At Arsenal Defence is a Dirty Word: Where is our Next Campbell?


Yes it is exciting to be linked with the prolific goal scorer and assist producer, Pepe. It looks like the deal will go ahead even though there is a big Mata-feeling about this one; we could still be Pepe-pipped at the last minute. It would be a coup to sign Pepe and bolster our attack significantly nevertheless, even though it may mean that either Laca or Auba will be sold soon to pay for him.

Whether the latter happens or not, the mature question to ask is why are we investing in our attack when our defence was so incredible leaky over the last two seasons ? Why are we not doing an, admittedly less sexy, ‘Liverpool’ and spend our money on a top quality Van Dijk-esque beast of a defender? Is this because of Emery’s philosophy of rather winning 6-3 or 5-4 than more predictable and safe 1-0s?!

Imagine a Van Dijk in our defence. Leno is coming good and I predict a great season for him. Bellerin, once back, is a safe pair of hands at RB. Big Sok will play his part again this season, but maybe more as back up than automatic starter. Koz has gone AWOL. Mustafi is a good squad player to have but not to be banked on in the centre of defence. Chambers is unlikely to make the grade. Nacho is good back up but not a season-long first teamer; and Kola is Kola: full of bubbles up front but porous at the back. Mavropanos is most likely not ready yet.

My big hope is for a massive season for Holding. He has the calm and intelligence, leadership and passing skills, and aerial dominance to be our next Campbell or Adams. But the man is coming back from a big injury and it is likely to take time for him to establish himself in the team. It will be a gruelling season with 38 PL battles and many a EL game in the furthest corners of Europe during our national late-shopping nights: we really cannot bank on him to be our much needed rock as yet.

As it stands, I foresee a lot of pressure on Super Sok to hold the defence together until Holding is able to help him. The Hold-Sok CB-pairing is one I believe in. But how long will it take before they are fully fit and up and running together? Will Chambers or Mavropanos fill the void? Will Koz do a U-turn and become Sok’s reliable partner for a while?

For all the Pepe-excitement, and let’s not forget the potential of good seasons for Eddie, Nelson and Martinelli in attack, I would like us to take our defence much more seriously for once. As Pool and Citeh have been shown us recently, progress is made by taking both areas of the pitch – defence and attack – equally serious (and that includes the all important balance in midfield of which I have written a lot on BK). Being hard to beat whilst full of attacking endeavour is the best strategy, but Arsenal seem to think that defending is a dirty word, and will most likely go into the season with a naïve believe that we will outscore our opponents in every game.

We need a left back and we need a quality CB to become the long-term partner of Holding, and however excited I am about the prospect of Pepe-peppering up our attack, if we don’t invest in these I reckon we will make little to no progress. There is a reason why the football pundits are predicting an average of us finishing sixth this season…

So let’s make a real paradigm shift and do the mature thing…

By TotalArsenal.

37 thoughts on “At Arsenal Defence is a Dirty Word: Where is our Next Campbell?

  • Arsenal have signed him already.

    Saliba wont be available this Season but the reason they spent £30m on an 18 year old is because the kid is a World Class talent. You mentioned Van Dijk and Saliba actually reminds me of Van Dijk in his Celtic days.

  • Theoretically Saliba will be Holding’s long term central defensive partner.Aided and abetted by Chambers as backup.However thiscdoes not solve the teams defensive problems in the short term.Arsenal obviously need an experienced Centre-Back with Premiership experience who is physical and has leadership qualities.This being the case Cahill on a free transfer seems to fit the bill exactly.He would also solve the problem that Arsenal now potentially have with regards to numbers of homegrown squad players.He would also be able to mentor Saliba when he arrives.

  • An interesting shout about Saliba, gents. He is of course young and not available this season, but if he could be anywhere near as good as some of you believe he will be then that is great news. In the meantime, we have a season coming up….

