Arsenal Season Review – Part 2 – The Defence

Gallas' injury exposed a huge lack of quality in defenceToday is the second in a series of posts reviewing Arsenal’s 2008/09 season. Yesterday I reviewed the performances of our goalkeepers over the course of the season and up for scrutiny today is the Arsenal defence. Unlike yesterday’s post which looked individually at the performances of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, this article is more of a general overview of how the defensive team functioned as a unit.

Consistently inconsistent
Before the start of the season most Arsenal supporters were expecting the manager to dip into the transfer market and sign an experienced defender. However, no-one predicted that Wenger would plump for Mikael Silvestre. The ex-United man joined a central-defensive selection including William Gallas, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou while Philippe Senderos was sent out on loan to AC Milan. Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna started as first-choice wing-backs with Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Eboue their back-ups as Armand Traore also went out on loan, to Portsmouth.

There’s no denying that the defence was a problem area for Arsenal this season and a big reason for that were the consistent injuries that ravaged this part of our squad and prevented any back-four combination from ever becoming settled. Toure struggled with malaria, Silvestre starting the season the treatment table, Djourou and Gallas both endured knee problems while Sagna spend time in and out of the side and Clichy’s season was cut short by a back problem.

Individually our central-defenders were a mixed-bag. Gallas was a nightmare waiting to happen until he was stripped of the captaincy, after which his form improved substantially. Djourou partnered Gallas early on and performed admirably until Wenger made the incorrect decision to replace him with an out-of-form Toure. Silvestre received opportunities throughout the season too, although he never really took them and will be forever remembered for giving up on Didier Drogba in the FA Cup semi-final.

Lack of quality in the centre
In truth it’s very difficult to look at certain partnerships as working well or not because things were chopping and changing all the time. In saying that, my personal opinion is that the best partnership we currently have at the club is that of William Gallas and Johan Djourou. Toure’s public admission that he does not get along with Gallas suggests to me that they will never work to the level that we need them to in order to win trophies, while Silvestre’s performances this season have done nothing but show up his limitations. It’s all well and good having experience but when you can’t keep up with the players you’re supposed to mark it doesn’t really count for much.

Wenger took a gamble on Silvestre and it failed. As such, it’s imperative that a new central defender is brought in to compliment Gallas, Toure and Djourou. After having the burden of captaincy removed Gallas’ performances were excellent and I think he deserves to start next season as the first-choice centre-back. I do think that Djourou and not Toure should start alongside him although I wouldn’t be against bringing in a big, strong defender in the prime of his career to play instead. Someone in the mould of Georgio Chiellini from Juventus, Naldo from Werder Bremen or Valencia’s Raul Albiol would do nicely.

In the wing-back positions we looked strong throughout the season. Bacary Sagna showed that he is no one-season wonder with a season full of reliable, consistent performances while Gael Clichy enjoyed a very decent season despite a dip in form that correlated with the rest of the team early on. In Kieran Gibbs we’ve unearthed a confident and talented understudy – even third-choice when Traore is considered – while Eboue remains a reliable back-up for Sagna on the right despite being used predominantly in midfield. In short, the wide defenders are one area of the squad that has performed admirably this season and requires no changes before the start of the next campaign.

Changes required?
If there is one area of the Arsenal squad that needs changes it is the defence. Regardless of whether Senderos returns this squad needs at least one strong, experienced central defender to add some class and stability to our back four. Should Gallas choose to move on – a distinct possibility given his age – then we will need two. It’s as simple as that. 

Something on your mind? Have your say on Arsenal’s defence by leaving a comment.



  1. In all honesty, I’d rather see the back of Gallas in the centre of defence than Toure. Mainly because Gallas is getting on a bit now, and prone to the most childish actions I’ve ever seen from a player. He is one of the players who adds ‘experience’ to our squad, but he’s hardly solid and ever-dependable.

    The defence for our squad has been really disappointing for a number of seasons, and amongst my Arsenal supporting friends, I seem to be the only one who remembers our defensive frailties being to blame for at least three of our last trophy-less seasons. We have no cover whatsoever for the centre backs and it always shows towards the end of the season at crunch time. Granted, our full backs are great, Clichy has pace and Sagna is a tenacious beast, but it Wenger doesn’t sign a rock solid centre back this summer then I will just cry.

