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Rating Arsenal’s Defenders Performances in the 2013/14 Season

In the 2013/14 season, Arsenal’s defense was much-improved and this was due to the fact that Arsene Wenger got his first-choice pairing right and he stuck with them till injuries or suspension took its toll on the defensive rearguard. The center back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were ever-present for the club, while club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, struggled with injuries, loss of form and lack of game time.

In the full back positions, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were automatic starters whenever they were fit while their deputies, Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson, were restricted to a handful of appearances.

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.

Bacary Sagna – 48 Apps, One Goal, Three Assists

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its 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. At the start of the campaign, injuries to Vermaelen and Koscielny made Sagna start as a center back. Wenger gad featured him in that position at preseason so it was no surprise.

Sagna featured heavily for the Gunners and performed admirably in his defensive duties but in attack, he really failed to impress. The back passes were endless and there were times he looked clueless on what to do with the ball.

BacMan battling with Shrek

Then there was the niggling issue of his contract that was a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh throughout the season and finally, he jumped ship to Manchester City on a bumper deal that was too good for him to refuse. Nonetheless, it was a fair campaign by his standards and the fans are looking to the future.

Rating – 6/10

Kieran Gibbs – 41 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

For the first time in Gibbs’ fledgling Arsenal career, he managed to amass his highest amount of games for the club. He even scored a lovely goal in the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce when he latched on to Theo Walcott’s cross to score Arsenal’s first goal of the qualifying campaign.

Unlike Sagna, Gibbs was very inventive when he was in the final third and his recovery levels were top-notch this season. However, it would be very hard to forget Andre Marriner’s moment of madness in Stamford Bridge when he brandished Gibbs a red card for a sin Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain committed.

It’s unfortunate to know that Gibbs’ good form for Arsenal wasn’t enough for him to be called up by Roy Hodgson and in fairness to the England manager, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw deserved to be on the plane to Brazil.

Rating – 7/10

Carl Jenkinson – 22 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

With Koscielny and Vermaelen injured, Sagna was drafted to the center back position, allowing Jenkinson to get a run-out in the first team. Even when Koscielny returned to the first team, Jenkinson retained his place but as the weeks progressed the young Englishman resumed his bench warming duties.

His most memorable moment in September was that brilliant assist he created for Aaron Ramsey against Sunderland and he will also be remembered for clearing the ball off the line when Jozy Altidore out-muscled Sagna and played the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Jenkinson reached his low point this season when he inadvertently supplied a pass to Cesar Azpilicueta in the Capital One Cup

His second assist of the season was a lovely pin-point cross to the World’s Best Released Striker, Nicklas Bendtner, that headed the ball home against Hull and on the final matchday of the season, Jenkinson scored his first goal for the club. A personal high for the young Arsenal fan.

Rating – 6/10

Nacho Monreal – 36 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

In Monreal’s first full season at the club, he proved that he was nowhere near Gibbs with his performances. He managed to create a good assist for Santi Cazorla when the Gunners visited Villa Park but Monreal played like a liability in some games, with his poorest performance coming up against Manchester City at the Etihad.

However, Monreal would be remembered for scoring the winning penalty in the Capital One Cup third round clash against West Brom.

Rating – 5/10

Thomas Vermaelen – 21 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

How the mighty have fallen.

I can vividly remember when Vermaelen joined the club in 2009 and he slammed in six goals in his debut campaign, rising to an indispensable status. With Robin van Persie leaving the club, Vermaelen was handed the captain’s armband and it ensured that he was a regular starter for the club and after a series of below-par performances, Arsene Wenger paired Laurent Koscielny with Per Mertesacker and they never looked back ever since.

bench warmer of life

Last season, the good form of both players relegated the captain to the bench for extended periods and he also had some injury demons to contend with. It was a welcome sight seeing the captain lift the FA Cup but one must wonder if he’s ready to spend another campaign on the bench next season.

Rating – 5/10

Laurent Koscielny – 46 Apps, Three Goals

It wasn’t all peachy and creamy for Koscielny at the start of the season when he conceded a penalty and got sent off against Aston Villa. In the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce, Pierre Webo kicked his face leaving him concussed and he missed a couple of games to injury.

