaci is playing – of the 22 Premier League games Squillaci has appeared in we have only won half and lost six, the remaining five were drawn.
The centre back area is one where Wenger is either going to have to stick and hope that our problems can be ironed out on the training field or twist and invest in proven quality, risking the development of Koscielny and Djouorou. There is a feeling that the time has come for Wenger to be tougher on his players and see who is up for the competition and who isn’t.