Rating Arsenal's Defenders' Performances in the 2012/13 Season

Toni OkikeSenior Analyst IIMay 27, 2013

Rating Arsenal's Defenders' Performances in the 2012/13 Season

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    Arsenal and defending—two words that don’t go together.

    Arsene Wenger has built his squad on free-flowing attacking football and times without number, his team has been caught out at the back. There are even times when the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot.

    As expected, injuries, suspensions and decline of form took their toll on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard. Arsene Wenger managed to use almost all the defenders in the club’s payroll at some point in the season.

    While the big guns featured regularly in the Premier League and the Champions League, the Capital One Cup served as a testing ground for some young guns and fringe players, and the dead-rubber game against Olympiakos saw deadwood like Sebastien Squillaci get a run-out as well.

    While Per Mertesacker cemented his status as Arsene Wenger’s first-choice defender, Thomas Vermaelen partnered the gentle giant by the mere fact that he was the skipper, because his form painted a different picture. When the manager realized how appalling his skipper had become, he made the bold move to axe the Belgian. He was replaced by a resurgent Laurent Koscielny.

    While Wenger shuffled between his defensive trio of Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny, there was no room for Johan Djourou, who was shipped out to Hannover 96. As for Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel, they are living on borrowed time.

    In the fullback positions, Bacary Sagna’s second leg fracture last season paved the way for Carl Jenkinson to get some first-team action under his belt. On Sagna’s return, he was drafted into the team and failed to replicate his form of yesteryear.

    On the left, Kieran Gibbs was an automatic starter, but his fitness allowed Andre Santos to put up his calamitous outings on a consistent basis. With Andre Santos failing to impress and Gibbs suffering one of his trademark injuries, Wenger wasted no time in delving into the transfer window to acquire Nacho Monreal’s services.

    This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers, but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

    Feel free to share your comments.

Thomas Vermaelen—39 Apps, 1 Goal

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    With club captain Robin van Persie departing to join Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced to decide which man was going to lead his team in the 2012/13 campaign. I was looking forward to a new era under the reins of a captain that signed a new deal (via Arsenal.com) without thinking twice, stating his love for Arsenal as his primary reason.

    He has the aggression of Nemanja Vidic, leaps off the ground easily like a kangaroo, has a gung-ho attitude, good technique on the ball and offers a threat in the opposition’s goal.

    The Verm was part of the Arsenal side that kept three clean sheets on the trot. But an illness prevented him from playing in his team’s crucial visit to the Etihad Stadium, and his able replacement, Laurent Koscielny, scored the goal that earned Arsenal a share of the spoils.

    Koscielny and Per Mertesacker played very well that day, but Wenger inexplicably chose to bench the “slow” German against Chelsea, probably scared of the pace of the Blues’ attack.

    Playing Vermaelen and Koscielny together was like a time bomb. The captain was culpable for two schoolboy errors that led to both goals scored by Chelsea.

    They struggled again as a pair when Olympiakos visited the Emirates. Despite the fact that the Verm was the weaker link of the two, Koscielny was sacrificed for Mertesacker when the Gunners visited Upton Park to play West Ham.

    When Arsenal visited Old Trafford in a game marred by the escapades of Robin van Persie, it took only three minutes for the Red Devils to take the lead when Vermaelen handed RVP a nice assist on a platter.

    Fast forward to the Capital One Cup quarterfinal clash with Bradford City and despite scoring Arsenal’s late equalizer, Vermaelen missed the penalty that saw his team crash out of the competition.

    More appalling performances, particularly against Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home), followed.

    But the last straw was undoubtedly his atrocious outing against Tottenham (away). Wenger axed him from the squad from that moment on, and he could only manage a game against Norwich (home) because Mertesacker was suspended.

    I must truly say that the Verminator has been a big disappointment in his first season as captain of Arsenal.

    Rating—4/10

Per Mertesacker—44 Apps, 3 Goals

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    After playing 27 games in his first season with Arsenal, Per Mertesacker’s season reached an abrupt end when Arsenal visited Sunderland. He recovered in time for Euro 2012, but he failed to make any appearance with Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummels playing every game for Germany in the tournament.

    Mertesacker began the campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen. They worked in tandem to get three clean sheets on the bounce at the start of the season.

    If you thought Mertesacker’s performance against Liverpool (away) was superb, his outing against Manchester City (away) was one of his best in Arsenal colors, as he made so many Per-fect Merte-ceptions in the course of the game.

    He proved his worth to the squad when he wasn’t on the pitch. Arsenal struggled in his absence with Vermaelen and Koscielny failing to click with each other. When they played with each other, they lacked the calmness, coordination, composure and positional discipline the BFG had.