  • Okay, this is what the BBC have to say about it:

    “The Gunners are also in talks with a number of clubs over the possible departure of 27-year-old defender Shkodran Mustafi.
    The German, who is under contract until 2021, wants to stay and prove himself.
    Arsenal are keen to find an agreement for a loan or permanent transfer for Mustafi.
    Another centre-back possibly heading out of the Emirates is 33-year-old Frenchman Laurent Koscielny, with talks continuing to resolve his future.
    Last season’s captain is training with the under-23s and facing disciplinary proceedings after refusing to travel on Arsenal’s pre-season tour to the United States.
    Koscielny has a year left on his contract and wants to be released on a free transfer, but Gunners boss Unai Emery saw the defender as part of his plans for the coming season and will only let him leave for a suitable fee.
    Koscielny does not anticipate playing for Arsenal again and negotiations with interested parties are ongoing.
    Arsenal technical director Edu met with the Stade Rennes president Olivier Letang and Koscielny’s representative Stephane Courbis in London on Monday.
    The club is looking to bolster in central defence before the transfer deadline on 8 August and also retain interest in Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney.”

  • Nice point of the text. We need quality at the back, both individually and when it comes to collective defending. It’s been a running theme at Bergkampesque since 2013 but “Adamsesque Mongrel” (tm by jgc) is yet to be found.

    Firstly, let’s take a proper look at the football world out there. There are very few defenders that would come close to former champions of art of defending. Question about Campbell is very well posed but you might also add Nesta, Stam, Vidić, Ferdinand, Terry, Adams, Cannavaro…and even make a short trip to full-back positions where players like Thuram, Lizarazu and Maldini (top notch defenders that contribute very little to the attack) are nowhere to be seen these days. All players on the pitch – even a goalkeeper to the extent – have to contribute to the attacking side of the game and very few players can be given a break from their defensive duties (hence lack of old-school 10s such as Özil out there). In those circumstances, there is a small space for defenders to profile themselves as defensive specialists as their passing range has become as important as their ability to defend set-pieces.

    Secondly, role of full-backs has changed as they have been asked to both perform major creative work and keep their central defenders protected. Take a look at the reigning champions of Europe Liverpool – Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have been their major attacking threat last season and league draws that cost them a league title were mostly due to their inability to find a way through the middle.

    Which leads us to Arsenal. Our game last season became awful once Bellerin got injured while Kolašinac is way too much one-dimensional player to be an Özil 2015-16. We have to wait until Hector returns to make our right side fixed but our left side can’t wait as neither Kola nor Nacho can offer us what we need at either side of the pitch.

    So, maybe, maybe, instead of looking for another central defender that might not even exist or exists beyond our financial strength, we might try doing more to protect either side of our CBs. Do a Liverpool and make our opponents sweat whenever they have the ball because they know we will take it from them and start a blistering counter-attack (something our new guy Pepe is brilliant at).

  • Fine comment there, Admir. And a good point you are making too. I am looking for a calm head, an organiser in defence, strong in the air and disciplined on the ground. Surely those sort of CBs are still alive and kicking (the ball)?

  • @TA

    Perhaps we missed a trick with Diego Godin, an experienced central defender of Atletico who has joined Inter on a free transfer?

    Like I said, when a person has to be concentrated on so many aspects of his job, there will be mistakes/flawes at every aspect of it simply because the one can’t give 100% attention to every aspect. That’s why we don’t have Campbells anymore and it’s very likely that your desired CB is not out there.

    Or that he is out there under the name Rob Holding. 🙂

  • You are not a RH fan then, Admir?!

    I agree that CBs have to be good at a lot more these days and of course team organisation/ defending is just as important. Yet, despite all the attacking of Pool, VvD still manages to keep his head cool, position his defence well and contribute to attacks… We must find a similar type to him and I can think of a few.

    Godin is a brilliant defender, agreed.

  • TA, agree we can do with with a CD signing but it has to fit into Emery’s thinking of any signing being able to improve the team, otherwise we save the money for a later window. If we get Tierney. I wonder if there’d be the funds left for a top CD this window.

