Last season Arsenal conceded 49 goals in the Premier League. That’s more than any other side in the top four, and the second highest number conceded by a top eight team. To have conceded ten goals against Man Utd, four against Spurs, three against Chelsea and two against Man City is a pretty poor effort. Any team that realistically considers itself one of the top English clubs should not be conceding 19 goals against their four closest rivals in a league season.

Much of the blame for such poor defensive performances was laid at the feet of Pat Rice. The former assistant manager was, supposedly, in charge of the team’s defensive coaching. But is it possible that a defensive coach that oversaw a season in which Arsenal went unbeaten could possibly slip so far that he would allow his defenders to concede four away at Blackburn? Or, should we be pointing the finger at Arsenal’s defenders?

The answer should come this season with the involvement of Steve Bould. If Pat Rice really was to blame then surely Steve Bould – part of Arsenal’s legendary back four – will be the man to instil some purpose and discipline in this current crop of Arsenal defenders.

If Steve Bould can’t teach them how to communicate, how to hold a proper line and how to take responsibility then nobody can, right? Not necessarily. Great players don’t always make great coaches. It is said that for those who possess and exercise these skills so naturally it can often be hard for them to explain how they do it.

Moreover, whilst Steve Bould achieved an impressive level of success with the U18 side they did have a similar problem to that of the main Arsenal side – they scored plenty of goals but they also conceded plenty of goals too.

This can be explained though by the fact that Bould was under instructions to develop and prepare these footballers for the style of football that they would eventually play in the first team. Arsenal fans will hope that his role as Arsene Wenger’s assistant affords him far more time to work on the defensive principals of the team, especially considering that there is a new first team coach in Neil Banfield who will take some of the weight off of Bould’s shoulders.

However successful Bould and Banfield are though should Arsenal fans be concerned that their defenders are just not good enough?

They definitely have some concerns, but all members of the back four are problematic. Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna are exceptional defenders. Koscielny has improved remarkably considering that in 2009 he was playing in the French second division. The timing of his tackling is a joy to watch and he attacks the ball with an assured sense of purpose that is often lacking from Arsenal centre halves. Almost impossibly, he almost seems far quicker than when he arrived and he is no longer muscled off the ball.

Sagna is a class act. It is no coincidence that Arsenal’s form this season was good when he played and poor when he was injured. Defensively, he is easily the best right back in the league. He is remarkably strong, quick, an excellent tackler and good in the air. In the past his faults have been exposed when he ventures forward but in the last two seasons he has vastly improved his crossing and even has a handful of goals to his name.

The problems arise however in the other positions. Thomas Vermaelen, whilst an exceptional footballer, has a tendency to wander out of position a little too often. If he could improve his defensive discipline he would be the best defender in the team. He has all of the necessary attributes to be one of the best in the world and although he does display that talent on a regular basis he also has a tendency to switch off.

Per Mertesacker can’t really be judged at this stage. Koscielny had a poor first season and Mertesacker was injured for half the season so it really would be harsh to criticise before we have given him ample time to prove himself.

Left back is the real issue for Arsenal. Both Gibbs and Andre Santos have their positive attributes, but neither are Premier League winning defenders. By that I mean, are they as good as any first team defenders to have won the league in the last fifteen years? No. Gibbs might still have time to develop in to the player we want him to be but you would have to say that, regardless of his injuries, he hasn’t developed at anywhere near the rate the club wanted him to.

So, do Arsenal have a defence capable of winning the league? Probably not. Do they have a defence capable of conceding far fewer goals than they did last season? Absolutely. There can be no excuses for either the players or Steve Bould next year.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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  • jim
    2 years ago

    I thought City only put one past us last season. In the EPL they did anyway.

    Reply
  • ogban
    2 years ago

    Steve Bould’s reserve side are no better in defending. Just watch the defensive mess yesterday!

    Reply
    • Alan
      2 years ago

      Steve Bould has never been in charge of the reserve side. I don’t think you should be judging the defensive performance on the Kitchee game. Both Kitchee goals were scored with Miquel and Craig Eastmond as the centre back pairing. I dnn’t think you’ll be seeing these players anywhere near the first team this season.

      Reply
  • gunners357
    2 years ago

    do you not remember gibbs world class tackle against west brom he just needs to be more disciplined position wise and he needs to hit the gym and bulk up. and for santos he just needs to be disciplined. He’s strong and a good tackler and good with the ball at his feet and he scored some very important goals for us last season at a time someone needed to step up and take the game in to there own hands

    Reply
  • chidi ugwueke
    2 years ago

    we hve a very stong back 4 but d problem is our midfelders not helpin out in time of need.

    Reply
  • da_literary_guy
    2 years ago

    Ah thnk dat da defence mus b told dey job is 2 defend wit deir life & nothing less dan dat. Wen dey fail dat is obvious 2 der way dey played da game, den dey pay wid der livs.

    Reply
  • Goodrobot
    2 years ago

    Shallow beyond belief. Look at who was on the field for 8 of those goals against Man U — little more than a reserves team and essentially meaningless. Also, Arsenal play a high line so one would expect more goals — at both ends. Surely the more salient point is who wins the game. You do remember the 5-3 and 5-2 scorelines? And that out of ALL the top teams, only ManU took net points off Arsenal over the 2 league games.

    Reply
    • ryan
      2 years ago

      what are you talking about? who cares if we only lost net points to man u? it doesn’t mean anything at all. by the same logic we could lose to only man u twice and with every other team draw the away game and win the home game and be happy? the result would be we’d have a crap season due to having so many fucking draws regardless of that we only lost net points to one team. i understand you try to be positive which is fine but that’s a dumb statistic to bring up. this is a question of how good our defence is and last year we SHIPPED goals

      Reply
      • Goodrobot
        2 years ago

        What I’m talking about is what was written in the article — which focused on 19 goals given up to the top teams. Of course there were problems with the Wigans and Blackburns that go to the importance of consistency, but that’s not the point under discussion is it? Which really makes your comment on THIS article irrelevant.

        Reply
  • Mick
    2 years ago

    Of course you could have mentioned that we had a total of 19 different back four combinations due to massive defensive injury problems throughout the season and we all know (except you?) the importance of a settled back four. This included all four fullbacks out at the same time for a period. The previous season we also had back four injury problems especially at CB, Vermaelan out all season for a start.
    That is not to say that we could not improve, of course we could, but if it hadn’t been for that fluke scoreline against Man U our goals against would have been in line (or better in some cases) with Chelsea, Spurs, Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton. The 4 conceded at Blackburn was another fluke with 2 own goals and an offside goal.
    So lets have some balance please rather than an argument to fit your biased view.

    Reply
  • Ola K
    2 years ago

    How did we concede 2 against City?
    Man City 1 – 0 Arsenal
    Arsenal 1 – 0 Man City

    Reply