In his return, Koscielny and Mertesacker built on the telepathic understanding they had forged last season and the clean sheets started piling up for the Gunners, particularly at the Emirates. Koscielny also got in on the scoring act with goals against Sunderland and Newcastle but his most important goal was the equalizer for the Gunners in the FA Cup final.

It’s also heartwarming to know that he has signed a long term deal with the club.

Rating – 9/10

Per Mertesacker – 52 Apps, Three Goals

There was a reason Mertesacker played the most games for Arsenal this season. He is an exceptional footballer, a leader, and most importantly, a defensive colossus. His pairing with Koscielny has been heralded as the best pairing in the League and with 16 clean sheets to their name, it’s not hard to see why.

In the absences of Vermaelen and Arteta, Mertesacker also wore the captain’s armband and his performance against Dortmund in his native Germany was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a defender in a game. Mertesacker would have been a pantomime villain if the penalty he conceded against Wigan turned out to be the deciding factor of the game but he showed off great determination to be on the right end of the pitch to head the ball home, sending the game into extra time.

I can’t wait to see the BFG next season.

Rating – 9/10

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.

The voting sequence for the 2013/14 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free to make your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

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The Curious Case of the Mertesacker – Koscielny Defensive Partnership

Solid as a rock: Per Mertesacker (right) and Laurent Koscielny (left) have not lost a league match for almost two years when they have both started and finished a game for title-challenging Arsenal

Rock solid!

As we head into game week 22 in the Premier League, the Gunners are still surpassing everybody’s expectations as they have shown resilience to remain at the top of the table, despite the fact that all teams in the top seven recorded victories over the weekend.

In the wake of the recent victory over Aston Villa, Arsenal’s captain of the night, Per Mertesacker, believes that his team change take any challenge,

“Nobody dropped any points so there was a bit of pressure. The team could feel that but we responded. I think everyone was expecting that we would drop points but we kept going.

“In the first half we did extremely well and put a lot of pressure on them. We took the lead by two goals and that was decisive.

“It was very important to respond and for the other teams to see that Arsenal is alive and that we can respond to anything. We just look at ourselves and think we are good enough to respond to any challenge they give us.

“It is really tight at the top. At the moment, there is no chance to drop any points. We have to show the other teams that when we feel the pressure we can respond. That is vital so I’m really happy with the fighting performance in the second half and how resilient we were.”

Despite the fact that Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud would take the plaudits for the goals they scored on the other hand, kudos must go to the unsung heroes, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny for the great jobs they are doing at the back. For those that don’t know, the Gunners have undefeated in every league match in which Koscielny and Mertesacker have completed 90 minutes, since a 2-1 home defeat against Manchester United on January 22, 2012. That period has included 28 games, 20 of which have resulted in victories.

Both players complement each other in a ‘stopper and cover’ type of defensive partnership and their understanding is telepathic to say the least. In the past, Arsenal has always had issues with their central defensive pairings but this is the foundation the Gunners could use to surge for the Premier League title this season.

The last time the Gunners had a rock solid defensive pairing after the Tony Adams – Steve Bould / Martin Keown era was the Sol Campbell – Kolo Toure defensive partnership that saw the Gunners go unbeaten in the entire 2003/04 Premier League campaign. As the years went by, players like Phillippe Senderos, William Gallas and the shambolic French combination of  Mikael Silvestre and Sebastien Squillaci graced the Emirates but they out up poor showings.

When Thomas Vermaelen arrived from Ajax in 2009, he seemed like the real deal with his aggressive style of defending that was reminiscent of the Nemanja Vidic of old, but when the responsibility of being Arsenal’s captain was bestowed on him, he started over complicating things, and it affected his form. Let’s not forget that his fitness has been a major concern as well since his lengthy Achilles tendon injury in his second season with the club.

Missing out: Arsenal's club captain Thomas Vermaelen has had to make do with a place on the bench

Despite his poor form last season, Vermaelen’s captaincy acted like a shield around him and he continued to make more glaring errors but after another putrid showing at White Hart Lane in March 2013, Arsene Wenger decided he had seen enough and he axed his captain and first-choice goalie for the good of the team. An injury to Lukasz Fabianski paved the way for Wojciech Szczesny to return to the team but the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo hasn’t looked back since that famous win at the Allianz Arena.

