Ranking Arsenal's Defenders on Their Ball-Playing Ability

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2015

Ranking Arsenal's Defenders on Their Ball-Playing Ability

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    In the modern game, and especially at Arsenal, defenders are called upon to do far more than defend.

    They are not just protectors of the goal, but playmakers too. Goalkeepers for the Gunners are instructed to eschew punting the ball over great distances, instead entrusting the back four to instigate moves from deep.

    Arsenal are blessed with a number of defenders who possess real elegance on the ball, and in this piece we rank them according to their ability to distribute possession. The analysis is partly observational, and partly statistical: a player's ambition on the ball is factored in as well as their reliability.

    All stats via Squawka.com.

8. Mathieu Debuchy

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    Although regarded as an attacking full-back, Mathieu Debuchy's ability on the ball is actually at the lower end of the Arsenal spectrum.

    This season, he has a pass completion rate of just 80 percent. That's largely because unlike many of the Gunners' defenders, he is prone to attempting long passes when under pressure.

    Debuchy's lack of refinement on the ball is partially why he's fallen behind Hector Bellerin in Arsene Wenger's selection pecking order.

7. Calum Chambers

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    Calum Chambers has natural ability on the ball. However, that's undercut by nerves: Chambers currently lacks the confidence to make the most of his talent.

    If he couldn't play, Arsene Wenger would not experiment with deploying him in central midfield. Chambers is an all-round footballer who could flourish in a number of positions. 

    However, so far this season he has completed just 82 percent of his passes, which is comfortably the worst ratio of any Arsenal centre-back. This is an area where he must improve if he wants to win a regular first-team place.

6. Kieran Gibbs

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    As a former midfielder, Kieran Gibbs probably ought to have more poise on the ball.

    His passing was very tidy in his Champions League outing against Dinamo Zagreb, with a completion ratio of 94 percent. However, that is not reflective of his usual contribution. Across last season's Premier League campaign, he completed just 81 percent of passes.

    Where he's most at fault is in the final third. Gibbs has the speed to offer a genuine threat on the overlap, but all too often his crosses and pull-backs fail to find their target. 

5. Nacho Monreal

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    Nacho Monreal keeps it simple. In a team with as much flair as Arsenal's, that's no bad thing.

    Typically, the Spaniard favours conservative distribution, with an average pass length of just 15 metres. However, he is very accurate with those short passes, finding the target on 87 percent of occasions.

    Monreal knows that conceding possession in his area of the field could have disastrous consequences for Arsenal, and tends to take the safe option. It is that risk-free approach that has made him Arsene Wenger's first-choice left-back.

    That said, when he does get into attacking areas, he still provides a threat: Monreal has already created six goalscoring chances in this season's Premier League.

4. Per Mertesacker

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    Per Mertesacker does not look like a natural ball-player. At first glance, one would assume he was a player who depended entirely on his aerial ability to make a career as a centre-half.

    However, he is an intelligent and reliable user of the ball. Very often it is he who will begin Arsenal's attacks, taking the ball off the goalkeeper and looking to play it into the midfield mire. That's not an easy task, and Mertesacker does it with typical efficiency.

    This season, his passing accuracy stands at a creditable 89 percent. The giant German deserves more credit for his technical ability than he is given.

3. Gabriel Paulista

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    In many ways, Gabriel Paulista is not your stereotypical Brazilian: He is more about grit than grace, and possesses more fight than flair.

    However, he is still imbued with the technical ability that seems to be a fundamental component of every one of his countrymen. So far this season he has completed 90 percent of his passes.

    He is also impressively two-footed. Gabriel played in both full-back positions during his time in Brazilian football, and is comfortable passing on either side.

2. Laurent Koscielny

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    Laurent Koscielny has completed 92 percent of his Premier League passes this season. That's a higher ratio than Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil. Only Spanish playmaker Mikel Arteta can boast a superior success rate.

    They're not simple passes either. With an average pass length of 18 metres, there is great range to Koscielny's distribution.

    He's willing to dribble the ball out from the back, playing one-twos with midfielders and launching counter-attacks.

    Koscielny has the talent to play anywhere on the pitch, it just so happens that his physical gifts make him a superb centre-half. 

1. Hector Bellerin

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Hector Bellerin has the ball-playing ability you'd expect from a graduate of Barcelona's La Masia academy.

    Although his pass-completion ratio of 85 percent may not seem particularly high, it's worth bearing in mind that many of those passes are made in wide areas of the final third, where space is at a premium.

    Bellerin plays like an attacker, taking risks to create goalscoring chances (he's already fashioned six this season).

    He's also a superb crosser of the ball. With Carl Jenkinson out on loan, he may be the best Arsenal have to offer in terms of delivery from wide areas. 

    Bellerin is developing into a fine defender, but it's his ability on the ball that makes him such a standout prospect.