The deal is done: so what does that mean for Arsenal’s defence?

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

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos
2008–09 38 20 12 6 68 37 72 4
2009–10 38 23 6 9 83 41 75 3
2010–11 38 19 11 8 72 43 68 4
2011–12 38 21 7 10 74 49 70 3
2012–13 38 21 10 7 72 37 73 4
2013–14 38 24 7 7 68 41 79 4
2014–15 38 22 9 7 71 36 75 3
2015–16 38 20 11 7 65 36 71 2
2016–17 38 23 6 9 77 44 75 5
2017–18 38 19 6 13 74 51 63 6

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.

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos
2014–15 38 22 9 7 71 36 75 3
2015–16 38 20 11 7 65 36 71 2
2012–13 38 21 10 7 72 37 73 4
2008–09 38 20 12 6 68 37 72 4
2012–13 38 21 10 7 72 37 73 4
2013–14 38 24 7 7 68 41 79 4
2009–10 38 23 6 9 83 41 75 3
2010–11 38 19 11 8 72 43 68 4
2016–17 38 23 6 9 77 44 75 5
2011–12 38 21 7 10 74 49 70 3
2017–18 38 19 6 13 74 51 63 6

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
2017-18 Manchester City 27 51
2016-17 Chelsea 33 44
2015-16 Leicester 36 36
2014-15 Chelsea 32 36
2013-14 Manchester City 37 41
2o12-13 Manchester United 43 37
2011-12 Manchester City 29 49
2010-11 Manchester United 37 43
2009-10 Chelsea 32 41
2008-09 Manchester United 24 37

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

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 32 4 2 106 27 79 100
2 Manchester United 38 25 6 7 68 28 40 81
3 Tottenham Hotspur 38 23 8 7 74 36 38 77
4 Liverpool 38 21 12 5 84 38 46 75
5 Chelsea 38 21 7 10 62 38 24 70
6 Burnley 38 14 12 12 36 39 -3 54
7 Newcastle United 38 12 8 18 39 47 -8 44
8 Arsenal 38 19 6 13 74 51 23 63

That looks pretty awful, and it gets even worse when we look at the results in the order of defending but away from home…

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 16 2 1 45 13 32 50
2 Manchester United 19 10 4 5 30 19 11 34
3 Tottenham Hotspur 19 10 4 5 34 20 14 34
4 Chelsea 19 10 3 6 32 22 10 33
5 Burnley 19 7 7 5 20 22 -2 28
6 West Bromwich Albion 19 3 4 12 10 27 -17 13
7 Liverpool 19 9 5 5 39 28 11 32
8 Crystal Palace 19 4 6 9 16 28 -12 18
9 Brighton and Hove Albion 19 2 5 12 10 29 -19 11
10 Southampton 19 3 8 8 17 30 -13 17
11 Newcastle United 19 4 4 11 18 30 -12 16
12 AFC Bournemouth 19 4 6 9 19 31 -12 18
13 Arsenal 19 4 4 11 20 31 -11 16

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.


Who Arsenal are buying suggests Mr Emery is going to continue to target the cups, not the league

Number of players tipped to be signing for Arsenal this summer reaches 101

Does the FA need more anti-foreigner regulations to help England do better? The evidence.




8 Replies to “The deal is done: so what does that mean for Arsenal’s defence?”

  1. The simplicity of the game is not to concede goals. The process also means do not concede possession of the ball. The opponent cannot score without the ball.

    However, defending is critical when the ball is with the opponent but the transition from defence to offence is also a critical phase. The defence must win the ball and the team must be quick to retaliate with pace and accuracy. Quick one touch passing with forward momentum. If this breaks down, the team must revert to the defensive positions immediately and maintain possession until an opportunity presents itself for another attack. This transition phase must be practised until it is almost natural for the teams positioning.

    Opportunities to score present themselves in brief instants and long shots must be taken just as often as short passes into the goal. The technique required for long shots is simple. The pundits on TV do not seem to have a clue even after having played the game for most of their lives. Sadly Wenger believed his coaches were sufficient to teach this but I have yet to see anyone understand fully ‘kicking technique’. When that happens, we will see everyone in a team able to pass to a team mate with ease. Furthermore almost every free kick within 30 yards of goal will result in a direct shot on target. Kicking technique can move a ball left to right and vice versa. It can also make the ball dip within a controlled distance. Anyone who has the ability to kick a ball can maneuver the ball in the air with technique.

    This is all part of making the game as beautiful as it should be.

