Last week on my blog, I wrote about the strengths and weaknesses of the centrebacks at Arsenal Football Club compared to the two who were voted into the PFA Team of The Season. I stressed that the players Arsene Wenger have within his control, aren’t that far off from what is widely perceived as the best in the Premier League.
We are on our best run of the season, unbeaten in the last nine matches in all competitions. The previous best run for this season was seven, achieved at the start. We are also in our best defensive period with only four conceded in the last nine matches.
Six out of those nine matches, we played with Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey in the starting line-up. In the 1990/91 season when Arsenal won the old First Division title, we conceded a measly 18 goals in 38 league matches.
The defensive stalwarts remained virtually unchanged throughout that 90/91 season. Tony Adams – 30 matches, Steve Bould – 25, Nigel Winterburn – 38, Lee Dixon – 38 and David Seaman – 38. Compare that to this season. Per Mertesacker – 33 matches, Thomas Vermaelen – 28 matches, Bacary Sagna – 23 matches, Kieran Gibbs – 25 matches, Laurent Koscielny – 24 matches and Wojciech Szczesny – 23 matches.
The above numbers will show that the current squad haven’t achieved the consistency of our previous title winning side and it depends on the players’ form as much as luck with injuries. We have conceded 36 goals in the league this season (only 2 sides are better) and with only 2 matches left to be played, that is a marked improvement from the 49 conceded last season.
Familiarity breeds understanding which in turns breeds confidence. Whether the defence is good, depends on the working partnership between not only the defenders and goalkeeper, but also the midfield. The understanding of how each player would react in certain situations and the ability to slot in when such situation arises.
Szczesny himself credits that to the work that Bould has done. Which is the first time that someone from the team openly praise the Arsenal Assistant Manager. We remember from the start of the season when there was some improvement in the way we defend and the legendary centre back was credited with the improvement. Suddenly we reverted to type and murmur was that Arsene Wenger wasn’t pleased that his assistant manager was getting the praise.
It is a story which I can neither confirm nor deny. I’m sure we all wish to be the fly on that wall at the training ground. This makes the Szczesny praise, rather interesting. It does tie in with the earlier rumour about Wenger. Perhaps Bould is finally given the full reign on all matters defending and we are seeing the fruits of that labour.
Maybe the team has come together since the North London Derby defeat. Maybe the team realises that they should be doing better and from that day forward, they have just put in extra effort and played better. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as that. Whatever the case is, there’s no denying that we are definitely doing better in that aspect of the game.
Only two matches left this season. Two matches left to dictate which European competition we are going to be involved in next season. The results of the midweek matches will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Champions League race. Our two rivals will face off and they can’t both win. Anything but a Tottenham win will still be an acceptable result.
Here’s to hoping.