Arsenal FC: Is Steve Bould's New Defense Being Overhyped?
Up there with the Santi Cazorla excitement and the slightly justified Olivier Giroud bashing is the praise of Steve Bould for improving the Arsenal defense which was often out of sync and incredibly error-prone.
Yes, Arsenal have kept three clean sheets in three matches, and granted, no other Premier League team has done that so far. But let's look more closely at the three matches and see whether the defense deserves such acclaim thus far.
Let us start with the Sunderland match. The opener was a match which most of all exposed Santi Cazorla's brilliance (matched by a great game from Lee Cattermole), and had Arsenal fans excited for the Spaniard, though Lukas Podolski didn't do so well.
However, many people forgot that Wojciech Szczesny had to save the Gunners quite a few times in that match (including a stop from a Sunderland counter with five minutes left), despite the mediocrity of the Black Cats' attack.
Next, against Stoke, another team with a not-so-great attack, the match was goalless, and Stoke didn't really threaten Arsenal. The one big takeaway, however, is that Wenger's men, who normally have problems against teams who are great on set pieces, were much more solid at the back at the Britannia Stadium.
Against Liverpool, Arsenal did allow a few chances, and Per Mertesacker pushed Luis Suarez in the penalty area...despite my Arsenal fandom which often comes in the way of my objectivity for calls, I did believe Liverpool should have gotten a chance from the spot, so a non-call may have saved a goal.
The point is not that Arsenal aren't doing well, because not conceding a goal yet is a great sign, but that people are too quick to praise the back four.
Is the Arsenal Defense Being Overhyped?
It shocks me that some people are already comparing this back four (who haven't even seen Laurent Koscielny yet) to some of the legendary Arsenal ones. Mertesacker, for example, is being mentioned in the same sentences as Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Sol Campbell, which is downright ridiculous.
Although spectators may be overstating the quality of the defense thus far, Steve Bould's work certainly has made a difference. The same side who were vulnerable to a Peter Crouch header or a Stephane Sessegnon counter attack has taken a large leap.
With Thomas Vermaelen holding the defense together, everyone has chipped in a little bit, as Arteta and Diaby are becoming ball-winners, and Jenkinson and Gibbs are showing signs of improvement, defensively at least. The captain himself has been absolutely fantastic, and deserves the nickname Verminator, winning the ball everywhere and being a very vocal leader.
Additionally, the wingers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, and Lukas Podolski are playing further back, a touch which was most likely the doing of Bould. In Szczesny's absence, Mannone is able to guard the net sufficiently, even though he doesn't like coming out to catch the ball enough (but that is a different story.)
Don't get me wrong. This is not a criticism of Arsenal's back four in any way; instead it is a second look at how the fans like to slightly exaggerate the team's defensive solidarity.
And all credit to Steve Bould for this new-look defense, which may well keep up the clean sheet streak against Southampton whose attack isn't too great either.
But the bottom line is that we will just have to wait and see before praising the back line so heavily. Having held a clean sheet against Liverpool isn't bad, but Stoke and Sunderland don't have attacks the Gunners should be too proud of shutting down.
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