by Tony Attwood
Arsenal have apparently completed the signing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of €20m.
He was, as you may have read, at Dortmund with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and on his signing Sokratis said, “They said to me the best things about this club, that it is one big family and of course they also called me not every day but a lot of times telling me to come here.”
Meanwhile, Lucas Torreira is edging ever closer to the completion his move from Sampdoria.
In a recent piece I had a look a way the new manager was building up the defence and the options his purchasing now gave us, and I want to explore that further by looking at Arsenal’s defending across the last 10 seasons.
Arsenal defending across recent years
The first thing to notice is that there is no automatic relationship between conceding fewer goals and position. Generally speaking fewer goals conceded means a better position in the league, but not absolutely. Below is the list again in ascending order by the number of goals conceded.
Yes last season was the worst, we all know that, but only two goals worse than 2011-12 when we came 3rd. And indeed in that season the goals scored was the same. So we should not be saying that last season we fell off the edge of a defensive cliff, but nor should we be saying that everything was ok.
Here is the list in the order of goals against.
Of course there is a general relationship here – position does generally accord with goals against, but we must also remember that we came 3rd with 49 goals against and with 36 goals against.
Here is a list of the last ten seasons showing how many goals the champions conceded against how many Arsenal conceded.
|Season||Champions||Against Champs||Against Arsenal|
Only twice did we concede fewer than the champions. But the difference is not that great: the average goals against of the champions is 33; he average goals against Arsenal is 41.5. So Arsenal’s aim must be to let in on average eight or nine goals a season fewer. One goal less in every four games.
Of course last season was the worst for the defence and the champions had the second best defence of the past ten years for Champions of the Premier League. So that makes the gap look enormous, although still less than a goal a game.
But overall it makes sense to look at ways to bolster the defence and make sure the number of goals we concede is back to the mid-30s or better still the low 30s.
Looking at last season’s league table in the order of defending we find this
That looks pretty awful, and it gets even worse when we look at the results in the order of defending but away from home…
|6||West Bromwich Albion||19||3||4||12||10||27||-17||13|
|9||Brighton and Hove Albion||19||2||5||12||10||29||-19||11|
So on the basis that we need to sort out the worst part of last season’s performance, the answer is obviously sort out the defence away from home.
Which is why just in terms of centre backs we now have a choice of Holding, Monreal, Mustafi, Chambers, Mavropanos, Koscielny and Sokratis. And yes of course I know that Kos is injured and Monreal and Chambers are not primarily centre backs, but they can play there.
Add in the full backs, Bellerin, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac, and of course Monreal and Chambers from the previous list, not to mention Maitland Niles who has also been seen at full back, and we have a defensive squad of 11 players for four positions. That is an extensive squad, meaning that we have cover for injuries (we obviously have one for the first half of the season), and we have a depth allowing for the first choice players to be rested from time to time, to cover for injuries, and to play a different defensive unit in the Cup games.
But beyond that and returning to my main point, we can play a different defensive unit in away games, where our results were particularly poor last season.
I think what we might find over time is Arsenal moving away from always trying to attack and score goals but instead have a team that on certain occasions away from home could be looking for a 1-0 win. Score the goal and then reinforce the defence with a substitution.
The target is simple, one fewer goal conceded every other game away from home and we’d have top four defending. Add to that the fact that we already have top two attacking at home, and that would be all the change we need to get back at the very least to a top four finish. A fraction more and we could be runners’ up.
As I have argued all along, trying to overtake Manchester City is going to be very hard; neither the PL nor Uefa want to reign in their spending, so even if they don’t get a start as they did last season, they will be free to spend as much as they want in January to ensure they keep their title.
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