    He also added goals to his game with three headers against Tottenham (twice) as well as the match-winner in the crucial game against Fulham (away). This season, Mertesacker became a mainstay in the team and has excelled admirably in his defensive duties.

    He’s known for being a very clean defender, but he got his hands dirty with his first red card in Arsenal colors.

    However, that game will be forever remembered for the innovative tackle he attempted with his back. It was a truly remarkable season for the big friendly giant, and I hope he builds on it.

    Rating—9/10

Laurent Koscielny—34 Apps, 4 Goals

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    Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s best defender by a mile last season. He had grown from strength to strength since that his horrendous error in Wembley against Birmingham City.

    After signing a long-term deal with the club, he didn’t begin the campaign well when an injury hindered his progress.

    He marked his return to first-team action with a late equalizer against Manchester City (away), forging a formidable partnership with Mertesacker. His inspired performance at the Etihad coupled with Vermaelen’s return to the team saw the manager sacrifice Mertesacker in the home clash against Chelsea.

    Despite the fact that Vermaelen was at fault for the set pieces that led to the goals, Koscielny also had a hand in both goals. He failed to mark Fernando Torres properly for the first and the ball deflected off his shin into the net for the second. 

    This led to the Frenchman spending a lot of time in the dugout, but he featured and scored a vital goal in that pulsating encounter against Reading (away) in the Capital One Cup.

    When he was recalled back into the first team following Vermaelen’s dip in form, he grabbed the bull by the horns and took his chance against Bayern Munich (away) with an outstanding performance capped by a headed goal late.

    After that, Koscielny became an ever-present figure. He contributed immensely to Arsenal’s cause with that assist for his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, against Fulham as well as a plethora of vital interceptions in defense.

    To crown a great season for the Frenchman, he scored the goal that secured Champions League football for Arsenal once again.

    Rating—8/10

Bacary Sagna—30 Apps, No Goals

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    In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that have taken their toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience. But as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

    With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. After a couple of Under-21 fixtures, Sagna made his long-awaited return against Queens Park Rangers (home), much to the delight of the Arsenal faithful.

    Sagna’s continued run of games dented Jenkinson’s progress. But unlike the young Englishman that swung crosses into the box with consummate ease, Sagna’s distribution was downright erratic, with the ball ending up as a throw-in most times.

    Then came the torrid run of performances. Sagna was consistently caught out against Chelsea (away), made Gabby Obertan look like Ronaldinho when Newcastle came to town and his poor clearance led to Gaston Ramirez’ goal when the Gunners visited St. Mary’s.

    Amidst the horrible run of form, Sagna got his moment of redemption when an injury to Koscielny forced Arsene Wenger to play him in an unorthodox center-back role with Jenkinson drafted to the right.

    The fullback’s naivety played a role in him being sent off for two bookable offenses, and with Aaron Ramsey becoming a makeshift right-back, Sagna was a colossus in defense alongside Mertesacker.

    As he continued to struggle with form, Sagna got on every Gooner’s bad books when he foolishly squandered possession to Robin van Persie before hacking him down in the box, forcing the ref to point to the spot.

    Sagna couldn’t wait for this season to come to an end.

    Rating—4/10

Carl Jenkinson—21 Apps, No Goals

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    Despite the fact that Carl Jenkinson hasn’t had as much game time as he would have wanted, this has certainly been one hell of a campaign for the young lad.

    While Sagna nursed his leg injury, Jenkinson deputized in his stead, putting up committed performances that endeared him to the Arsenal faithful. His work rate was exemplary; he covered every blade of grass like his life depended on it.

    His fairy tale campaign reached its zenith when he was called up by Roy Hodgson for his maiden international appearance. He featured in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired performances in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England. I still can’t get over Ibrahimovic’s incredible 30-yard overhead bicycle kick goal, and it gets better with each passing replay.

    Jenkinson also signed a long-term deal, according to Arsenal.com, with the club.

    But his performances against Swansea (home) and Sunderland (away) showed that even if youthful exuberance is the order of the day, there’s no substitute for experience.

    What I can take from this season is that Arsene Wenger can rely on this young lad to put in a great shift when the need arises.

    With Jenko in our ranks, the future is very bright.

    Rating—7/10

Kieran Gibbs—34 Apps, 1 Goal

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    For those that don’t know, this was the first season Kieran Gibbs had over 30 games for Arsenal in an entire campaign.

    He has become synonymous with injuries, and he showed that yet again this season, forcing his manager to delve into the transfer market when he nursed a thigh strain for six weeks.