EPL central defensive partnerships and their records. (Culled from the Daily Mail)

Since both players featured consistently, Arsenal has conceded fewer goals and they currently have the best defensive record in the Premier League. The hallmark of their combination this season was showcased in the month of November, when the club conceded only one goal in seven matches.

Per Mertesacker uses his height to great effect and his experience has been key for the Gunners since his arrival as a “panic signing” from Werder Bremen in 2011. He made the most interceptions (57) last season at the club and it’s amazing to know that he only made one defensive error in his 3,028 minutes of playing time last season. Mertesacker’s weakness remains his pace, but he has made up for it with his ability to read the game and anticipate situations superbly.

Laurent Koscielny on the other hand is one of the quickest defenders you’d ever see and his recovery ability ranks him among the best in the Premier League. He’s also a very good tackler of the ball and his intelligence allows him to anticipate situations with consummate ease. He scores the odd own goal and makes some erratic decisions at times, more he has done more good than damage in his time at the club.

To wrap things up, here are the stats of both players in the Premier League this season, with some assistance from WhoScored,

 

 

Per Mertesacker

Laurent Koscielny

Appearances (subs)

19 (0)

18

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

In 21 Premier League games played thus far, Koscielny and Mertesacker have been mainstays in the team. While Mertesacker averages at least 1.5 tackles per game, Koscielny closes in on at least two tackles and their clearances in every game is at least seven. Their passing stats are also very impressive as they are close to 93% accuracy.

It’s time to compare the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo with the leading Premier League defenders in other clubs, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, Phil Jagielka and Martin Skrtel.

Now it’s time to compare Mathieu Flamini’s stats (league only) with the rest of the holding midfielders Arsenal were linked with this summer.

 

Mertesacker

Koscielny

Kompany

Terry

Jagielka

Skrtel

Appearances (subs)

19

18

12 (2)

21

19

19

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

28 (2.3)

18 (0.9)

28(1.5)

21 (1.1)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

23 (1.9)

24 (1.1)

35 (1.8)

31 (1.6)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

8 (0.7)

8(0.4)

7 (0.4)

16 (0.8)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

77 (6.4)

148 (7)

174 (9.2)

201 (10.6)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

5 (0.4)

14 (0.7)

8 (0.4)

21 (1.1)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

469 (407)

1092 (975)

1020 (889)

850 (780)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

86.8%

86.7%

87.2%

91.8%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

(3/0)

(2/0)

-

(1/0)

These are leading defenders in their various Premier League sides and you can see the closeness in these stats. Koscielny remains the best tacklers (1.8) among the six and he has also made more interceptions than any other player on this list. However, he and Martin Skrtel commit more fouls than the defenders on this list.

Skrtel leads with clearances and is followed closely by Jagielka.

With Koscielny and Mertesacker, Gunners can rest assured that they have a solid base to work with, but we can only hope that they remain fit, because when one of the them is missing, the effects are usually disastrous. Arsenal’s loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford this season is a testament of that.

Sayonara.

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Koscielny Reaches the 100-Club: Looking Back at his Career with Arsenal

At the start of the 2010/11 campaign, Arsenal had allowed mercenary William Gallas, the shaky Phillippe Senderos and the trial version of Pascal Cygan, Mikael Silvestre, to leave the club, so getting new defensive personnel was a top priority.

Thomas Vermaelen had just finished his first campaign with the club, and boy, he looked like the real deal with his aggression, commanding abilities, gung-ho style and of course, his six goals in his debut campaign. Arsene Wenger responded by signing a relatively unknown center back from FC Lorient, Laurent Koscielny, and some experienced chap from Sevilla, Arsenal’s Man of Steel, Sebastien Squillaci.

With the long-term absence of Thomas Vermaelen courtesy of an Achilles tendon injury, Koscielny and the much-maligned Johan Djourou forged a very strong understanding and earned a catchy joint nickname, Djourcielny.

