Sokratis & Defensive Philosophy: It’s All Greek To Me

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:

  1. Defence
  2. Goalkeeper
  3. Midfield

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.

’til Tomorrow.

36 thoughts on “Sokratis & Defensive Philosophy: It’s All Greek To Me

  1. With a quick nod to yesterday’s question regarding costs for watching our team-I was on the same kind of money as Bob….circa £90 to £100 per month.
    I suppose it doesn’t hurt as much if we win more often…..

  2. Bon après midi YW from an usually grey Cote D’Azur.

    In full agreement with You. We have to cut our cloth accordingly Must confess I know very little about the 2 latest acquisitions.

    I’m of the opinion If they are going to help steady the Ship and help to bring about a stability, a confidence which in helps furthermore up the pitch then I say welcome to Emirates.

    As you alluded to YW the intransigence under AW to get things done became a standard joke.

    I think there will be at least another 1-2 more players who will come in ( Guardian and CDM)

    Have a wonderful weekend

  3. £20 a week to watch the footy I don’t think is too bad actually. What’s that about a pint in London!!

  4. Morning all.

    A solid post, YW. I would certainly agree that defense, as we once knew it, is dead. Defenders are required to be better all-round footballers and the use by many teams of the full backs as the main attacking threat can tend to leave the centre backs…isolated is the polite term.
    Whilst Sokrats isn’t the best defender in the world, I think the Guardian is being a little unkind: whilst certainly being a “front-footed” defender, he is persistent and will keep on players who have gone past him. He is also something of a throwback to the days you recall in that he is keeping the almost-lost art of the slide-tackle alive. Perhaps he can teach young Xhaka how to go to ground and get the ball (as opposed to just the opponent, or just a few blades of grass where his opponent once stood).

  5. I, too, am glad we seem to be concentrating on steadying the ship before getting flashy in terms of signings but I’d prioritise (defensive-ish) midfield over ‘keeper for now.
    Cech has faded but I suspect he has another good season in him if the rest of the team is performing and he starts to consider us as contenders rather than a prelude to retirement. Someone needs to get on him about his distribution, though. As much as I think the value of sweeper-keepers over a safe pair of hands gets exaggerated, watching some of Cech and Ospina’s passing has been pretty fucking painful.

  6. With my extensive knowledge of international scouting (watching YouTube videos like every other hoople-head), I have noticed that all the players Unai has been linked with bringing in have one thing in common regardless of position: they all seem to be characterised by an ability to win back the ball and recycle possession quickly. If this is an indicator of how he will try and make us play, it will make a nice change. Xhaka, I feel, could be coached to play this system. For Ramsey, I feel it might be a challenge but he is capable.

  7. How about reigning Szczesny? Juventus have signed Mattia Perin from Genoa ‘to replace Gianluigi Buffon’ according to numerous reports today.

  8. I may be wrong, but every time I count those to be thrown away a certain Jack Wilshere pops up. Why persistently fill a space when the only thing you churn out weekly is overhyped average. A better-than-Cech, a Michel Seri, and another defender will make my season hopeful.

  9. We could do worse than Szczesny but Juve drive a hard bargain and I doubt we’d be looking at the $10 million we sold him for. Of course, any English ‘keeper would carry a crazy premium as well. Shame, as I wouldn’t mind Butland, Pope, Foster, or Forster (all but one had ropey seasons but I think there are players in there somewhere).

  10. C,

    I haven’t seen a lot of Macey but I hear good things. All of those I mentioned would be a risk given the likely fee but I feel they do have the raw materials. Of course, that’s just a hunch and we’re in a position where tried and tested hands for a more reasonable fee make more sense. For the record, I never wanted to sell Szcez.

