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Greek hero Sokratis the warrior to treat Arsenal's Achilles heel

16:00 SAST 2018/11/23
Sokratis Arsenal 2018-19
The Greek has been an astute addition to Arsenal's backline and has shouldered the pressure of succeeding Laurent Koscielny as a defensive leader

Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ first name oozes history. It was derived from σως (sos) "whole, unwounded, safe" and κρατος (kratos) "power". Arsenal’s Greek centre-back is doing his heritage proud right now.

Arsenal’s search for an experienced defender came up trumps over the summer as head of recruitment Sven Mislintat’s recommendation to sign Sokratis culminated in a €20m (£17.7m) deal to sign Sokratis from Borussia Dortmund.

The size of the fee was questioned by many at the time who felt the money could have been spent elsewhere but, just four months after his arrival, few are doubting his value now. 

Papastathopoulos has bolstered Arsenal’s defensive options at a time when experience and physical presence was required. With Laurent Koscielny on the sidelines with a chronic Achilles problem and not expected back until December, it was vital that the north Londoners strengthened their backline which shipped so many goals last season.

Sokratis averaged 2.5 completed tackles per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga last season at a success rate of 92 per cent – but he hasn't just brought defensive nous to north London. He has also brought leadership. Indeed, Sokratis is the man presently healing Arsenal's Achilles heel.

An astute reader of the game, the Kalamata-born man has won 66% of his tackles in the six Premier League games he's played so far, making 4.97 clearances per 90 minutes and boasts an impressive win percentage of 67%.

His importance is underlined by the fact that Unai Emery’s side have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five league games – which Sokratis hasn’t been involved in due to a minor ankle problem.

"I am one normal defender and I like to defend," he told Arsenal Player during pre-season. "I like when my team doesn't concede goals.

"I like the zero in the defence and I will do everything I can to achieve that at Arsenal."

The other centre-back options at Emirates Stadium include Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos. Sokratis has already emerged as their leader.

When Mustafi was walking off the pitch at half-time following a mistake against Crystal Palace, it was Sokratis who went straight over to the German international to give him words of assurance and put his arm around the former Valencia man. That is the kind of character Arsenal have been looking for since they signed Koscielny in 2010.

Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi and the aforementioned Holding are all players who have matured this season and improved under the guidance of Emery. That progress on the pitch is gradually reaping rewards as can be seen with the 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Sokratis has also been key, though. Yet to make a high-profile error on the pitch, it’s evident that Sokratis is an upgrade on what Arsenal have had previously in defence and knowing what his role is goes some way to explaining why he has slotted into the Spaniard's system with ease.

"The defender has first to defend, protect the goal," he said. "After that, if he can help also a little bit in front for the game, it's good, but the first priority, it is to defend." 

Sokratis was the first Arsenal goalscorer to have never played a competitive game under Arsene Wenger since Glenn Helder in January 1996 when he netted against Qarabag last month. The statistic emphasised just how the new Arsenal side is beginning to take shape as a new defensive structure is formed with the Greek international at the heart of it.

Alongside Petr Cech, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Koscielny, there is a wealth of experience and discipline in the dressing room which can be balanced with the young talent like Bellerin and Iwobi.

As for Sokratis, the man who is named after the famous Greek thinker has fully embraced Emery’s footballing philosophy and looks right at home on the red side of north London, a man boasting the brains as well as the brawn to lead Arsenal forward under this new, exciting regime.