    Has anyone followed Senderos at Milan? How is he doing? I have a feeling Wenger will view his return as a ‘new signing’ in itself. Silvestre has flopped (not surprising given his age and the fact he missed most of last season), he has no pace and I couldn’t care less if he was sold/released.

    I long for the day that Arsenal has a centre back pairing that strikes fear into opposition strikers. A Vidic-Ferdinand, Terry-Carvalho (I know he’s struggled this season) scenario. Given the ridiculously deep depth of our midfield, it makes no sense to have such a skeleton crew at the back.

  2. Think the defence is definately the main area that needs work. Its not just on the pitch though, he needs to bring in a coach who can instil the basics to the players and help drum in some discipline. Either push Bould up into the set up for the senior team or bring in Keown. When it comes to players i think we need to have a minimum of two good players for each position – at the moment we only have that for LB and RB. Its the centre of defence thats going to need most of the surgery. I love Kolo, but he is a squad player now. Either Djorou (who is actually a holding midfielder by trade) needs to be given a season to prove himself alongside Gallas or we need to bring in a replacement. Song is a squad player, no more, and can cover that role if needed. So that means we must bring in at least 1 1st choice CB, if not 2.

  3. @Enemyairships
    Couldn’t agree more with your assumptions, we need a tall physical centre back, with experience. We also need a leader at the back, go back to the days of 1-0 to the Arsenal, you had Tony Adams back there, what would I give to have him back there now, that is as a young TA not a failed manager TA.
    @SF I mentioned that you had a hard job writing a summary but I think you are doing a grand job, maybe to end you could think about the different formations that Wenger has used and the benefits and deficits that goes with them.

  4. @ Dally – Thanks mate. I realised that this article has been more of a look to next season than a review of the last, but oh well. It’s hard to break down a defence that has been so inconsistent and had so many personnel changes.

  5. it’s clear,,,and you said well on that…….”consistently inconsistent” will explain all.

    i don’t hate upson but i love to see some english guy there.

  6. I think what Arsene has criminally overlooked is the importance of a defensive ‘leader’ or ‘organiser’ (no1 CB, if you will). The problem is that all of our central defenders are of the other type – the sweep up and play out of defence type( no2, for the purpose of this discussion). Toure’s best days in an Arsenal shirt were alongside Campbell, who was very much a no1 CB, and Gallas was best with Terry and Carvalho calling the shots and organising, largely while he was at left back.

    What we need is an aerially dominant leader at the back who can organise a defence. He needs to be a ball winner and needs to complement one of the defenders we already have by being different to them. We have plenty of Ferdinand-types; we need the Vidic side of the partnership. The names that Spanish has brought up are good – Chiellini would be the dream signing but being from an Italian family, I can tell you that there is no chance of him leaving Italy. He is a future Azzuri captain and the first name on the Juve team sheet. But we need a defender in this mould if we are to challenge next year. Variety is what we should be looking for, and a CB not necessarily with technical skill but excellent game reading and ball attacking is what we should be prioritising.

  7. @jebo
    Did you mean rate rather than hate? Upson is a good player and made it in to the England side all be it when there were injuries. It was a shame when he left but at the time he wasn’t getting a game, may be it is time to bring him back in to the fold.

  8. u can try any combination u like guys, bottom line is the current defence as a whole – NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Clichy at left back and sagna right back, im more then happy wiv, but at centre half, we need to sign two defenders, i fink maybe Hangeland from fulham, hes 6.5 very good player, excellent in the air, just waht we need, and maybe cheillini from Micah richards from man city if we can get him that is. defo need a centre midfielder just as much as we need a defender, and i even think we need to buy a prolific goalscorer and a keeper. we need a few more leaders in the team and a lot more strength and power if we wana become champions ever again.

  9. @ enemyairships

    Regarding Senderos, I was in Italy on holiday when he joined Milan on loan and the press and fans were very excited about him, to the point that fans in this country would have wondered what was going on. The truth is that they thought his style would suit Serie A perfectly and he could become a staple of the Milan backline for years to come, especially as there would be no language problem settling in. If I’m being honest, with Milan’s ageing defence and need for new blood, I thought he’d be a big hit and it would be the ideal move for him and a real platform to show what he can do.

    However, this hasn’t really happened and in truth, Senderos hasn’t had a look in. He has hardly played at all and Milan will certainly not be taking him on permanently. I don’t know why this is as there have been enough injuries at the back for Phillipe to have been given a chance but he has only had only a handful of league appearances. The same is true for Flamini, who has had to take a backseat to Ambrosini even after Gattuso was ruled out for the season.

