So another one lands. Sokratis for £16m brings another desperately needed experienced head to the back four in Laurent Koscielny’s absence. To be honest, if Koscielny wasn’t injured either he or Mustafi would have left for the summer with the words “don’t let the door hit you on the arsenal on the way out”.
Koscielny’s injury saved Mustafi, I think, but for how long? Holding and Chambers must be wondering where their future lies but that will become clearer to them over the course of this season. At the rate we pick up injuries, one of them will be in the first team before the autumn international break.
The Greece international found plenty questioning his defensive awareness; he’s prone to the same lapses as our current centre-backs. This from this morning’s Telegraph sums him up:
“Very much a front-footed centre-back, Sokratis prefers to win the ball early with robust challenges rather than sprint back with opponents and defend on the back foot. When this approach pays dividends, the burly Sokratis will look the commanding, aggressive centre-back critics have accused Arsenal of lacking. When it does not, he can leave holes in behind him – a worry given the speed of Premier League attacks (particularly against other ‘Big Six’ opponents).”
I am going to stick my neck out here and say I cannot immediately think of one defender in the world game who isn’t accident-prone. There isn’t a Baresi, Beckenbauer, Krol; modern football is about pace and attack so the basics get left behind.
You only have to look at the development of full-backs to confirm the accent on attack. Their defensive duties are very much secondary to their ability to bomb up and down the flanks. Back in the day, they were defenders first and foremost with a modicum of attacking ability.
The art of defending is dead; a series of memorial services will take place across Russia during June.
You and Your Spurious Logic
Those of a certain age remember the strong defences upon which success was built. The double-winning side of ’71, 88-89 was a test run for 90-91 when George Graham really got it right; defence balanced with attack and not swinging too far in either direction.
Unless you have a 40-goal a season striker, it’s a balance you’ve got to find to be successful in the league. It’s one Arsène couldn’t find and I’m not so sure it was high on his list of priorities.
The signing of Sokratis isn’t a ‘wow’ moment; it’s about dealing with the shortcomings in the squad which Unai Emery inherited. If that doesn’t inspire you, get over yourself. This is resolving problems to get us into a position to move forward. It’s no good signing a £60m midfielder if we don’t also deal with the back four. I’d like us to deal with the goalkeepers as well.
If I prioritise the issues, it’s as follows:
That’s my personal opinion and on the off-chance we’re dealing with transfers logically, I’ll be happy with that order.
I am, to be honest, happy we’re dealing with anything at the moment. After years of waiting, waiting, waiting, and then ending up with harried running around in the final days of the window, this orderly approach is very welcome.
The problem for Arsenal is that other clubs are out grabbing the headlines. United splurging on Fred and his dodgy knee, Liverpool claiming Fekir after already shoving one name into the lights. It doesn’t seem inspiring on our part to be landing a 34-year-old full-back and a half-decent centre-back.
Football is, however, a squad game and if you haven’t got the basics right, there’s no point in signing £110m of strikers expecting them to save you.
We’re comparing our activity with those who have greater expectations next season. From our starting position, a successful season will be reaching the top four. Chuck in a cup – the Europa League for a change – and I’d say Emery exceeded expectations.
If you’re comparing us to Liverpool, remember they expect to challenge for the title. We’re the party poopers, the ones who can give the title chasers bloody noses. Should we find ourselves in the top two next May, Arsène’s reputation will take a nosedive. Emery achieving that with this squad? Pffft; it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Our reality is different to how it looked three or four years ago. The cumulative effect of the summers where we thought ‘a couple of players and we’re challengers’ is fighting for sixth place. We’ve got a low starting point and expectations should match it.
Finally, away from Arsenal, I offer my congratulations to Sir Kenny Dalglish on his knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list. I’m not a fan of the system on the whole; like the Lords, it’s been abused to ensure political advantage through cronyism.
However, some people merit recognition. While Dalglish was well-known anyway, his unstinting support for the Hillsborough victims families – not just then but through to this day – is an example of the selflessness which should be acknowledged by more than just kind words. It was the most harrowing of events for a footballer, and let’s not forget he was at Heysel in 1985 as a player.