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Season in Review: Center Back
Quick reviews of each position for Arsenal
As the season is entirely wrapped up now and before we turn our attention to the transfer market and next season, I want to go through the squad and look back at how each position performed.
Today we are looking at the center backs.
Using stats on defenders is always a little tough because it describes better how a player defended rather than if it was good or bad. The main reason for that is that there are many ways of being a “good” defender and not all of them create defensive events that will show up here.
So this will be my most eye-test based position review but it will still always be tinged with stats because that is still part of my style.
I think the place to start this year is looking at the performance in the three distinct parts of this season.
Before the World Cup, Arsenal’s defense was very good. It was a bit lucky allowing less than expected but it was backed up with excellent shot suppression, keeping the big chances to a minimum and keeping the ball away from their own goal. I think this was close to the ideal of what Mikel Arteta wants to see from his team, playing a high line and pushing the space, relying on the three guys at the back to win the races they need more often than not and living with the other times.
After the World Cup, things slipped a bit for the defense. The press without Gabriel Jesus wasn’t quite as good and the set piece defense saw some lapses of concentration, this saw the one big chance allowed nearly doubling to two per match. The defense was still good but it slipped from elite levels.
After losing William Saliba the defense really fell apart as well. Some of this is heavily influenced by the Liverpool match which was a bit of an anomaly but also saw a new trend emerging where the control that the team had been able to exert before Saliba got hurt. You can accumulate a lot of points with a very good attack and an above-average defense but once the defense starts playing like a relegation-level outfit that becomes something of a near-impossible task.
In the grand scheme of things I put more stock in the first two than the last third. I have high hopes for what the team can do next year as a defense.
I think at times that Gabriel might actually be the best center-back at Arsenal.
He doesn’t have the same hype around him as Saliba but I think he’s a better pure defender and he has grown leaps and bounds as a ball progressor. This may not be true for long but I do think it is true for right now. Teams used to give him the “we don’t think you can beat us” treatment and let him basically have the ball while cutting out options, they can’t do that same thing to him anymore because he can and will punish them now.
On top of that he is a rock of dependability at the back playing all 38 Premier League matches and playing all but 11 of the available minutes.
Rating: 9 out of 10 total for the season.
I remember this time last season feeling close to certain that Saliba would not play for Arsenal. I thought he was gone and that the team had ruined any chance that he would ever feature for them. It wasn’t the end of the world because Ben White was coming off a good season as a center back but I felt a pang of sadness.
I am very happy to have been wrong.
Saliba is still a bit raw at times and it is very easy to forget that for a center back he is still a child. He plays with a calmness like he has been at this level for 10 years. I gushed about Gabriel’s growth as a professor but Saliba was already at that level and once or twice a game will show something that really highlights the difference between a good passer and an elite passer.
If there is one nagging worry it is the back injury that ended his season. Back’s are stupid and once they are hurt they often never get better. I hope this isn’t the case because he is a special player and I don’t want to see his progression moved off-course by this. I am so excited to see what the next few seasons show for him.
Rating: 8 out of 10 total for the season.
I won’t say too much bad about Holding because he got thrown into a tough situation on a team that has moved away from what he can do on a technical level.
He has been a perfectly adequate player for Arsenal during a hard time in the club’s history and has some very good moments that we will always remember (FA Cup vs Costa for one) and a memorable quote about him from Arsene Wenger.
It looks like this is the end of the road and I hope he can find a new club to excel at, if he stays another season I hope he never plays a meaningful minute.
Rating: 5 out of 10 total for the season.