    Despite all this, I think Senderos’s style of play will still make him a very good acquisition for a Serie A club, but it won’t be AC Milan.

  10. Upson? The main who has been plagued with injuries pretty much his entire career?

    Agree that he isnt the worst defender in the world but we want consistency surely? That wont happen if we get players in that wont guarentee you a game. Its not surprising to see that Man Utd have kept their defence together throughout this campaign and that Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra are the only players to go more than 40 games.

    We need someone who can hack playing week in, week out – the question will be whether Wenger will sacrifice his ideals and go for someone who doesnt speak french!

  11. I highly doubt that Upson will be signing at his age. I would have been tempted by Woodgate last January but that ship has most certainly sailed now.

  12. @Stephen Minor
    The season was effectively over when we got beaten by Chelsea. We have to look forward to the new season now starting with manure on Saturday, lets hope we can make them go to the wire by beating them, now that would make the last day interesting.

  13. Gallas is definitely better than Kolo Toure, he is a fighter and scores goals. As a defender to add into the attacking threat when you can score more than 6 goals in a season. I would rather see Toure go than Gallas

  14. Why do people talking about defenders leaving, don’t forget Toure started here as a right back.

  15. Great review SF. I agree with most of the points u made. I think we must bring in at least 1 solid defender (preferably english b/c of the 6+5 rule thatll be implimanted soon). Lescott?

  16. Wasn’t Toure a central midfielder when he joined? Maybe I’m nostalgic, but he’s one of my favourite Arsenal players. King Kolo just needs a dominant force next to him at the back.

    I wish we’d make smart signings like Alex at Chelsea. He was bought in as cover for the back and he’s had to step in this season and done reasonably well. Then I look at Liverpool who have about 5 decent defenders and I just get green with envy. Bolster that backline, Arsene!

  17. @ enemyairships – Apparently Dan Agger still has some way to go to be convinced to sign a new contract with Liverpool. Skrtel and Carragher are both ahead of him and in my opinion he’s the best centre-back in England behind Vidic. Could he possibly be lured by the prospect of first-team football?

  18. Kolo has to stay because he’s a man who will shed blood for Arsenal. His blood is red and white. But he may have to start taking a bit of a back seat if he can’t regain his old superb form.

    We absolutely need to sign two defensive defenders and that’s not a typo. I mean defenders with only that on their minds. At least one of them has got to be a big strong player who’s going to clatter the opposition forwards, Sure he’ll get sent off now and then but you can bet they’ll get rid of the ball sooner when he’s bearing down on them. This is the player we most need in the team and the one worth spending a large amount on. Can we afford 20 mill? We should be able to get someone for that.

    Defenders are going to be in and out with injuries through the season. With these two new guys and Gibbs, Djourou, Kolo, Clichy and, maybe Gallas, all slotting in at various times, depending on who’s available, we won’t be defensive push-overs anymore, which in turn will give the others more confidence to go forward.

    Bobble head can be booted out.

  19. SF i dont agree that we need 2 CBs.. If senderos comes back then we have 5 CBs. Thats how it shud be.. the argument though will be whether senderos and silvestre are up to the mark.Silvestre is definitely not in my opinion..Senderos is big and has shown potential in the past(dont start the drogba thing again)and he may just have learnt something from nesta and maldini at milan..

    So i would say either senderos or a new CB should suffice as long as silvestre is shipped out and replaced..

    P.S. What type of defender is albiol?I havent seen much of him but he didnt seem the big aerial brute that we all seem to agree we need.

  20. Ah yes Arsenal’s central defense, this could form the basis for a good thesis study. Ever since the departure of Tony Adams and Martin Keown, Arsenal’s defense has never risen to the occasion. The oft expressed sporting cliche that says offense wins you games but defense wins you championships is so evident when assessing Arsenal’s lack of trophies over the past few seasons. Comparing our last trophy season to the current, a couple things are quite evident, our current central defenders maybe much more skilfull than the Keown and Adams pairng but they were much more effective. They were hard nosed, imposing, no non-sense characters. I highlight the word chracters because strangely this is a facet of Arsenal’s overall play that is lacking. We have very few character players who can impose and dominate games. Usually teams get this from their leadership at the back. When Gallas went AWOL for the beginning of the season, it sent a strong signal as to how the season was going to go. Gladly this was rectifed and I must say we are much better off now than how we were looking. We need a central defender with premiership experience. Amdy Faye of Stoke City comes to mind. He has been brilliant for Stoke and has the type of fortitude necessary for an uncompromising defensive coalition. The full backs though were good but not great this season. This has been Gael Clichy’s least astounding season. I felt this season he has been found wanting on a couple of occasions but you cannot knock his desire and commitment. Maybe this premature rest is just what he needed because he has been by far one of our most outstanding performers in the past few years

