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By DJ Dragonfly
I am a great believer in that in order for a team to be successful, a solid defensive backline must be in play. George Graham based his Arsenal teams on having a solid backline (allied with a quality goalkeeper in tandem), which resulted in us in not only striking fear into the opposition (whenever we went 1-0 up during George’s era, it provided the team with a psychological boost, due to the opposing side felt that they couldn’t score pass our backline, due to our excellent defensive set up), but to also create less pressure on our attackers to score more than one goal in order to lead us to victory.
The following stats highlight the number of goals conceded by the current top four teams in the Premiership over the last eight seasons:
2001/02 (Premier League Champions - Arsenal)
Arsenal – 36, Chelski – 38, Liverpool – 30 and Man United - 45
2002/03 (Premier League Champions - Man United)
Arsenal – 42, Chelski – 38, Liverpool – 41 and Man United - 34
2003/04 (Premier League Champions - Arsenal)
Arsenal – 26, Chelski – 30, Liverpool – 37 and Man United - 35
2004/05 (Premier League Champions - Chelski)
Arsenal – 36, Chelski – 15, Liverpool – 41 and Man United - 36
2005/06 (Premier League Champions - Chelski)
Arsenal – 31, Chelski – 22, Liverpool – 25 and Man United - 34
2006/07 (Premier League Champions - Man United)
Arsenal – 35, Chelski – 24, Liverpool – 27 and Man United - 27
2007/08 (Premier League Champions - Man United)
Arsenal – 31, Chelski – 26, Liverpool – 28 and Man United - 22
2008/09 (Premier League Champions - Man United)
Arsenal – 37, Chelski – 24, Liverpool – 27 and Man United – 24
The above stats make very interesting reading indeed. During the last eight seasons, the team who had won six of those Premiership titles also achieved the best defensive league record. This is surely no coincidence. When we last won the Premiership in 2004, we also established the best defensive record in that campaign. Man United (who have won the Premiership in the last three seasons) also landed the best defensive record in the last two campaigns (joint record with Liverpool in the 2008/09 campaign).
Another interesting point I would like to make is that when we received injuries to our backline, the organisation seemed to decrease dramatically. Since Gallas got injured in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Villarreal, we conceded 16 goals in 11 games (All competitions).
When the likes of Man United, Chelski and Liverpool had occurred injuries to their defence, players of the likes of Jonny Evans, Rafael, Alex, Ivanovic, Skrtel and Insua came into their defensive backline without any interruptions made to their defensive line-up. Although Gibbs has performed admirably in Clichy’s absence, when he and Silvestre went into our defensive set-up, our defence communication was not at the same standards as our first choice line-up, which was to be proved very costly in some of our matches this season.
If you look at our last title winning backline, it possessed Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell. This backline contained a number of qualities, which are currently missing from our present defence.
Jens Lehmann provided the team with an amazing presence in goal. Not only was he a great shot stopper, but at times he provided a number of match winning saves (a la David Seaman), which resulted in us winning crucial games during that campaign.
Our full backs in Cole (who would still walk into our left-back position ahead of Clichy and Gibbs IMO) and Lauren were not only great going forward, but they were also solid defensively.
The centre-half partnership of Toure and Campbell provided the team with the right defensive combination in tandem, which was a stopper, who was great in attacking the first balls (Campbell) positioned alongside a player who was efficient in picking up the loose balls and bring the ball out of defence (Kolo Toure), but most importantly as a defensive unit, the backline was solid as a rock.
When either of the 2003/04 backline members were injured, we had players of the likes of Taylor, Cygan, Keown and Clichy with Toure moving to right-back when Lauren was injured. Our defensive stability remained at a high level. The same sadly can’t be said from our present defensive players.
Wenger is a great believer in analysing stats (He is currently the global ambassador for the Castrol Player Performance Index), so I’d be very surprised if he hasn’t analysed our defensive stats in the recent years to realise that our defence hasn’t been as solid since 2004. Our defensive record has been very up and down since then.
Arsenal Wenger is without a doubt the greatest manager in our history, but he is clearly an attacking coach. I personally feel that he needs to bring in a defensive coach (Martin Keown ideally) to work on the defence and bring back the defensive mentality, we had in the 2003/04 campaign and the George Graham era and instil this back into our defensive backline, along with improving the defensive side of the team as a whole. These issues must get sorted out during the close season.
Are you in agreement with me? Look forward to reading your feedbacks in the comments section.