Johan Djourou Laurent Koscielny Arsenal v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League

Koscielny and Djourou were a formidable force in the 2010/11 season

The way his career has turned around is a massive fairytale. Koscielny began his career as a right back  in Guimgamp but when he moved to Tours FC, a Ligue 2 outfit, he professed his desire to play as a center back. In his second season at Tours FC, he was an ever-present figure, missing only four league appearances and he earned a place in the Ligue 2 Team of the Year at the end of that season.

FC Lorient snatched him up for €1.7m and he was also a regular starter in the mid-table outfit, amassing a 100% tackle rating. With the exits of Mercenary Gallas, Phillippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre, Arsene Wenger offered this lad a chance to play top flight football on a consistent basis.

He notched up 43 appearances in his first season at Arsenal and even got on the scoresheet three times. His account opener was in the 6-0 mauling of Blackpool, his next was a solid header against Ipswich and his last and most important, was the match winner against Everton in February 2011.

He has also received two red cards in Arsenal colors, the first on his debut against Liverpool and the other for a professional foul on Nile Ranger when Newcastle visited the Emirates.

The lowest point of his Arsenal career will undoubtedly be that infamous cock-up he had with Wojciech Szczesny in the Carling Cup final but he had an excellent season for Arsenal by his standards.

Koscielny had grown in confidence and ability that season and he became a contender for the Player of the 2010/11 Season alongside Alex Song and everyone’s favorite, Robin van Persie. At the end of the 2010/11 season, Koscielny had amassed over 4,000 minutes of football that spanned across four competitions, making him the most-fielded player in that campaign.

In the 2011/12 season, Thomas Vermaelen recovered from his lengthy layoff following an Achilles tendon injury and played alongside Koscielny in the heart of Arsenal’s defense. Koscielny endeared himself into Arsenal hearts with consistent stellar performances that even made him to overshadow Thomas Vermaelen in the heart of Arsenal’s defense.

Vermaelen ran out of superlatives for his defensive partner labeling him as a key ingredient to Arsenal’s success story in forthcoming campaigns. Koscielny’s most telling contribution in the 2011/12 season was the final goal he scored at the Hawthorns, that sealed a third place finish for the Gunners, despite a rather torrid start to the season.

At the start of last season, Koscielny signed a long-term deal with the club, much to the delight of his manager, fellow players and fans alike. Arsene Wenger also acquired the services of Olivier Giroud, a close friend of Kos that played with him in Tours FC in the yesteryear.

Wenger, understandably, favored Per Mertesacker to play alongside his captain, so chances for Koscielny were few and far between. Vermaelen continued to make high-profile errors but his armband acted like a “shield”. Arsene Wenger reached his breaking point with Vermaelen in the North London Derby defeat and in a crunch clash against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, Wenger dropped his captain for Koscielny, and the Gunners fought hard to keep a clean sheet.

Koscielny also scored late in the other end of the pitch which put Bayern in turmoil but Arsenal’s 2-0 victory wasn’t enough as the damage was already done in the first leg.

Alongside, Mertesacker in the heart of Arsenal’s defense, the Gunners won eight and drew two from 10 games which was only enough for a fourth placed finish. Koscielny, again, scored the decisive goal that guaranteed Champions League football for the Gunners and the fans voted the Frenchman behind Santi Cazorla for the Player of the Season award.

This season, Koscielny has picked up where he left off, and with Mertesacker a mainstay in the team, Kos continues to keep Vermaelen out of the side. He and the BFG have developed a telepathic understanding and the club is reaping the fruits, as Arsenal has kept six clean sheets in their last seven games, which include the likes of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. If the Gunners had managed to keep a clean sheet against Manchester United, they would have amassed seven clean sheets in a row, which is no mean feat.

Following the 3-0 drubbing of Cardiff City last weekend, Koscielny became the 41st Arsenal player to have played over 100 Premier League games for the club. The club’s official website published an exclusive article on the French superstar and trust me, it’s worth a read.

In 139 appearances thus far for the club, Koscielny has scored 10 goals and he has a penchant for scoring very important goals for his team.

Here’s to Laurent Koscielny – from an unknown entity languishing in the lower echelons of French football to a superstar at Arsenal football club.

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

A bedrock for next season?

Arsenal and defending – two words that don’t go in tandem with each other.

