The SMR Arsenal Squad Review – The Defenders

With the season over and a trophy in the cabinet, I’m going to assess the season for each member of the Arsenal squad and rate them. I’m sure there’ll be some disagreements about some of my ratings, so feel free to comment at the bottom with your thoughts. Next up, it’s the defenders.
 
3. Bacary Sagna
It’s a massive shame that the Frenchman will be leaving Arsenal as he was back to his best in 2013/2014. I can’t think of a bad game that Sagna had, and after some injury problems in previous seasons, he was able to stay fit for the majority of the season.
Sagna was a warrior for Arsenal, didn’t shirk a tackle and was always solid when defending. Some of his best matches were when he covered injuries as a centre-back, with particularly impressive displays at Fulham, Sunderland and Norwich when pressed into action in the middle.
I can’t be annoyed at him for running down his contract because he did give everything when he played for the club, but a potential move to Manchester City loses him a mark.
Season Rating: 7/10
 
4. Per Mertesacker
The BFG is awesome.
Mertesacker understands the fans, understands what it means to play for the club and has become one of the most consistent centre-backs in the Premier League. He knows he’s not blessed with great pace, so he has adapted his game accordingly and has developed a superb partnership with Laurent Koscielny. Despite giving away the penalty in the FA Cup semi-final, he came up with the vital equaliser and produced one of the singing performances of the season with his rendition of ‘Arsenal till I die’ at the cup victory parade.
He’s clearly loved, respected, and at times even feared, by his team-mates, and should Thomas Vermaelen seek regular football and leave this summer, Mertesacker has to be the club captain.
Season Rating: 8.5/10
 
5. Thomas Vermaelen
It was a difficult season for the club captain as he couldn’t hold down a regular place in the team because of the excellent form and partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. He was also unfortunate with injuries as he would have got minutes earlier in the season had he not picked up a problem in pre-season.
When Vermaelen did play, he didn’t let Arsenal down. He put in some impressive performances, and his presence in the squad undoubtedly makes Mertesacker and Koscielny work hard because they know there is a quality player waiting to take their place. I hope Vermaelen stays because he remains an excellent centre-back and makes the competition for places strong in the squad.
Season Rating: 6/10
 
6. Laurent Koscielny
Like Sagna, Koscielny is a warrior when playing for Arsenal. His partnership with Mertesacker is much talked about because it’s been so good, with Koscielny’s pace being the perfect foil for Mertesacker’s height and organisation. The Frenchman is lightning across the ground and almost hasn’t had big enough pockets to fit the strikers in after his performances this season.
His knack of scoring crucial goals at the end-of-season is also very welcome. He took a whack from the goalkeeper, but it wasn’t a surprise to see Koscielny in the right place at Wembley to equalise in the cup final. He needs to give away fewer penalties, but otherwise there are very few weak areas in his game.
Season Rating: 8/10
 
17. Nacho Monreal
The Spaniard was in and out the team depending on the form and fitness of Kieran Gibbs. His competition with Gibbs for the left-back spot has made both players improve.
Monreal’s defending isn’t quite as tight as Gibbs’, and he doesn’t get to the by-line as much when going forward. However, he is still an excellent squad player to have considering that injury record of Gibbs means Arsenal need two good left-backs. The battle with Gibbs was probably the reason why Monreal missed out on the Spain World Cup squad as it would have been better for him to be playing regularly, but it was a sign of the increased squad strength in 2013/2014 that someone of the quality of Monreal struggled to hold down a regular place in the team.
Season Rating: 6/10
 
25. Carl Jenkinson
With Bacary Sagna staying fit for most of the season, Carl Jenkinson had fewer chances to impress at right-back in 2013/2014, but apart from a blunder against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, he never let the club down when he played. He’s probably the best crosser at the club, and whipped one in so good against Hull in the Premier League that even Nicklas Bendtner couldn’t miss.
There were great performances in the North London derby at the Emirates and he played his part with a few appearances in the cup run. His moment of the season was undoubtedly the goal at Norwich. A true Gooner scoring a goal for the club he loves. It was beautiful.
It’ll be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger gives him the chance to step up when Sagna departs, and whilst I’m not sure if he’s ready, there’s no doubting that Jenkinson will give everything he has when wearing red and white.
Season Rating: 6/10
 
28. Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs is incredibly unlucky that England seem to produce excellent left-backs, because he should be playing regularly for his national team. How he wasn’t even mentioned when the media discussed possible people in the squad I don’t know.
Gibbs has been consistent, had less injuries and been part of a good Arsenal back four. The competition with Monreal has meant Gibbs had to improve to keep his place, and after missing out on some bigger games in the middle of the season, he re-established himself at the back-end of the campaign. He did come up with the miss of the season in the cup final, but fortunately the win means it’ll soon be forgotten!
Season Rating: 7.5/10
 
Listen to the Sam’s Match Reports podcast end-of-season awards special!
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Fearing farewells after a proper end-of-season game