    Gibbs has been impressive this season. His output on the final third has drastically improved, with five assists to his name this season.

    For a considerable chunk of the campaign, Gibbs was a mainstay in the team. But when he suffered a lengthy layoff, the manager signed an experienced Spanish left-back that has brought stiff competition between both players—which also brought about stellar performances from both players.

    Gibbs also scored a screamer against Swansea in the FA Cup. It looked like a goal worth winning a football match, but Arsenal’s lax defending brought Swansea back into the contest. 

    With Monreal bracing himself for his first full season in England, Gibbs will be in for a challenge. I’m sure he’s relishing it.

    Rating—7/10

Nacho Monreal—11 Apps, 1 Goal

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    January 30, 2013.

    Arsenal host Liverpool in a Premier League encounter of huge significance to both sides. The visitors open the scoring with a deflected shot from Luis Suarez, then Kieran Gibbs suffers an injury, forcing the manager to make a tactical change.

    With the only defensive options on the bench being Laurent Koscielny and Andre Santos, many Gooners (me included) rightly believed that the Frenchman would be summoned, thereby making Vermaelen play the left-back.

    The fourth official raises his board up and Andre Santos comes into the pitch, much to the fury of some fans that haven’t forgiven him for his antics in Old Trafford. Within moments of his introduction, Jordan Henderson skips past him with ease—and instead of trying to win the ball back, he doesn’t even make a decent challenge.

    With a stroke of luck, Liverpool is two up.

    Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott save the day, but Wenger has seen enough from the atrocious Brazilian and delves into the transfer market to buy Nacho Monreal.

    Just two days after his arrival, he makes his debut in a baptism of fire against Stoke (home). He was part of that defense that held the fort against Sunderland (away), but he couldn’t play against Bayern (home) because he was cup-tied.

    After creating the match-winning assist against Aston Villa (home), he becomes part of that defense that struggled badly against Tottenham. Following Arsenal’s Champions League exit, Monreal scores the first goal against Swansea, the first of many goals Arsenal scored in their surge for fourth place.

    With Gibbs returning to fitness, he and Monreal battled for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left-back. This competition brought out the best in both players. While Monreal offers a keen sense of security and stability at the back, I feel he should improve in his distribution on the final third.

    The battle with Gibbs continues next season.

    Rating—7/10

Andre Santos—12 Apps, No Goals

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    To be honest, Andre Santos is one of the most lovable characters in Arsenal—his lovely smile, his hilarious tweets and nice attitude off the pitch.

    I still have fresh memories of all three goals he scored last season—the match-winner against Olympiakos (home), the vital equalizer in that RVP-inspired win over Chelsea (away) and the equalizer before halftime against West Brom (away) on the final day.

    This season, things have gone awry for the Brazilian.

    His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number. His performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) brought him into the bad books of Arsenal fans.

    His performance against Manchester United was so putrid, yet he couldn’t even wait for the game to be over before requesting for RVP’s jersey, which probably meant more to him than the game.

    After another bad showing against Liverpool, the manager went to the transfer window when Gibbs suffered an injury, clearly indicating that he had no further plans in his team.

    In his touching goodbye message (via Arsenal.com) to the club and the fans, Andre Santos thanked everyone for their support and hopes to come back soon.

    For the good of everyone concerned with Arsenal, I hope that Gremio signs him on a permanent basis.

    Rating—2/10

Sebastien Squillaci, Miquel and Johan Djourou—Collective Total of 6 Apps

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    Ah! The deadwood.

    Arsenal bought Sebastien Squillaci with the hope that he would use his “experience” to guide the younger defenders in the team as well as putting up a good shift when the need arose. Squillaci was so poor that his only appearance this season came up in a dead rubber fixture against Olympiakos.

    Thank heavens his contract is expiring soon.

    Rating—0/10

     

    Ignasi Miquel is a youngster tipped for great things, but I still don’t know when he’s going to realize that potential.

    All he can boast of this season was a start against Coventry (home) in the Capital One Cup and a late substitute appearance against Sunderland (away) when the Gunners wanted to preserve their priceless 1-0 lead.

    Not good enough.

    Rating—2/10

     

    Johan Djourou was Arsenal’s most consistent defender in the 2010/11 season. When he got injured in the tail end of that campaign, his team struggled, which highlighted his importance to the side.

    Last season, he struggled in makeshift positions as a fullback and wasn’t even convincing enough when he played as a center-back, earning an unwarranted red card against Fulham (away) that put his team under intense pressure.

    This season, Djourou could only make two appearances in the Capital One Cup before he was shipped out to Germany. Shame.

    Rating—1/10

     

    So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.