Arsene Wenger has built his football on free-flowing attacking football and times without number, his team has been caught out at the back and there are even times when the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot as they become plotters of their own downfall.

As expected, injuries, suspensions and decline of form took its toll on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard and 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 breeding ground for some young guns and fringe players, and the dead-rubber game against Olympiakos also 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 in place of a resurgent Laurent Koscielny.

While Wenger shuffled between his defensive trio of Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny, there was no room for Johan Djourou that was shipped out to Hannover 96 and the defender has reiterated his desire to remain in Germany. 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 that the form of the yesteryear. On the left, Kieran Gibbs was an automatic starter but his fitness was a thorn in his flesh allowing 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, One Goal

With club captain, Robin van Persie, departing to join Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced with a decision to make regarding the man that 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 without thinking twice, stating his love for Arsenal was his primary reason.

He has the aggression of Nemanja Vidic, leaped off the ground easily like a kangaroo, has a gung-ho attitude, good technique on the ball and offered 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, as he was probably scared of the pace of the Blues’ attack.

Playing Vermaelen and Koscielny together was like a time-bomb and 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 and 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 Football Club.

Rating – 4/10

Per Mertesacker – 44 Apps, Three Goals

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

Mertesacker began the campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen and 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 as 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 he 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, Four Goals

Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s best defender by a far mile last season and 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 as 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 as he failed to mark Fernando Torres probably 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 on.

Since then, Koscielny became an ever-present figure and 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 his team for the season in a row.

Rating – 8/10

The goal that guaranteed Champions League football

Bacary Sagna – 30 Apps, No Goal

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its 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 under his belt, 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, as 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 vein 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 make-shift 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. This has been a season Sagna couldn’t wait to come to an end.

Rating – 4/10

Carl Jenkinson – 21 Apps, No Goal

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 this 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 and 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 Wily Ol’ Woy Hodgson for his maiden international appearance and 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 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, One Goal

For those that don’t know, this was the first season Kieran Gibbs had over 30 games for Arsenal in an entire campaign. He’s a player that 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 highly impressive this season and his output on the final third has drastically improved as well, with the Englishman having 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 lay off, 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, for the good of the team.

Gibbs also scored a screamer against Swansea in the FA Cup and 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 and I’m sure he’s relishing it.

Rating – 7/10

Nacho Monreal – 11 Apps, One Goal

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 Luiz 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 forgiving 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 he 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 making 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 its surge for fourth place.

With Gibbs returning to fitness, he and Monreal battled for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left back and this competition brought 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 Goal

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 half time against West Brom (away) on the final day.

This season, things have gone awry for the Brazilian and his performances on the pitch have been nothing short of appalling. His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number with his performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) bringing him to 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, as that 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 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, Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou – Collective total of Six Apps

Ah! The deadwood.

Arsenal bought Sebastien Squillaci with the hope that 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 coming 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 make-shift 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.

The voting sequence for the 2012/13 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free tomake your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

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Mannone Staying Put and Koscielny on the Spotlight

Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone

Not going anywhere

The second phase of international fixtures commence tonight and the star attraction will be the crunch encounter between Spain and France. As expected, the build-up to this game has seen different players come into the spotlight for more reasons than one.

Arsenal’s Spanish representative, Santi Cazorla, has stated that he wants to be like Andres Iniesta when he grows up, and that’s not a bad thing, considering the fact that Iniesta is one of the best midfielders in his generation. Despite the fact that his skin is no different from those zombies in Resident Evil, his football ability is light years ahead of the average attacking midfielder.

Like Iniesta, Cazorla is a versatile lad and he’s pretty good with the ball on his feet. However, Iniesta’s passing ability and creativity is second to none. It still goes down to Santi Cazorla to keep improving and one team will be the beneficiary of his success story – Arsenal.

From the French camp, the spirits are high but their shock loss to Japan raised a few eyebrows. Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny played that game and didn’t put a foot wrong all game long. French defensive legend and World Cup winner, Marcel Desailly, has lauded Koscielny, stating that he’s at par with Nemanja Vidic and Gerard Pique,

I love Koscielny, I’ve seen him a lot. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a great experience [against Japan], but he’s had good momentum since his arrival at Arsenal.