After Everton’s defeat to Manchester City on Saturday, Arsenal were confirmed in the top four, securing Champions League football again. Considering the tension on the last day of the season in recent years, to have got over that hurdle with a couple of games to go was much appreciated by Gooners. However, it did mean that Arsenal’s last home game of the season with West Bromwich Albion was a dead rubber, and it definitely felt like it for most of the game.
In the Emirates sun, Arsenal didn’t have to overly exert themselves, with all of the focus now on making sure the team are fit and ready for the FA Cup Final. West Brom could have done with a point to absolutely secure safety from relegation, but with other results from the weekend, a defeat wasn’t going to be catastrophic for them. As such, neither team really reached top gear at any point in the match.
The only goal came from a Santi Cazorla corner, which was met by a thumping header from Olivier Giroud. Despite being pulled back, Giroud battled his way to the front of the queue and buried the ball past Foster.
For the rest of the game, Arsenal mostly held the visitors at arms’ length and looked capable of creating openings when they flicked the switch to attack with some more pace and vigour. Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski all looked dangerous, but without the urgency or need to attack at full pace for most of the game, Arsenal didn’t get a cushion to just avoid any nerves near the end of the match.
One minor concern was the absence of Aaron Ramsey, who was missing with a slight muscle strain as a precaution. With Norwich next week also being a dead rubber, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Welshman isn’t seen again until the trip to Wembley. Now there isn’t the pressure of making the top four, Arsene Wenger can rotate his squad and make sure everyone is ready for the big game in a fortnight.
Whilst everyone was relaxed and enjoying the calm end-of-season feeling about the match, there was a tinge of sadness about it. There’s a chance that it was Thomas Vermaelen’s last match at home for the club, and it was more likely Bacary Sagna’s last Emirates appearance for the Arsenal. I really hope that isn’t the case, but during the lap of appreciation after the game, it looked like a wave good-bye from the Frenchman. His name was being sung by supporters with chants of ‘we want you to stay’, but I fear he will move on his contract up.
If Sagna does go, Arsenal will lose arguably their most consistent player and will have to find a replacement. I just hope that he leaves the Premier League, as after he’s been such a great servant to Arsenal Football Club, it would be a huge shame if his reputation was soured by joining someone like Manchester City.
With the top four place secured and the cup final to come, there was a much better mood around the Emirates for the players’ lap at the end of the game. More fans stayed than in recent seasons and there’s a real buzz about the club again, especially compared to a month or so ago. The match itself was a slight non-event, but it was just something else to be ticked off before the FA Cup Final.

Fringe players don't pass the first-team test

In reality, Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat on Tuesday night was just the Capital One Cup. It doesn’t affect being top of the league and it was against a good team. However that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying or painful to see Chelsea coming to the Emirates and winning.
After going ahead following a defensive error from Carl Jenkinson, Chelsea displayed typical Mourinho tactics by shutting off the game and being clinical when given the chance to score a second goal. They time wasted, sat deep and closed the game out. It was painfully professional if not exciting.
After only playing two days prior to the match, Chelsea did make changes, but the depth of their pockets and the strength of their squad meant that they were still able to call on big money players like Willian, David Luiz and Juan Mata. Arsenal did make changes, but not as many as expected with some of the youngsters that might have been given a chance, such as Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfeld, missing through injury. Almost through necessity rather than choice, Arsene Wenger fielded a team that included Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky.
The Gunners also included Nicklas Bendtner up front, with Olivier Giroud needing a rest before the big week that includes Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. Given that it’s only the end of October, I don’t really want to be thinking about the January transfer window, but it’s difficult to not have it pass my mind after seeing Bendtner’s performance on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t without effort, but Bendtner struggled to link up play, hold the ball up for the Gunners to relieve any pressure or be in the box as a target man for crosses. In fairness to him, especially after Chelsea scored, the Blues’ defensive mindset made it difficult for him to impose himself on the game, but he still struggled against Luiz and Cahill. The game was just proof that Bendtner has to just be a stop-gap striker until a better option is brought to the club in January.
This season, Olivier Giroud is the player Bendtner could have been if he’d not let his ego get in the way and he’d really put his head down and worked hard. The Dane might be an option from the bench against lesser opposition, but when facing teams like Chelsea, Giroud has to stay fit, otherwise Arsenal will miss having a proper focal point up front in the team.
The other fringe player who had a night to forget was Carl Jenkinson. He’s never a player that can be doubted for his effort and commitment to the team, but his performance on Tuesday should be a hint to the club to get Bacary Sagna’s contract sorted before for beyond the end of this season.
Chelsea’s opening goal came from Jenkinson’s painfully short header back towards Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal, allowing Cesar Azpilicueta to score. He also misplaced too many passes, didn’t look calm in possession and showed a rawness that had been growing out of his game. He will improve and could eventually be Arsenal’s first choice right-back, but he’s not ready yet, meaning Sagna has to offered a good deal to make him stay and help guide Jenkinson in his development.
After the defeat to Dortmund, the Chelsea game was another reminder to this Arsenal team to be ready for the next three huge games. If they come out of the three coming games with good results, no-one will care about a Capital One Cup defeat to Chelsea. If Arsenal don’t, the old questions about the ability to beat the big teams will reappear despite the good start to the season.