looking at going into the 2013-14 season with three center-backs: Kosciely, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen. On one hand, this was enough to largely see us through without much trouble; on the other, it leaves us one injury away from having only two players available. In addition to the insurance a fourth center back might bring us, it would help to add a bit more competition for the starting roles to keep everyone on their toes. Whether this means Arsenal should sign another center-back, such as Swansea’s Ashley Williams, is a question to keep in mind.
Using whoscored.com‘s stats, then, let’s look back at how those three center backs performed. We’re again using American high school letter-grades, which might bear a quick summary:
- A= superb. Exceeds expectations and rarely if ever falters. Consistent excellence.
- B= very good. Meets or exceeds expectations with occasional but moderate mistakes.
- C= average/tolerable. Meets most expectations, falls short of a few, and commits mistakes of varying degrees of severity but rarely serious.
- D= poor. Struggles to meet many expectations and falls short of most of them. Mistakes tend to outnumber successes and are often serious. Occasional patches of quality.
- F= Fails to perform to any acceptable level. Frequent and serious mistakes. Moments or short stretches of decent performance are not enough to dispel serious doubts about the player’s abilities.
Thomas Vermaelen: D+
- whoscored rating: 6.84
- Appearances: 25 (4)
- Tackles per game: 1.5
- Interceptions per game: 2.1
- Clearances per game: 4.9
- Clean sheets: 7
- 15W, 3D, 11L
It’s telling that the first image that comes to mind for many Arsenal fans have when they think back over Vermaelen’s season is the flubbed clearance that allowed van Persie to score. Whether this is fair or not is a separate debate for the ethicists. The symbolism is indelible, and it does seem to represent his season on the whole. More damning to him, perhaps, is how well the defense played over the last ten or eleven games without him. Of course, much has been made of the Kos-Per partnership, but the improved defensive effort is just as attributable to the emergence of Ramsey and his partnership with Arteta, and an improved teamwide effort overall. It’s possible that a strong partnership between Vermaelen and Mertesacker could have emerged in these circumstances. Withott slighting Koscielny, he flourished both through his own efforts as well as those of the team as a whole, so it’s only fair to suggest that Vermaelen might have done the same.
Back to Vermaelen, then, let’s dismiss the apparent Effect of the Armband. He co-captains the Belgian team quite well enough that the pressure of captaining Arsenal should not be too much to bear. It was a factor to some degree, but it alone is not enough to explain his drop in form. Instead, what we seem to have witnessed is a confluence of factors that, under the microscope of the captaincy and a slow start to the season, grew larger than they might have otherwise. Namely, some of his long-held flaws were more noticeable–concentration, discipline, positioning, etc.–that might have been tolerable under a non-captain but are much less-so for the captain himself. More grievous (to me) than the flub against Man U was poor communication, such as that between him and Monreal against Spurs at White Hart Lane in March: it’s one thing to try but fail (as Vermaelen did against Man U); it’s quite another to be so unaware of a teammate (especially one new to the team and struggling to learn the language) or an opponent’s whereabouts.
Having said all of this, I still firmly believe that he will come back next year stronger and more-focused, ready to challenge for a starting role, even if the captain’s armband goes to someone else along the way.
Per Mertesacker: C+
- whoscored rating: 6.92
- Appearances: 33 (1)
- Tackles per game: 1
- Interceptions per game: 1.5
- Clearances per game: 5.1
- Clean sheets: 16
- 22W, 9D, 9L
- whoscored rating: 6.99
- Appearances: 25 (5)
- Tackles per game: 1.6
- Interceptions per game: 1.8
- Clearances per game: 5.6
- Clean sheets: 11
- 19W, 5D, 4L
Whom should Arsenal try to sign?
As it stands, Arsenal go into 2013-14 with an enviable set of center-backs that did, after all, lead a defense that only conceded 37 league goals, second-best in the Prem. A shrewd addition to that group would bode well for the upcoming season: competition to keep all-involved on their toes, leading to the best pairings available. Most of the headlines have focused on more-forward thinking options such as Higuain, Jovetic, or Fellaini, but adding one more center-back might be just as crucial to Arsenal’s aspirations in the upcoming year.
What do you think? Whom should Arsenal consider signing this summer to burnish the defense?