How we compare – Vol 3: Centre Backs

 

Big Tone

For a lifelong Arsenal fan in his early thirties, it’s a strange position to be in to have your defence ridiculed by your rival fans. I’ve grown up with the fact that our defence was so good; it was almost a standing joke. My first ever game at Highbury was on Tony Adams 21st birthday (we won 2-0 against Oxford United with goals from Steve Williams & Steve Davis). Adams, David O’Leary, Steve Bould, Martin Keown and later Sol Campbell wre defenders of great quality. More importantly, and especially in the George Graham era, they all worked incredibly hard at defending. Just as personal techniques were worked upon, much time on the training pitch was devoted to the art of defending as a unit. 

With our current offering of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci and Bartley coming through the ranks (I put them in that order for good reason), I wouldn’t say many forwards are shaking in their boots. Individually I have no problem with them as players (although Squillaci just doesn’t seem to have got going), but the whole ‘defending as a unit’ idea seems to be slightly alien to them. In their defence, Thomas Vermaelen was injured for, pretty much, the whole of last year (something that was not lost on the away support at Craven Cottage on the last day of the season back in May).

Organised?

In Wenger’s defence, I think he has a point when he said that our defending from open play was not as bad as people made out. However (and Arsene seems to be in agreement on this) our defending from set-pieces was shocking, and has been for several years. There have been whispers that we have devoted a lot of time to rectifying this during the close season. This makes the fact that we haven’t signed a new centre back yet all the more surprising. Wenger has admitted that he would like to bolster the back line. It would’ve made sense to bring the recruit in so he can be a part of the effort into improving our defensive organisation. Still this article hasn’t been written around transfers. It’s about how we measure up to our rivals:

No knees Leders

Spurs’ defensive personnel must be so frustrating. Ledley King has an injury history that would make Darren Anderton feel like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. When fit he’s one of the best defenders around, but that doesn’t happen often enough for him to be considered as such. When combined with Johnahan Woodgate last year, they become very expensive luxuries. With Woodgate now at Stoke, I’m surprised ‘arry hasn’t strengthened. Gallas (as we all know) is a defender of high quality, although can prove to be disruptive behind the scenes. I think, after last year’s honeymoon period, Spurs might see a bit of Mr Hyde this year. Matt Dawson has been their most consistent defensive performer in recent years, and was well worth his England call-up. Sebastian Bassong is still at the club, although there have been rumours that he’s on his way. Corluka & Kaboul can also fill in at either Centre Back or Full Back, with the latter of the two definitely being the stronger. As a whole, I would have to say Spurs are stronger than us in this position. Even with King injured the majority of the time, Dawson and Gallas are a very capable pairing at the back.

Mr Happy

I’m sure Kenny Dalgleish is very aware that Liverpool need to strengthen in this department, if Liverpool fans’ deluded expectations are going to come anywhere near being realised. Jamie Carragher, who I have a lot of respect for as a professional, is often left in the wake of anyone with real pace. His reading of the game and desire, although admirable, simply won’t bridge the gap anymore. Daniel Agger is a decent defender and footballer in general, but struggles with injury and (subsequently) consistency. Martin Skrtel is a player I once thought could be a good defender, but cannot seem to expel glaring mistakes from his game. Kyrgiakos is as much a liability in his own area, as he is a threat in the oppositions. A balance I’m afraid that isn’t good enough to justify your spot in a Premier League team. I’m aware that Liverpool have a few prospects coming through at the back, but the jury will still be out on them for at least another season. I think, even without strengthening, Arsenal are stronger in this position.

It must be said, that for all their frivolous yet unbalanced spending throughout the side, Manchester City have built a solid defensive unit (although I suppose it helps when you have 2 defensive midfielders sitting in front of you). We all know Kolo Toure well, and although he needs to play alongside a defensive leader, he is a proven Premier League centre back. The real strength to City’s back line though, is Vincent Kompany. He’s a player who has been touted as being a potential superstar since he was a teenager at Anderlecht, but (after a spell in Germany) he showed last season what a quality defender he is. He is the leader any aspiring Premier League club need in their defensive line. As a back-up, City have Joleon Lescott, Derek Boyata and new arrival Savic. The Englishman is solid, not worth what they paid, but solid all the same. The other two are young and yet to fully prove themselves, although apparently we were after Savic but rejected him (after a trial) a few years back. I would have to say City are stronger than us in this area of the pitch.

Chelsea’s success over recent years has been built on a solid defensive unit. As much as I hate the man, John Terry leads his line well. I think his athletic abilities will begin to be brought further into question. I’ve lost count on how many times he is turned by a forward – done for pace, commits a cynical foul, and gets away with it. Surely that can only go on indefinitely! David Luiz was bought in January, and made a big impression. He is, without doubt, one of the best defenders in world football….. if it was based solely on technical ability. Defending, however, isn’t as simple as that. After some bright initial performances, and evidence of his undoubted skill, we saw just as many examples of his positional naivety and mind farts! Chelsea have Brazilian Alex (although there are reports he could be going back to Brazil) and Ivanovic as cover. There are rumours they are waiting on a work permit for Slobodan Rajkovic. If they cannot get one for him for this year, I think Chelsea will be looking for an additional defender. One of the things that has made Chelsea so defensively strong in recent seasons is the work they do as a unit. This includes Petr Cech and the full backs. It remains to be seen whether Andre Villas-Boas will do anything to disrupt this. I would be surprised, as he seems fairly astute, but as it stands we just don’t know. At the moment I would probably put Chelsea slightly above Arsenal in this area of the pitch…….. but not by much!

You just wait Wayne, you just wait

So, finally, to the Champions, and there is a reason for that. Their options in the centre of defence have to be the most impressive for me. Even though the amount of games Rio Ferdinand is going to be able to play is going to become less and less (as his physical condition continues to deteriorate), they are still in good shape. Having the Vidic – Ferdinand option at the back has been a massive part of United’s success. Granted, they have lost squad stalwarts in O’Shea and Brown who have moved to Sunderland, but with new acquisition Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Evans, they have great depth. Of course Fergie is famous for getting replacements in before he needs them, so there is an overlap. I must admit, it’s a practice that I don’t think Arsene’s been particularly good at in recent years. I still think it’s a back four that can be got at with pace, but it’s definitely not a weakness for them. My view is United are stronger.

Perfect Partners

I know I said this wasn’t going to be a transfer piece, but I thought I’d briefly discuss our recruitment in this area, bearing in mind the speculation. It looks like (in the whole ‘no smoke without fire’ rationale) that it’s a choice of three, Gary Cahill, Chris Samba and Phil Jagielka. To be brutally honest, I’d be happy enough with any of those three. In preference I’d rather it be in the order above. Seemingly we have had an offer £10M rejected from Everton for Jagielka and will have to stump up between £15-20M if we wanted him. I personally would rather (if we were going to spend that amount) get Gary Cahill. He’s a bit younger and taller, and has more room for improvement; saying that, we’ve got defenders with room for improvement in Djourou and Koscielny. Anyway it doesn’t matter what I think as it looks like we’ve gone back in with an improved offer for Jagielka & if rumours are to be believed we’re set to sign the former Sheffield United man & Gary Cahill in a double swoop. In fairness, I’d be happy with that!

Thanks for reading.

Big Dave.

 

 

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