Ranking and Grading Arsenal's Defenders on Form This Season
It's been a relatively good year for Arsenal’s defence. The Gunners’ record of 23 goals conceded in 26 Premier League games is actually the second-best in the division, with only Tottenham Hotspur allowing fewer (20).
In this piece we analyse each defender’s performance individually, factoring in statistics and his general contribution to the side. Each player will be awarded a grade somewhere between D- and A+ to assess his performance.
If you don’t agree with our verdicts, let us know in the comments section below.
7. Kieran Gibbs: C-
Kieran Gibbs has made just two starts in the Premier League this season, both of which came in midfield rather than at his preferred position of left-back. The England international has struggled for regular football this season because of the impressive form of Nacho Monreal.
Unfortunately for Gibbs, he has largely failed to impress when he has been called upon. Winning under than 50 per cent of his tackles and just 32 per cent of his headed duels is not the sort of form that will have Monreal fretting for his place.
It’s not as if he’s been focusing on his attacking duties instead. Gibbs’ 13 league appearances have led to the creation of just one goalscoring opportunity—although he did nab a vital equaliser against Tottenham in November's north London derby.
At this rate, serious questions will be asked about Gibbs’ future with the squad. He won’t be content to be a mere reserve for much longer.
6. Calum Chambers: C
Like Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers has made just two starts in the Premier League this season. One of those came as a holding midfielder, so he's only played one full game in his preferred position as a central defender.
He has had some opportunities in the cups, but he's also been forced to play at right-back in those games. Chambers’ versatility sometimes goes against him.
When he has played, it's been apparent he hasn't made any great strides since last season. In the Premier League match against Liverpool in August, for example, he was nervy in possession and positionally naive.
Although his impact on the team has been limited, his numbers when he does play are decent. Chambers has won 58 per cent of his attempted tackles and 54 per cent of his headed duels, so the signs are there that he is developing the necessary physical power to flourish as a centre-half.
5. Gabriel Paulista: B
A few weeks ago, it looked as if Gabriel Paulista had usurped Per Mertesacker in Arsene Wenger’s defensive pecking order. However, injury then cruelly robbed the Brazilian of the opportunity to stake his claim for a permanent place.
No matter. His time will come again. At 25, Gabriel is the younger man, and the indications are he has the makings of a top Premier League centre-half. His aggressive style is reminiscent of team-mate Laurent Koscielny's, and the question is whether he and the Frenchman can forge a cohesive partnership.
Arsenal have been burned in the past—Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen were both good centre-backs individually, but they were too similar to form an effective duo.
Nine Premier League starts represents progress for Gabriel, and when he has played, he’s largely been good, winning 63 per cent of his one-on-one duels. Of Arsenal's defensive crop, that’s a figure only Mertesacker can better.
The one blight on his record is his sending off at Stamford Bridge in September after allowing Diego Costa to wind him up. Gabriel must watch his temper if he is to establish himself as a regular.
4. Per Mertesacker: B+
The flaws in Per Mertesacker’s game are well-known. His chronic lack of pace is often the subject of ridicule from opposition fans. However, sometimes that obvious weakness can lead to the overlooking of his strengths. Mertesacker is perpetually perceived as being close to being dropped yet manages to retain his place.
His numbers are excellent. Considering his height, 6'5", it’s perhaps no surprise he has won 75 per cent of his 55 headed duels this season. However, he’s also excellent when it comes to winning the ball on the ground, succeeding with 71 per cent of his attempted tackles.
He’s also an excellent distributor from the back, with a pass-completion rate of 89.2 per cent in all competitions. To put that into context, only the technically brilliant Santi Cazorla has done better for Arsenal this season.
3. Hector Bellerin: B+
Hector Bellerin’s development continues to be one of the most exciting aspects of this Arsenal squad.
Still only 20, the Spaniard has a burgeoning reputation as one of the best defensive prospects on the continent. His game is not yet perfect—he could still improve his positioning, for example. However, his raw speed invariably enables him to get out of trouble and makes him a huge threat going forward.
He’s certainly improving defensively. Last season, Bellerin’s weakness in the air made him a target for cross-field passes. However, in 2015/16 he has won 57 per cent of his headed duels. He’s no longer vulnerable to aerial assault.
His real strength, however, is going forward. Bellerin has succeeded in 62 per cent of his attempts to take on a player while dribbling. To put that in context, Alexis Sanchez can’t match it.
The brilliant Bellerin should only improve with time. Arsenal have discovered a real gem here.
2. Nacho Monreal: A
Is there a more consistent full-back in the Premier League than Nacho Monreal? If there is, it’s difficult to identify him.
Monreal has been superb for more than 18 months now. He has acclimated brilliantly to English football—his style of play is now much more rugged than it was when he first arrived in 2013.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about Monreal is how effective he is going forward. Although he’s thought of as the more conservative of Arsenal’s Spanish full-backs, he has a 68 per cent success rate at take-ons and has created 23 chances in this season’s Premier League, two of which were converted to assists.
Only four players—Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey—have better creative stats.
Monreal signed a new contract this season, and that will delight the Arsenal fans who have grown accustomed to his reliable performances at left-back.
1. Laurent Koscielny: A
At 30 years of age, Laurent Koscielny has matured into one of the finest centre-halves in Europe.
Koscielny makes an average of 11 defensive actions in each game—that’s comfortably the highest figure in the entire Arsenal squad. That’s partly due to his remarkable speed of both foot and thought. He races to the ball early, putting out fires before problems can really develop. That aggressive style makes him a nightmare for opposing centre-forwards.
He’s also pretty handy in the opposition penalty area. Koscielny has scored three league goals this season and offers a perennial threat from set pieces.
There are few centre-halves on the continent who have a stronger all-round game than the France international.
Agree with our rankings? Let us know below.
Advanced stats courtesy of Squawka.