    Martinelli @ £6m, Saliba @ £27m, Ceballos @ £4.5m, Pepe @ £72m, Tierney @ £25m.
    That’s £134.5m commitment already. If Mustafi is sold (from fans’ pressure) we might just be able to get a squad replacement with his money. Otherwise we’d have for our CD; Sokratis, Holding, Chambers, Nacho, Mustafi with Saliba to join next season.

    If Emery opts for a 4:3:3 with a front 3 that boasts the pace of Auba and Pepe we can afford to play some 10m deeper (more compact) and become a bit more difficult to brake down. Maybe then we might just be able to cross the line.

    All fit:-

    OR 4:3:1:2 with Ozil as the 1 in place of Laca.

  • Cheers PE, it is a matter of either finding a gem OR spending the money on a quality CB (which may require not spending it on another attacker)… The CB situation is a concern, no?

  • Yes TA, it’s a concern but as your previous post pointed out part of it could be from outside the CD. Could even be from the structure of the team i.e. from the coaches (Emery/Wenger).

  • Very contemporary post, TA and fine comments all round. Well, spoken too, Admir.

    I, for one, won’t be too worried if we don’t get in a CB (think we would get one, though) because I am of the school of thought that believes defending is a collective thing and relies on the structure the manager chooses to work with. I feel Emery won’t change in a hurry and (like me) believes if we can keep teams pegged back out of dread of our frontline, then we can win most games. If our defenders get to face a bit less pressure, I expect they will handle things in a relaxed manner. It looks like most don’t reckon with Chambers much; I will play him ahead of Holding. Sorry.

  • Eris–
    If you recall, the first two years of Klopp-at-Pool were just like that.
    Chaotic D that would stand-up in most contests– thanks to the attackattackattack-minded forward play of Mo & Gang. Not the worst model to recreate. Will this be the genesis of the pressing-game UE promised a year ago? Can this team press like demons?


    Wanted also to express to Admir– my ‘up-and-down nodding’ while reading his comments earlier.


  • Part of our overall problem last season was that we were not progressing the ball well and the problem starts with our defenders. Holding and Chambers are ball players and they’d enhance that aspect of the defender’s game.

    All these names; defenders, midfielders and attackers these days should not be interpreted too rigidly. When with the ball it’s 11 attackers, without it’s 11 defenders — is almost a better interpretation.

    Still I would love one new top modern defender.

  • Player of the year at Fulham, albeit as a DM, most of the time. That experience will help him address the lack of composure to bring out the qualities Arsenal saw when they paid Southampton for his services. I think he will, ultimately, be the better player/defender. That doesn’t mean I like Holding any less, by the way.

  • Chambers is a good backup for central defense and DM (Elneny) position, and i would like it if there is another central defender brought in other than Tierney.

    I would rather Saliba be brought into the first team this season, but as he would like to be at his current club for next season, the options in the central defense is down to the bare bones. More defenders need to come in, and a Campbell type of defender is still out there somewhere.

  • @TA

    No, I’m a fan of Rob Holdini who is better than Cannavaro. 🙂 He can make a mistake or two but he looks to me like a player with much higher ceiling than, say, Koscielny has ever been. Kos is a brilliant wing-man and a poor leader.

  • Agreed and agreed, Admir. Koz is a Keown type and we have been missing the Campbell type for a long time now. The BFG has some of the required attributes but not all. Sok is pretty allround but not spectacular… Holdini I like it.

  • Hi TA, others… Sorry to be a bit slow but it was a busy weekend (I missed the Emirates Cup match, is tonight’s friendly on the telly?…) which meant a bit of busy early week trying to catch up.

    Moreover, this news about Nicky Joe (Pepe) has rocked my assessment of Arsenal and our finances/ambitions. Despite a hint of generational change at ownership level (Stan to Josh Kroenke) and some words (hollow we usually presume) about competitive interest at that level, I still think this season (like the past couple) is all about promotion to CL football. That said, there might be just enough of a “generational change” in some key positions to suggest we want to be able to compete a bit if we can get back to Tues/Weds (continental) football instead of the Thursday stuff.