  11. Woolwich Freddie,

    I never wanted to sell Szczesny either and got in plenty of discussions arguing why we shouldn’t. Macey has loads of potential and really the only difference between the names you claimed and Macey is that they were at smaller clubs and got a chance and Macey hasn’t. Should we go in the mid 20’s range of GK I wouldn’t mind Leno or Trapp but reports of Sevilla GK Rico isn’t a bad fall back option. If we could get Szczesny back that would be brilliant as I though Arsene was just being his stubborn self in selling him and keeping Cech and Ospina.

  12. Really excited about the appointment of Marcel Lucassen of Director of Football Development. If he can achieve and plan even half the success he did with thr German National side, that will be brilliant.

  13. Don’t forget this guy , Emiliano Martínez whose career has been blighted by the usaual succession of useless loan deals. Young keepers go on loan to be back ups and spend their formative years sitting on benches behind more established keepers. His last one was at Getafe and he has found himself on the bench for all but 5 matches whilst the first choice keeper was injured.
    he looked good when he played for us before getting shunted out but he is 26 now I believe and as Emery has taken over and all loanees will be back for pre season both he and Macey might well find a way to save us some cash , afterall it’s a clean sheet at the moment.

  14. andy1886:
    How about reigning Szczesny? Juventus have signed Mattia Perin from Genoa ‘to replace Gianluigi Buffon’ according to numerous reports today.

    I thought Juve bought Wojo to be their next Buffon. He played for Roma for 2 seasons and they did not bid for him even though he only cost $10M. Juve has watched him for 2 years at Roma and had him in their squad for a year and if what you say is true they don’t think he is good enough to be their first choice GK. I guess the real reason Juve bought him because he was an inexpensive option as a back up. The logical conclusion from all of this is we probably over rate how good he is.

  15. Bill,

    Though little more than a necessary workout for France– would be a morale-lifter for a young US squad.


  16. First goal ever scored by US vs France.
    Were ruled offside on another (Bobby Wood looking like Auba) in the 48th.
    All-in-all a good showing.


  17. jw1:
    First goal ever scored by US vs France.
    Were ruled offside on another (Bobby Wood looking like Auba) in the 48th.
    All-in-all a good showing.



  18. Selling Wojo for $10M with only 1 year left on his contract is very good business if he turns out to be a back up GK.

  19. Managers rarely change their keepers unless they are forced into it and the situation at Getafe was political . The existing keeper Guaita had signed an agreement to join Crystal Palace and they took Martinez to their first choice ,However after Arsenal had signed the loan deal for whatever reason the Guaita deal fell through and he was promised that if he stayed at Getafe he would be number 1 apart from injury . ( this is hearsay from friends in Madrid ) and that there were financial clauses should he not play.
    Stilll we will see what happens when Emery sees Martinez and whether another career is blighted because the premier league only invests in it’s package but does not provide a proper reserve league that would enable players to develop in house.

  20. These Torreira links are growing and Sampdoria have apprently signed hia replacement which leads to much speculation that he is on his way. How will this change both Ramsey and Jack’s mind, we will wait and see.

  21. Potter

    There are occasional exceptions but most managers need to win to keep their jobs and they will usually use the best players they have available. If Getafe’s first choice GK was only good enough to play for Crystal Palace or Getafe and Martinez was not good enough to beat him out then it does not say much about Martinez. I understand why we want to be optimistic about our own players but arguably one the biggest problems of the Wenger era was we over rated the ability of our players like Martinez.

  22. Potter

    “Still we will see what happens when Emery sees Martinez and whether another career is blighted because the premier league only invests in it’s package but does not provide a proper reserve league that would enable players to develop in house.”

    The thing which blights most careers is not being good enough. If used properly I think the loan system could be better then a reserve league for developing players.

  23. Bill , but it isn’t . Players get hoovered up by managers that want to supplement their squad and yes they are under pressure so they play the players they trust rather than bring in an inexperienced player that will make mistakes as he learns .
    As i said about Guaita it was a deal to stay that promised him the first team shirt. Martinez was only there to play if he was injured.

  24. And now Joel Lopez a 16 year old left back from Barcelona is said to be joining . Another from La Masia which seems to churn out more young prospects than Hale End.

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