Yesterday, we talked about the goalkeeping situation. Today, we’ll touch on the centre back position. I won’t be the first one to say it but I won’t be the last either. Goals wins matches but clean sheets or a tight defence wins championships. We conceded 49 goals in the league last season, a number too high to even think about challenging for the title. A solid goalkeeper working in tandem with the defenders in front of him, is one of the way to reduce the leaking of goals.
No surprise that the centre back duo will take up most of the responsibilities. To organise the defence and ensuring that we do not conceded needless space to the opponent to find the way to our goal. They would also have to ensure instructions are given to the midfielders to drop back and cover when applicable. Normally, these two are also the one tasked with being the furthest behind and plays the pivotal roles of catching offsides.
In Laurent Koscielny, I believe we have one of the best defenders in the league. He’s fast and mobile. With the ability to read the game very well. Players from the opposing team will not want to go up against him in one-on-one situations as Koscielny hardly emerges as runners-up in those duels. He has built up his physical strength, something which he lacks when he first came over from Lorient. His passing out from the back is one of the best in the league.
While his heading capabilities are not his strongest asset, he doesn’t shirk those challenge and wins his fair share of headers. All that said, some times he is prone to lapses of concentration. A trait which we’ve seen increasingly less of in the recent season and hopefully the trend will continue in that fashion. I don’t think there’s another way to do him justice other than to say that he’s the first name on the team sheet and is able to strike up a good partnership with whoever is alongside him.
That would most likely to be vice captain (for now), Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian is the younger of the duo but someone who’s more in the spotlight due to the nature of his game. Mean in defence but also possesses the natural instinct to join in attacks when requires (some times, when not required as well). Another one of those who reads the game well and has the technical capability which makes him equally comfortable having the ball at his feet and playing the passes out of defence, instead of just clearing them.
Vermaelen’s runs forward can be very rewarding, just like the winner he got when he made the burst up front against Newcastle last season. Though, when the runs gets broken down, it could be detrimental to us. When he surges forward, he does leave gaps in our defence. It would be ridiculous to ask him to not support the attack because the effect that he could bring. It is more about marrying the surge forward with responsible defending. That could mean limiting the number of times he wants to join the attack. Or having responsible midfielders dropping back to cover for his absence. Or both together.
We are fortunate that our options aren’t only limited to these two. We’ve also got Per Mertesacker. The big German is not the most mobile of defenders but what he lacks, he gains in other aspects. Wealth of experience with his previous club side as well as the national German side, that is an attribute that Mertesacker fully exploits. The experience that allows him to organise the defence better and read the game well enough. The way of reading that allows him to be able to position himself at the right positions to negate his lack of pace.
One aspect which he could improve would be his heading prowess. For someone his height, Mertesacker doesn’t impose himself quick as much or as well as some of his other compatriots. Zero goals from last season is not an unacceptable return from a centre back because his task first and foremost, is to prevent conceding of goals. However, if he could chip his share of goals and utilise to good effect his height advantage, then we could surely benefit from it.
Then we come to Johan Djourou. Forming such a dependable partnership with Koscielny two seasons’ back, it has been a big fall for the tall Swiss centre back. That is down to the lack of playing time and even when called upon, was used in unfamiliar position as a right back. That certainly doesn’t help Djourou finding back his form because he has to adjust to a different playing style and needs of a new position.
It’s hard to name any particular aspect of Djourou which can be an asset. Maybe his heading is one of his best traits. It’s not to say he’s awful in all other aspects but they are not great either. A lot of it is down to confidence and being match fit. It doesn’t help that he has 3 far better defenders ahead of him. A loan or transfer away is being touted but I don’t think that’ll help us. We need 4 centre backs to go an entire season. Hopefully when Djourou gets his chances, it will at the centre back position.
At this point, comparatively with other teams in the Premier League, I do think we have the best set of centre backs in the league. Perhaps, Manchester United have a set which is equally as good, if not better. In Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Smalling and Jones; United have a set of centre backs who are good enough to be mix and matched when required. Not even the reigning league champions have a set of centre backs as dependable as ours. And we now have someone with a degree in defending (as per what Arsene Wenger said before) to coach them into better players.
Promising, hopefully this time no centre backs will play as full backs.