  21. A Brit would be great. Are there any good defenders in the Scottish Premier League? Most Scots like a scrap. Let’s have some of that Frank McLintock style. Tasty.

  22. Raul Albiol is a good choice. A spanish international and at cash-strapped Valencia, we should bid for him I reckon, I still want David Villa aswell. I say Adebayor and 20 mil for Raul Albiol and David Villa.

  23. We once had a back 5 that rose to the occasion;

    Lehmann, cole, Toure, Campbell, Lauren.

    They rose to the occasion 38 times in the league and we never lost a game.

    I’d like to see our first choice back five for next season looking something like this

    Almunia, clichy, Lescott, Hangeland, Sagna

    Bench: Toure
    Loan: Djourou.

    I know you’ll all say it will never happen, but look at every team to ever have won the EPL, its all about having the best defence. Until touch decisions are made we are winning sweet FA.

  24. Imagine this: (1) Toure looking fully fit. (2) Gallas fit with his head on straight. (3) Sagna and Cliche performing at heir “normal” levels. Djourou, Gibbs, Traore continuing to improve and mature. (4) Senderos back and reminding us of his form during the CL run to the finals. (5) Silvestre playing in France.. Wow, that’s an impressive group, eh?

    Now imagine all of those variables go the other way. UGH!

    Lots of difficult questions for the Boss…

  25. I would like richards as he is a gunners fan and with man citys cash flying around they will be the new chelscum and buy any player they want and pay stupid wages but unlike chelscum hughes hasn’t built a starting team unlike rannieri did and I think he should of got a lot more credit as jose didn’t improve much but they think he was god so just like all the chelscum fans they don’t know there history.
    @ bruce if we have no cb signing you have hit the nail on the heat but with gibbs being as good as he is I can see troare being sold and thats another jem gone as arsne has unearthed to many youngsters and sadly some won’t stay like upson and bently.

  26. I feel Arsenal should think about perfecting the defence as well as the defence. They tend to want to play to the fans at the expence of getting goals. This means the fans are fed up with being second rate fans to Man U, Chealse and Liver Pool. We want to feel good by wining trophies. Wenger should stop thinking like a mean Economist to being a manager in need of glory for both he and the fans. Currently he is consummed with the prospects of making money for Arsenal and company or firm. We unnderstand his being prudent on use of resources, we the fans who may never get a penny from that , need some pride brought to our hearts, minds and faces.

    I suggest to Wenger, hoping that he will heed to this advise, that he buys experinced strikers at least 2 to partner Adebayor and Arshvin. We need to improve the defence by acquiring 2 very good defenders. The goal keepers should be beefed by getting a good keeper who is not as porous as Fabiansky. Almunia needs help but he seems not to have a replecememnt when ever he is injured . The Captaincy should be given to more mature person who will inspire others . Fabrigas is a good player , but too young to be captain.

  27. My name franklin amadi i am from nigeria i am 17years old,i am a gunners fan i love gunners, when i am 8years old i started supporting arsenal because i love there football patner, i will die in gunner no matter want i belong to gunner,want i will like to say to you guys over there to find a good replacement like vincenzo laquinta and david villa giorgio chiellini and hangeland of fulham the guy is a nice defender,i will like wenger to ofload adebayor and eboue silvestre,

  28. we should stop talking about kolo toure he is still the king in defense it’s only that when he moves forward to score no one covers his position.lets stop blaming players,lets continue adding pressure to winger to purchase for strong players who can face man u and Chelsea.

  29. @ Hey Nonny Mouse

    I was chatting with our old captain Frank McLintock recently and he felt the same way. We need reinforcement. Why not look to leagues with less status than the premier league and the spanish league? Some of Wenger’s best signings have been unearthed elsewhere although it’s been a while since that happened.