“He has good leg speed, which reminds me of Lilian [Thuram]. The last time we spoke I told him to work hard and he’ll become one of the best defenders in the world.

“He’s at the standard of a Vidic or Pique. I mean that sincerely.”

In contrast to Desailly, I won’t rank Koscielny with Vidic and Pique just yet, because he’s still in a steep learning curve and his performances last season showed what he was capable of. Koscielny on the other hand, is relishing clashing with Spain tonight.

If my memory serves me right, Koscielny’s last match against Spain was his first in the European Championships when he partnered Adil Rami in defense after Phillippe Mexes picked up a suspension. The center back pairing that night was impressive but Xabi Alonso’s brace was enough to book the Spanish side a semifinal berth against Portugal.

For reasons best known to Aliens scared to attack the Earth because Chuck Norris lives, Koscielny lashed out at Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, labelling him as a diver and a cheat. This is probably the reason why,

legend of the “Fall”

Koscielny doesn’t have to be bothered tonight, because the last time I checked, Suarez speaks Spanish but his national team wears Blue and Black. I’m looking forward to tonight’s match and I’ll be rooting for my best national team (after Nigeria, obviously) – Les Bleus.

Elsewhere, Jenkinson has been training with the English squad, Nicklas Bendtner took a swipe at Arsenal’s training philosophy and Alex Song paid a tribute to Arsene Wenger.

It’s fair to say that Vito Mannone is having his longest run-out in the first team making his debut in 2009. He had a run-out similar to this in the 2009/10 campaign, where he put up that 5-star performance against Fulham but when Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski returned to full fitness, Mannone went down the pecking order, much to his dissatisfaction.

Two successful spells to npower Championship outfit, Hull City, followed and the extended run of games did wonders to Mannone’s confidence as he went on an amazing run of nine clean sheets for the Tigers as they narrowly missed out on a play-off spot last season.

As expected, Hull wanted to retain Mannone’s services permanently but Arsene Wenger was having none of it. Maybe he saw the future and envisaged that Mannone could still play a role for the club or maybe he saw that raw potential in the Italian goalie and to be frank, I can’t tell.

Mannone had a couple of pre-season games but the Polish goalkeeping duo played most of the matches. Out of the blue, Lukasz Fabianski suffered a mysterious injury and his whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery, leaving Szczesny and Don Vito as Arsenal’s recognized goalies.

Szczesny kept a clean sheet against Sunderland before suffering a rib injury, and I was as scared as fuck when Wenger announced that Mannone will be  Arsenal’s custodian between the sticks against that Rugby outfit, Stoke City. The Italian did alright and did even better in Anfield, raising his confidence levels.

Szczesny came back to the side against Southampton and would have preferred the ground to open up after his howler but when I learned that he had suffered an “ankle injury”, I thought that Wenger was punishing him for his gaff against Southampton but as we can all see, Szczesny still remains on the sidelines, as Mannone has played every game, with the exception of the Capitol One clash against Coventry.

The young Italian had reiterated his desire to make No. 1 position his for keeps but Wenger was quick to declare that Szczesny is still in Pole position for that position. Mannone has attracted interest from his clubs in his nation, Inter and Napoli, and many believe that he could jump ship.

Mannone has come out to pledge his future to Arsenal, stating that he’s wants to remain at Arsenal for as long as he can,

“I want to make it clear, because there have been unfounded rumours, that my contract is not ending in 12 months,

“I’ve got a few more years and I’m happy to be at Arsenal right now. I’m looking at the present and my future is not in doubt. 

“I want to stay at Arsenal as long as I can, I don’t want to move to any other club.”

Mannone has stated that his current ambition is to break into the Italian national team and it will take some stuffing to displace the legendary Gianluigi Buffon and his able deputy, Salvatore Sirigu.

I still don’t know why I’m not very comfortable with Mannone in goal and his performances in the “big games” we’ve played this season (with the exception of Liverpool) kinda proves me right. He can’t still command his area and that seems to be a very big problem in my opinion.

However, I’m going to cut him some slack because on a grand scale of things, he has done okay, but I want Szczesny to be back a.s.a.p.

That’s today’s bit.

Sayonara.

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