State of our club and prospects: Central defensive players

Part IVa, My original trilogy has become rather drawn out and repeatedly rewritten because of the need to keep things current. In earlier sections I dealt with our Club, our Board and of course AW our manager. In turning to our squad, I have been forced to look at all the players available and the last instalment dealt with our prospective new Goalkeeping talents. Now that the transfer window has closed, it seems a good time to review our assets in defence. It is important to preface this blog by reminding you that these are the my observations and opinions
of an Arsenal fan namely me. I am not an authority, I just say it as I see it so before shooting the messenger, please bear this in mind.
Central Defensive players
An area of the squad that has been very troublesome over the last three seasons, and some would argue, the failure to heed my maxim “Success starts at the back” means that we have dented our ambitions for silverware by leaking goals to inferior sides from simple set pieces. I am not going to dwell further on the negatives but state what assets are available I have preveiously stated that one of AW’s repeated failings has been the inability to buy decent central defenders. From Stepanovs to Senderos he has singularly failed to establish a high class centre back pairing that would come within a country mile of the Adams/Bould and Adams/Keown partnership. However in acquiring Thomas Vermaelen, AW seems to have at last made a decent purchase. His critics would say that by the law of averages, he had to get it right sometime, but if you look at the style of play of Vermaelen, he is a typical Wenger buy.
Attributes of Wenger players
High quality technical ability
Look at the rapid passing movement of Arsenal players and you will notice that they are not afraid of receiving the ball in tight situations. They can turn rapidly with balance and shield the ball whilst completing an accurate pass. In defence, if we add the timing of any sliding block to those skills, then we are left with a need to dominate aerially.
Aerial presence
A skill that we have sadly lacked and in Phillipe Senderos, one would have had the solution, but his lack of pace and tendency to panic meant that in crucial games such as the 2008 quarter final Champions League defeat against Liverpool, he was responsible for allowing the Liverpool goal a fact that probably ended his Arsenal career. Kolo Toure was placed as centre back and despite his deficiencies aerially, he became one of the first athletic centre backs to grace the premiership. His move to Man Citeh meant that William Gallas was able to restore his enthusiasm to his central role.
The failure to sign someone very tall like Brede Hangerland is a pity, as he would been the old fashioned tall centre back, he does lack the typical Arsenal agility, yet sometimes when we face teams that scap and hassle for the ball, Arsenal need a no nonsense journeyman to dispatch the ball aerially to row Z. Pretty defending is useless if we continue to concede and what I perceive as Hangerland’s technical deficiencies would have been more than compensated for by his ability to intimidate the striker with his height. He has had some howlers at Fulham, but generally when he is in the side, Fulham fare better than when he is not.
Strategic thinking
This is a very vital asset of a defender, and seeing or anticipating the ball movement and opposition player forays into the danger area tends to be directly related to the age and experience of the players. Watching the youth, one can see the basic defensive errors of being poorly positioned, either in front of the attacker, or not standing at an angle behind the player so that the ball and the arc of field of vision can both be seen. These skills will come from the coaches, and I argue that a specialist defensive coach could be as good an investment as any additional player buy. Vermaelen has provided this asset, and next time we play, watch how he marshalls the other players in sensible positions.
Having said all of that our young players have enthusiasm and desire, but what they lack is the experience to apply their skills in a consistent way.
Youth Players
Gavin Hoyte
Gavin has shown promise but his progress is slow, I am not confident that he will ever become a regular first team player unless he gets games. His ability is not in doubt, but his decision making is in my view slightly suspect. A good Carling Cup run and more games may just allow him to gain the confidence that I see as lacking from his game.
Håvard Nordtveit
This Norwegian player currently out on loan is a major prospect in my view. He has excellent long range passing abilities, his aerial awareness is developing, but overall his skill set suggests to me that he will become a very competent central defender in the future. What he lacks is a physical presence.
Sead Hajrovic
Joined Arsenal this July, this 16 yr old Bosnian born central defender came to us from Swiss side Grasshopper Zurich. He has a reputation of being a no nonsense defender which rather breaks the mould compared to Djourou and Senderos. I have not seen him play and look forward to charting his progress.
Daniel Boateng
I like this 17 yr old locally born player, and he is a utility defender, he has a devastating physical presence despite his tender age. He has pace, good technical ability, but will he become a central defender in the long run? I think more of a wing back, but I have included him here because of his team selections.
Kyle Bartley
If this player could stay fit, then what a prospect he will turn out to be. He is tall and powerful, and he also possesses pace. The only negative observation is that sometimes he seems nervous in set piece situations, but with more games under his belt, he will make the grade. Look out for him in the Carling Cup. I am sure that you will like what you see.
Luke Ayling
I love watching Luke Ayling play, he represents a genuinely skillful central defender. He is comfortable on the ball with either foot, and can deliver crunching tackles, followed by winning the ball and making a good pass. His aerial ability is very impressive. He is also potential leadership material as he is not afraid to bark out orders to his colleagues. Watch out for him also in this season’s Carling Cup.
Ignasi Miquel
This feisty 16 yr old Catalan player appears to have all the expected pedigree associated with other good Spanish acquisitions by Arsenal. I need to see more appearances to give you an honest opinion, but my first impressions are that this player is very cool headed in tight situations.
First team players
William Gallas
If William’s performances alongside Vermaelen thus far are anything to go by, He seems to have rediscovered his desire to win. His trademark post match punching the air slowly tells me that we have much to look forward to. He has started to add blocks to his all round game, a deficiency that lead him to be seen as responsible for conceding a few goals last season. He remains a highly experienced defender and if he remains fit, then our central partnership will rival the Ferdinand/Vidic manc pairing for clean sheets.
Johan Djourou
I find that Johan is inconsistent. Technically very good, he has excellent pace. He can have a blinder of a game followed by silly mistakes. None quite as silly as those of his fellow Swiss colleague Senderos. He does have undoubtedly good aerial ability, but he lacks this Strategic t hinking that I referred to earlier. I ex pect a lot from Johan as when our established centre back pairing need a rest, he must up his game to maintain continuity.
Mikael Silvestre
I really don’t rate Silvestre who gave his best years to Man United. He is mentioned only to move swiftly on. Harsh I know, Unfair maybe yes, but what you see is what you get from the Frenchman, he tries hard and gives his all, but is he the answer to Arsenal’s defensive woes? Not at all.
Thomas Vermaelen
This player has brought back pride to the number 5 shirt. I don’t need to say that much about this new signing, but just watch him. He is quality! His partnership with William Gallas should ensure that Arsenal stay there or there abouts in our quest for silverware. He is authoratative, brilliant in the air and his blocks are represent strategic thinking of the highest order. I am rather pleased that his national Belgian side don’t figure prominently in International breaks, so we should keep him fit.
Conclusions
Despite AW insistence that Alexandre Song is a centre back, the failure to buy a central defensive midfielder means that I believe AW will employ Song here rather than as a central defender. I haven’t considered Senderos in this blog as I feel that he will rarely get a game. I still feel that the failure to buy another central defender may come to haunt us as we enter the final quarter of the season. So my conclusion is opportunity missed! We should have strengthened further this transfer window, and only AW knows the reasons why we did not. The future prospects with regard to our youth is exciting, but we need more depth in our defensive squad to cope with the loss of either Vermaelen or Gallas.
 

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