    However, as far as north of the border is concerned, Scotland doesn’t offer much at the moment. Carlos Cuellar might not have been Scottish but he was a decent defender playing in the SPL and Villa beat us to him. But there must be the kind of defenders we are talking about out there somewhere. Let’s hope the scouts come up with something.

  30. though i agree wif all of u that we should replace 2 of our CBs, I seriously cant c AW bringing in 2! AW being AW, his frugality will only bring as much as 1 CB the most to the team to partner 1 existing one, gallas in my opinion.

    Given his recent comments about our attack being on par with united and all we need to improve is defence, my best guess is he’ll bring 1 CB and 1 DM to the team for next season. Its good enough for me to win the league if those 2 are excellent players.

    On a side note, i really wish adebayor, silvestre and denilson get sold. but i doubt denilson will be given AW deepest faith in him.

  31. I like Christian Zapata at Udinese.. he is an inch or two too short for me at 6’1 and a bit young at 22, but he is a hell of a player and would suit the Prem very well…

  32. A big, strong center back with a commandin type of play, a player who can read the game is wat we need in our so loved, enternin bt not trophy winnin team.i agree wit Filipino Dan our best signin always cums sum were as a suprise not from da Barclays league.Am sure the man u saw sagna, flamine and some good players we have at our club can still find the defender we despartely nid.An experienced goal scorer would be better to partner Robin vp as ADE has failed to stand up in big games.

  33. I believe either Gallas or Toure could stay and partner a new CB, big, strong, experienced,and a leader. We never really settled on a pair of CBs that could work for eachother this season. This reminded me of Liverpool the last few years. Benitez used to chop and change every weekend in the league with mixed results, no consistency.

    By the way, where does Benitez gets these defenders? We really need to send our scouts out!

  34. Really hope Gallas stays put. His reading of the game is better than Toure. Zapata would be an ideal choice for Arsenal, another good tackler.

    Really wish Toure could recover his form but he’s almost 28? now, so he lost the pace he once had but still a better choice than Silvestre.

  35. Absolutely spot on SF. I completely agree that we need a big central defender. I would disagree slightly about Sagna having a fully consistent season- his form has tailed off alarmingly in the last month or so. Apart from that our defence is reasonable.

  36. “[Arsene] needs to bring in a coach who can instil the basics to the players and help drum in some discipline”…. what about an ex-gunner like tony adams? sure, as a manager he didn’t do too much, but if he were to focus on defense? maybe. agree with the bringing in a defensive coach ALONG WITH 1 or 2 central defenders though.

  37. @ Filipino Dan

    You were chatting to Frank McLintock? Wow. Respect to the both of youse.

    A British defender would be good for a number of reasons but I have to say when I think of the sort of gutsy, hard-nosed type player I feel we need it’s the Scottish character that tends to come to mind. Yes, like McLintock, Bremner, Dave McKay…these guys were tough mentally and physically, they were strong leaders and, like most Scots, they were parsimonious!

  38. how about hangleland from fulham as he already lives in london 27yrs old so experienced and really tall. And he’s norwegian so no african nations cup where toure, song and eboue will be in jan plus thats another reason we should get 20 mill for ade.

  39. Disagree with you on the Toure issue, SF. I prefer him to Djourou. I get the feeling Djourou can be a bit lazy occasionally.

  40. hey arsenal fans whats your views on Adebayor coming to Chelsea. Why would Arse let him go and Wenger seems quite happy to talk about it. I thought Bendtner was the player you didnt like

  41. @ blueboy – i would be happy to see him go, then you would know what it feels like when he is lazy, when he isnt playing well, you just want to shoot him, he does nothing!

  42. @ jay-jay – yes, he does something. he occupies a precious spot in the starting 11 when there are others who are willing to contribute more!

  43. u need Flamini-or another good DMC, the only difference from last year squad. the return of Sanderos will be just fine.

    u cannot buy good CB (Lescott,etc) and later put him on bench as cover for Gallas and Toure. unlike Man Utd, who play J.Evans as cover. And the year b4 is G.Pique. This youngster can wait for their moment, but not an established player.

    Arsenal play very much attacking game and u need cover for back four since your wingback is on attacking play most of the time. DMC is the answer.


  44. pls mr wenger u should know that arsenal team need overall revolution, both the goalkeeper,defence,midfielders and attakers.but before anything let’s get rid of adebayor first we dont need him for now.Go to transfer merket and sign experience players or else arsenal is going no where even in the next 10 years coming because the game of football has now pass the level u think.

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