  2. I agree with this article posting. However, I think by the time Arsenal completed the signing of Lucas Torreira, I can see they’ll have 13 specialist defensive players on the club’s books specifically to mann the fullback, centreback & holding-midfield positions. To thus leave the remaining 12 positions left in the 25 senior Gunners man squad to be shared between the goalkeeping, attacking midfield and striker departments.

    Arsenal 13 specialist defensive players of fullbacks/wing-backs, centrebnacks & holding midfielders for registration for the first half of next season’s campaign should in my own calculations be: Bellerin, Lichtsteiner, Chambers, Holding, Mavropanos, Mustafi, Papastathopoulos, Monreal, AMN, Kolasinac, ElNeny, Xhaka & Torreira. Will Arsenal send one of these 13 specialist defensive players of theirs out on loan if they still want to sign another top grade defensive or midfield player this summer? Well, I don’t know.

    Even If Arsenal don’t sign one or two more players this summer but I am thinking they should still sign for a complete reinforcements and revamping this summer. Still, 12 positions in the 25 man senior Gunners team that will be registered with the FA for the first half of next season’s campaign will remain for grabs between the goalkeeping, attacking midfield and striker departments in the squad.

    Goalkeepers: Leno, Cech & Ospina. Hmmm, what of Macey?

    Attacking specialist mid-fielders: Ozil, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi & buy one or will promote one from the Arsenal PL 2 team? Well, I can’t answer this question by myself. But I believe Unai Emery should. Nonetheless, I think Arsenal will need at least 6 specialist attacking midfielders for option and cover to start next season’s campaign with them.

    Strikers: Aubameyang, Lacazette & Welbeck. But will Welbeck be adequate for option and cover for the strikers’ department? Well, I don’t know too. But Unai Emery should know. After all, he is the Gunners boss.

  3. OT: Corruption

    St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small CONCACAF nation. The president of their FA has been under investigation for 2 years related to ticket dealings from the 2014 World Cup. Today, FIFA announced he is banned from all football activities for 2 years, and has been fined $40,000 USD.

    I wonder how many more have been doing this?

  4. A brilliantly researched article, well done. According to your stats., if we had achieved Burnley’s away record we would have equalled Liverpool’s points tally which goes to show how awful our away form was. 4 wins from 19 games, it beggars belief!

    A player like Torreira is a must as proved by Ngolo Kante for both Leicester City and Chelsea, and I hope we complete the signing as soon as possible. Being greedy, I would love to see a young and mobile central defender like Soyuncu to join us as, unfortunately, Koscielny looks unlikely to play a major part notwithstanding his bad injury.

    I think we now have the makings of a good and competitive team but time will tell.

  5. We can refer to as many stats as are available but nothing depicts the corrupt PGMOL decisions, officials appointments and the selectively blind penalty choices. There is no truth until all the FA is purged of its racist control.

  6. Tony, do you remember, I said Dortmund would purge this summer!?

    I got the email notice, I’ve considered already. I like being precocious occassionally, it helps define the motives of others.

    I’m rather sperating the wheat from chaff, only a few will bother to read, when they see my name, the rest may remain ignorant.

    I was just doing some light pre-season training, I have to deliver a statement, in preperation for either Supreme or ECJ ECC, so I’m not entirely flustered.

    Everyones a specialist hey Sam, and we even have specialists in U23 squad, PL2 squads, under 18’s and we even have a squad who wear an entirely different uniform and play in entirely different colours, paid by entirely different people.

    Xhaka is done, the Swedes went and did it, you play in a less intensive league, or off season (europe) or are squad player and suddenly the World is your Oyster.

    Hazard states well enough, we are ready for Brazil after that last game. And England will play Sweden to progress to the Final, should they deal with Columbia.

    So remainder, Ospina and Welbeck, both available, one playing, one not, really, yet.

    I have seen 1 full game, and been in and out of 3-4 and highlighted, 4-8.

    I’m falling out of love with football, couldn’t care less what happens regarding the illegal referendum and don’t care whether or not I have female company.

    I’m liking the new me, next, to get away from the inhuman horde or pestalent, sheep locust.

    One day Menace makes sense, the next he doesn;t, irrespective of the content, my comments are randomly screened out. What’s that Chelsea’s owner cannot be a company director, and they will likely sell up, after extracting value, wjilst increasing value wth the planning permission.

    Of course we have enough midfielders, the defence is sound and will prove as much nexy season, PGMOL ar obviously getting 98% of decisions right, Prince Harry supports Brexit. The Commonwealth isn’t a direct insult to those decended of slaves, or from former colonies.

    Mutti has to go, the media are the only people to make any sense of anything. And Belgium won’t win the Worold Cup.

    Prelude to pissed off.

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