By Walter Broeckx
As everyone is again and rightfully focusing on our great attacking play I thought it would be a good thing to have a look at our defensive game.
As I pointed out in my early season comparison and like Wenger pointed out at arsenal.com at first sight we tend not to concede as many goals as we did last year. Even in the first Champions league game last year we conceded 2 goals. And I know as I was in Liège that evening and was with the rest of the away supporters stunned after those first minutes.
Let me start with our much maligned goalkeeper. Almunia was under a lot of pressure last season and even up until August 31 his career at Arsenal was in doubt. A big majority of the fans wanted him out. I was not one of them. I would have liked it if a world class keeper would be in our goal but world class keepers are rare to find these days and even the best in the world have their moments of comedy capers.
Yesterday Almunia had a very quiet game. In fact almost nobody noticed him. But when he was called upon he was there and he was impressive. I remember he had to come on 2 crosses in the second half which could have lead to a dangerous situation if the keeper would have stayed on his line. At one occasion he was fully outstretched and punched the cross away in front of the arriving striker and in to safety. The other time it was a cross shot and he claimed it and kept it in his hands. As a former goalkeeper I know how difficult those shot-crosses can be to catch and to hold on. I think so far in every game Almunia has shown that he is having a good season until now. So let us stay behind him and back him as much as we can.
Our full backs Sagna and Clichy are part of the furniture at the Emirates. In fact they are the longest serving of our defence for the moment. We all know what we can expect from them. Sagna a solid and reliable defender who is good going forward and who has said that he is working on his crossing, and you can see that he is very comfortable for the moment. I think Chamakh will score a few this season from a Sagna cross.
Clichy is a more impulsive player who at times can lose his head. He can run out of position or make a slip at an unfortunate moment. But he is always playing his heart out. His eye and his speed make him able to intercept some move from the opponents and he can launch the counter attack and is quick on the other site.
In the middle we have the French partnership Koscielny-Squillaci for the moment. The absence from Vermaelen was a disaster last season. We had to take Campbell and Silvestre on board for those final games and well we all know what happened.
Vermaelen looked still his own self in the first games. A man you can take to a war and you know he will fight like hell. Aggressive, attacking but also I think he didn’t run forward as much as he used to do last season. In an interview he said he got greater enjoyment from keeping a clean sheet than scoring a goal. It was visible in his play and I hope when he comes back he can find the balance between scoring a few and not conceding goals.
But now let us turn to our new boys. Koscielny, unknown and unloved by most of us before a ball was kicked. They made a big fuss of Braga making a debut in the CL but so did Koscielny and I must say he just was brilliant. His interceptions will not get the highlights of MOTD or any football show but he just is a very sneaky player. He sticks out a foot just when the attacker wants to play the ball but Koscielny has won it already. And he does this without conceding many fouls and free kicks. His heading is very good and he wins a lot of aerial battles during a game. And for the rest he mostly keeps focused on his main task: defending. I think we will rarely see him in the other penalty box in open play as he knows that his first job is to stop the opposition.
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And then our even newer boy from France (or Corsica if you like), Squillaci. The way he has come in the team is very, very impressive. He also is strong and he also wins a lot of balls. Rarely commits a foul, is solid and he also is a player who is sitting back a lot. Wenger said he is a real defender when he bought him and I think this is the same for both centre backs.
Vermaelen on the other hand is a centre back who could play in midfield or even in attack if needed because he has the skill and technique like a midfielder. Koscielny and Squillaci don’t look to be such kind of players you could put them in other places. Who knows maybe Vermaelen will be used as a backup for Song in front of Koscielny-Squillaci at some time in this season when Song needs a rest or is injured?
Since the start of the season we’ve look good attacking but that never has been the big issue for Arsenal. It was the letting in to many goals that cost us games at times. So far it looks like we have improved it and we can only think and hope that the partnership between our back 5 gets better each game.
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