Today is the second in a series of posts reviewing Arsenal’s 2008/09 season. Yesterday I reviewed the performances of our goalkeepers over the course of the season and up for scrutiny today is the Arsenal defence. Unlike yesterday’s post which looked individually at the performances of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, this article is more of a general overview of how the defensive team functioned as a unit.
Before the start of the season most Arsenal supporters were expecting the manager to dip into the transfer market and sign an experienced defender. However, no-one predicted that Wenger would plump for Mikael Silvestre. The ex-United man joined a central-defensive selection including William Gallas, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou while Philippe Senderos was sent out on loan to AC Milan. Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna started as first-choice wing-backs with Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Eboue their back-ups as Armand Traore also went out on loan, to Portsmouth.
There’s no denying that the defence was a problem area for Arsenal this season and a big reason for that were the consistent injuries that ravaged this part of our squad and prevented any back-four combination from ever becoming settled. Toure struggled with malaria, Silvestre starting the season the treatment table, Djourou and Gallas both endured knee problems while Sagna spend time in and out of the side and Clichy’s season was cut short by a back problem.
Individually our central-defenders were a mixed-bag. Gallas was a nightmare waiting to happen until he was stripped of the captaincy, after which his form improved substantially. Djourou partnered Gallas early on and performed admirably until Wenger made the incorrect decision to replace him with an out-of-form Toure. Silvestre received opportunities throughout the season too, although he never really took them and will be forever remembered for giving up on Didier Drogba in the FA Cup semi-final.
Lack of quality in the centre
In truth it’s very difficult to look at certain partnerships as working well or not because things were chopping and changing all the time. In saying that, my personal opinion is that the best partnership we currently have at the club is that of William Gallas and Johan Djourou. Toure’s public admission that he does not get along with Gallas suggests to me that they will never work to the level that we need them to in order to win trophies, while Silvestre’s performances this season have done nothing but show up his limitations. It’s all well and good having experience but when you can’t keep up with the players you’re supposed to mark it doesn’t really count for much.
Wenger took a gamble on Silvestre and it failed. As such, it’s imperative that a new central defender is brought in to compliment Gallas, Toure and Djourou. After having the burden of captaincy removed Gallas’ performances were excellent and I think he deserves to start next season as the first-choice centre-back. I do think that Djourou and not Toure should start alongside him although I wouldn’t be against bringing in a big, strong defender in the prime of his career to play instead. Someone in the mould of Georgio Chiellini from Juventus, Naldo from Werder Bremen or Valencia’s Raul Albiol would do nicely.
In the wing-back positions we looked strong throughout the season. Bacary Sagna showed that he is no one-season wonder with a season full of reliable, consistent performances while Gael Clichy enjoyed a very decent season despite a dip in form that correlated with the rest of the team early on. In Kieran Gibbs we’ve unearthed a confident and talented understudy – even third-choice when Traore is considered – while Eboue remains a reliable back-up for Sagna on the right despite being used predominantly in midfield. In short, the wide defenders are one area of the squad that has performed admirably this season and requires no changes before the start of the next campaign.
If there is one area of the Arsenal squad that needs changes it is the defence. Regardless of whether Senderos returns this squad needs at least one strong, experienced central defender to add some class and stability to our back four. Should Gallas choose to move on – a distinct possibility given his age – then we will need two. It’s as simple as that.
Something on your mind? Have your say on Arsenal’s defence by leaving a comment.