    When I put this together with what I think I know about Emery’s footballing philosophy it actually makes me less inclined (believe it or not) to indulge in the sort of criticism this post suggests. For me, any statements by Emery about outscoring the opposition are a smokescreen. As I’ve said (over and over, apologies…) he’s Moo-dern to the core and he wants to play on the break (without an attacking MF really…) and it’s all about inviting the opponent forward when they have the ball and springing in moments of transition. If, dennis forbid, we have possession, let’s build from the back (without sacrificing our shape) then spray it long and wide (usually via Xhaka or Leno) and hope for the best (or is it the worst?)… which is that the opponent comes at us again.

    What we really want to avoid is getting turned, giving up pens and FKs and letting balls in between our (smallish) CBs and Leno (who clings a bit much to his line, IMO). Would a big, commanding CB be the answer? Sure… Buit, hey, if Admir says they’re not so easy to find these days, I’ll agree with him. With the Saliba deal, I think management must believe likewise that ready to go CBs-esp. those ready to be leaders on the pitch–are in very short supply.

    So, without Holding (and presumably Kos) in the matches before the Euro windows close, I think we’ll see Sok paired with Chambers, but (horror shrieks coming…) Mustafi could also get his chance, shop window and all that, with the slower and (taller) Chambers (paired with slow and kinda tall Xhaka) at DM in what becomes a bit of a back 6. Or we could revert to a back 5, esp. if the Tierney deal cannot be completed. Monreal is another body we’ll likely count on quite a bit to take up some space along the back line…

    So, I wouldn’t count on anything too exciting on this front, though we’ll know (for sure) when the English window closes on 8 August (at 5 pm GMT, not 11, I just read)… And then we’ll learn more when we line up on 11 August at Toonies… And we’ll know a LOT more when we’ve played our first 4 matches (Newcastle away, Burnley home, Liverpool away, Spurs home) and finalized our squad through sales as the Euro windows close. (The NLD, I think, looms large. If we can’t compete legitimately in the league, we don’t want to be seen losing too many turf wars in our immediate neighborhood…) We just need to get those first goals (in all these matches), then get more… Do that and we’ll be OK. (The alternative doesn’t bear consideration…)

    Until then, who am I to tell folks to cool their jets (excited or critical)?… Maybe I set my expectations too low, but I must say that this close season, even with (my hero) Koscielny wanting off the ship, seems a good deal more exciting that I could’ve imagined…

  • Given how our team has been shaping up, I’d go for all 5-4s you can get. That’s why Emery must remember he is an Arsenal manager and not some Sean Dyche with better English. If you have a trident in the attack that Arsenal have paid 200 million pounds in fees only and two attacking midfielders over 500k per week combined, you need to play attacking football to maximize players’ qualities. If I see Guendouzi (who doesn’t get into Top 5 of exciting Arsenal youngsters in my book) coming in for Pepe to protect a 1-0 lead against Burnley at the Emirates, I will send a chocolate box to Arsene Wenger with a secret plan how to hijack Emery’s place hidden inside of it.

  • 17ht, Chambers and Xhaka in DM might just work. But knowing Emery he will not do that, leaving the back 4 exposed when he plays Torreira and Ceballos.

    Wait… Torreira and Ceballos can make a better pairing IMO.

  • It looks like there was something extra sweet in your coffee this morning, with such fine sign off sentence at 13.43. Not so sure about the gravatar..

  • 17ht, the dead guy found in Elneny’s was (likely) a burglar who was electrocuted on the “job”. It’s also reported it is a house he was renovating to give to a Charity. Nice guy; worthy avatar too, while it lasted. 😄

    Admir, with Guendouzi already in talks for a bump in his £40k a week package, the club and manager must think he is going to be a real star; somehow, I feel so too.

    Yeah, jk. That pair will make a very fluid midfield though I doubt they will protect the back four much. But then, who knows how they will be deployed? Besides, Torreira won’t be available at the start of the season, so we can discount him, for now.

  • There is no doubt in my mind that Guendouzi knows a terrible secret about Emery and the Spaniard knows it (and how to keep the young Frenchman from speaking out)! 😀

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