After the free transfer of Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus, and German keeper Bern Leno, Arsenal have finally completed the deal taking Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund to North London.
The Greek international centre back becomes the 3rd ex-Dortmund player to join the club since the appoint of Sven Mislintat – joining January signings Henrikh Mkhitaryan & Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The 30 year old defender brings with him a wealth of experience.
Having started his career in Greece, he became AEK’s youngest-ever captain, at age 19. A move to Genoa in Italy followed, before he joined AC Milan at 21 for €14 million.
A year later, due to the complexity of deals in Italy, Sokratis returned to Genoa as part of a 8 man deal to solve player ownership issues between the two clubs.
Genoa immediately sold him to Werder Bremen, before Mislintat recruitment him to Dortmund.
After 7 years playing first team football in the Bundesliga, and 79 international caps for Greece, Arsenal are signing the experienced leader at the back we have lacked in recent years.
Raphael Honigstein, a self titled ‘German football expert’ explained recently what Arsenal are going to get:
“They liked his attitude, he’s a fighter, he’s a warrior but not too great on the ball. By and large, not the kind of player that gets you excited. Very tidy, very energetic, tough in a tackle, but I’m not sure he’s necessarily going to take the Arsenal defence to the next level.”
Reading it through, the first half gets you excited. We have lacked a fighter, a warrior at the back. Someone who is tidy and energetic, tough in the tackle. Someone who sees defending as the most important job for a centre back. Not trying to bring the ball out.
In the current era of football, we all seem obsessed about ball playing centre backs. The likes of John Stones. And sides seem too willing to ignore the dirty side of the game, the actual defending.
What is odd is Honigstein then says he is not “going to take the Arsenal defence to the next level.”
This is where Honigstein shows he is perhaps shows that whilst he might be an expert on German football, he is perhaps not an expert on what Arsenal. He has inadvertently described exactly what the Gunners have desperately needed for a few years.
When was the last time we had a tough tackling centre back? A fighter? A warrior at the back? Someone happy sticking the ball into row Z rather then trying to bring it down and play?
Look back at the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid. Would Antoine Greizmann have scored the equaliser in Islington if we had Sokratis at the back rather than Laurent Koscielny?
The Arsenal captain tried to bring the ball down and turn Griezmann in one move. He could have easily passed it back to David Ospina, or hoofed the ball out of play for a throw in or corner. Koscielny wanted to do the sexy stuff, not the dirty stuff. Sokratis would have cleared that ball.
Sokratis former manager at Dortmund, and Unai emery’s replacement at PSG Thomas Tuchel said “He’s a little obsessed with defending. He wants to protect the goal-line no matter what and he’s hungry to face duels,”
“The defensive work that Sokratis puts in is just unbelievable,” added former team mate Mats Hummels.
A warrior, a fighter, tough in the tackle, obsessed with defending, keeping that clean sheet. Unbelievable defensive work. Honigstein might not get too excited about this sort of work, but just typing it out is making me wet.
Arsenal are signing a proper defender; not a footballer who can defend, not a ball-playing centre-half, not a converted midfielder, but an actual defender who loves to defend.
It should be exactly the kind of signing that gets Arsenal fans excited.
Since the turn of the year, only Manchester City have scored more Premier League goals than an Arsenal side significantly strengthened by the signings of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, and the return from injury to Alexandre Lacazette.
Previously I mentioned on Twitter how excited we would be if Aubameyang was the first signing of the Emery era. Now he is sexy, someone to get excited about. But he joined in January and the 6 months of Premier League football coupled with no world cup will result in him being ready to go in August.
Whilst the likes of the Lichtsteiner and Sokratis might feel a little underwhelming in contrast, you have to look at the bigger picture.
Are Arsenal stronger than they were when the transfer window closed in August 2017?
It is clear that head of recruitment Mislintat has a picture in his head of what he is doing at Arsenal, and improving the defence is clearly a priority.
Honigstein went on to say that it was “a little bit underwhelming” that Mislintat has signed a series of players from Dortmund, but this is like when people criticised Arsene Wenger for “only buying French” when he first joined. And Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Remi Garde, Gilles Grimandi and Nicolas Anelka turned out all right.
Should Mislintat have pursued players other than Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Sokratis, just to prove that he has a wider knowledge of world football? Should Arsenal not be targeting former Dortmund player Osumane Dembele?
These are players fans of the club have called to sign for years.
We were all disappointed when Mkhitaryan joined Manchester United over Arsenal a few years back, and Aubameyang has been at the top of many fans wish list for a few years. Dembele is another fans called for the club to sign before he joined Barcelona for silly money last summer.
Arsenal are desperate for leadership, physicality and defenders that can defend. In Lichtsteiner and Sokratis, we have secured that.
Now we just need to sort out what sits in front of them and what sits behind.