Could Arsenal’s defence be even more solid this coming season?


By Bulldog Drummond

One reason why there is a general media consensus that Arsenal will buy big this summer is that whether they do or not, it gives the media a story.  Forthrough the window player after player will be nominated, only for him not to come (and one can be sure of this because this is what happens every summer – and before the window opened Arsenal were already up to 48 players they were chasing, according to the pundits).

Another is that Arsenal have bought in the summer before – and with effect.  Gabriel Jesus and Ole Zinchenlo in 2022, Declan Rice and Kai Havertz in 2023 make the point very clearly.

And Jurrien Timber.   Any comment about a previously signed player now being like a “new signing” is normally met with derision, but surely Timber does need to be considered in this way.  Last season Arsenal came within a couple of points of the title without him playing as a centre back.  And with him…?

But there is a conundrum.  Without Timber Arsenal had the best defence in the league.  And not just the best defence.  A look at the league table in the order of goals conceded shows just how good a defence it was.  GAMTA = goals against more than Arsenal.


Arsenal 38 28 5 5 91 29 0
Manchester City 38 28 7 3 96 34 5
Liverpool 38 24 10 4 86 41 12
Everton 38 13 9 16 40 51 22
Manchester United 38 18 6 14 57 58 29


The key point that little table (arranged in Goals Against order) shows is the once we get to the fifth club down in “goals against” order we have a club (Manchester United) who conceded twice the number of goals as Arsenal.

What’s more clubs like Tottenham, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Chelsea don’t even make it onto the chart their goals against were so excessive.   The worst defence in the league conceded over three and a half times as many goals as Arsenal’s defence.

And yet we already have what is in effect a new defender.  Better still, he is only 22 years old, so has a lot of playing inside him yet to come.

We have hardly seen him of course but in the pre-season before his injury he was playing both left back and right back.  And he carried on doing that in his return matches for the under 21s (left back) and against Everton (right back).

Now players like this are valuable in two ways.  One is of course that if there is an injury to a full back Timber can play on either side.  But also with other players able to move around, the opposition really doesn’t know until the team lines up at the start, who is going to be defending against their players.   And that makes the final frantic coaching in the hour before kick off all the more difficult.

This is an important theme of Arsenal’s evolution: unpredictability.  For add to the above the fact that (for example) Zinchenko can play full back or mid-field, and it starts to become clear that increasingly, the opposition don’t quite know where different players will be even when they know who is playing.

Arteta is quoted a saying to commentators in relation to the start of 2023/4, “We were really short at the start of the season and now we are recovering players. Jurrien is a main one because he has a quality that nobody else has in the back line to actually affect, especially in the attacking phases, things that we do, in both positions or three positions. We have more flexibility now.”

But there is a little bit of exaggeration there because Arsenal did not exactly have a bad start to last season.  True, after nine tgames, Arsenal were only third, with Tottenham being top and the media crowing away about the New Tottenham.

However this reportage ignored the fact that in their opening nine games, seven of those games had been against teams hardly expected to do well, and yet the only time they had got above two goals in a match was when playing Burnley.  In the next five games they conceded 13 and earned one point.

Add to this the case of Tomiyasu who has never managed above 22 games in a season and we can see that although there has been talk of Arsenal being lucky with injuries, that is not exactly the case.  Now with Timber in the squad as well, there is an ample back up for Tomiyasu should he get injured again.

Of course we never know what is going to happen concerning either injuries or transfers but there is a chance that Arsenal will have the resources to maintain the ability to shut out the opposition from the start of the new season.

And in this way, if there is to be a change in the way the attack plays, with all the pundits suggesting that Arsenal are going to buy a new stellar centre-forward to knock in 20 goals a season, at least that player can be bedded in knowing that the defence behind him is going to be locking the door.

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