Tag Archives: stephan lichtsteiner

FIVE candidates to replace Hector Bellerin

There has not yet been official news out over the state of Hector Bellerin’s injury. Post match, Unai Emery described it as “not positive on first impression”.

From my years of watching football, it is safe to say that the Spanish right back will be out for the season.

It was one of those injuries where no one is near him, it was innocuous. The referee stopped play straight away and it was clear it was something serious. Whether is is an ACL injury or some other injury that we will now all pretend to be experts in, he will be out for some time. He might not return the same player.

With 10 days to go in the transfer window, Emery and the management  team have a decision to be made.

Do they attempt to bring someone in, or do they replace from within?

FIVE

The experienced right back was bought in to cover Hector Bellerin in case he got injured and has already started 13 games this season. It looks like father time has caught up on the serial winner.

He has been fairly average when playing. Some would be a lot harsher than that – although his worst performances have come when playing out of position in the centre of defence.

I doubt he will be with us next season, however he might find himself with a role to play this.

Will be the choice if we go for experience.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Against West Ham, Maitland-Niles was at right wing back ahead of Lichtsteiner. Although he was substituted on the half hour for Bellerin.

Whilst the utility man might see his future as a winger, and some fans see him as a central midfielder, it is at full back where he has started the vast majority of his games for Arsenal.

Of his 23 starts for Arsenal i neither the Premier League or Europa League, 19 have come at full back (14 at left back). His future at the club could well be as a full back.

Last season he was picked ahead of both Saed Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal at left back, such was his good form.

He has been out of form this season, but that is a lot to do with a lack of consistency in playing position.

Maitland-Niles certainly has the physical attributes to play at full back, he has pace and power and the engine to get up and down. He would also provide us the attacking outlet that the side relies on – our full backs are our width.

Defensive naivety is the concern.

He can switch off, or jog back when caught up the field. Although this is not unusual for a young full back.

Given the opportunity to play consistently at right back, his defensive instincts will naturally improve. He will also have Sokratis inside him and  – if we stick to the mdifield 3 who started against Chelsea – Lucas Torreira ahead.

If Maitland-Niles gets the chance, and proves himself to be adequate cover for Bellerin, it would mean we would not need to go out into the market in the summer to buy cover for Bellerin. The Englishman could step up as his long term understudy.

Carl Jenkinson

One of the criticisms of Maitland-Niles is “he is not a right back”. This line of thinking would lead some to support Carl Jenkinson starting.

It is incredible to think that Jenkinson turns 27 in February. He is certainly living the dream. But is living the dream enough?

He is certainly not a bad player – and it is easy to forget that he spent a year and a half at West Ham playing consistently at right back.

A bit like Maitland-Niles, if he gets a chance and takes it, the club may well decide that he is an adequate mid-term back up for Bellerin.

Personally I think he has had his chance, and it is time for someone else to get one.

If we are going to “give someone a chance” I would rather it be the younger man in Maitland-Niles.

Shkodran Mustafi

If I say we had a World Cup winning right back in our squad, you would probably ask “who?”. that man is German international Shkodran Mustafi.

Back in 2014, he was selected to start at right back in Germany’s round of 16 match against Algeria. It was only an injury that stopped him seeing out the tournament as Germany’s first choice full back.

Mustafi could do a job at right back, like he has done numerous times throughout his career. He would provide decent defensive cover, over and above anyone else on this list. However he will not provide any attacking threat.

At Arsenal, it is the full backs that give us the width. With no recognised wingers, playing Mustafi at right back would give us little to no threat on the right hand side.

Sign Someone

The last candidate is a new signing.

Whether it be a loan signing or a permanent signing, we would have 10 days to go out into the transfer market and secure someone.

The problem is who would we secure?

Someone on loan would likely not be playing at the club they are at. If they are not playing at AC Milan, Roma or whoever, would they then be a better option than Maitland-Niles? And would a top club in Europe, chasing a Champions League place, really want to loan out their second choice right back?

The alternative option is signing someone on a permanent deal, but who?

Do we go for someone who could be long term understudy for Bellerin? And if so how much should we invest in them – Aaron Wan-Bissaka would be north of £20m. Or do we go big. Go for someone better than Bellerin who will actually be his long term replacement. But is spending £35m+ on a right back sensible when we have so many other positions to upgrade on.

Keenos

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How have Arsenal’s new boys settled in?

With us in the middle of the most boring time in football – a pointless international break filled with glorified friendlies, it is perhaps a chance to reflect on the start of the season, and see how the new boys have bedded in.

Bernd Leno

To many peoples frustration, Petr Cech start began the season as first choice keeper.

Unai Emery’s philosophy is that new players have to force their way in, to prove that they are better than the incumbent first team players. This led to Cech starting the season as number 1.

Leno’s opening came when Cech limped off injured against Watford in the league. Prior to that he had only played in the Europa League and League Cup – where he conceded goals but did not have much to do.

Against Watford he looked a little shaky, coming off the bench. However he made some smart stops and distribution was excellent.

Fulham was a vastly improved performance, with some sharp saves. He could have done little with their goal.

It will take a while for him to get used to the physical side of the Premier League – with the bumping and barging at corners. His shot stopping and distribution are certainly up to standard.

With Cech set to miss the next 3 or 4 games, Leno will have plenty of time to establish himself as first choice.

Stephan Lichtsteiner

The experienced Swiss right back has not had much of a chance this season.

Beyond a substitute appearance at left back versus Manchester City, his 3 starts have been limited to the Europa League and League Cup.

His influence on the pitch may well be happening at the training ground, however.

Lichtsteiner has bought some leadership to the playing squad, and you have to feel that he has bought his winners mentality to the training ground.

We have also seen improvements in Hector Bellerin as the season has gone on. The presence of Lichtsteiner must surely be helping to push the Spaniards performances to the next level.

It would not overly surprise me if Lichtsteiner’s one-year deal was extended by a further 12 months.

Sokratis

Greek centre back Sokratis (I can not be bothered to Google his surname) has split opinion.

Some have labelled him clumsy, slow and uncultured, whilst others have praised him for being aggressive, and focusing on defending and clearing the ball.

I fall into the later camp.

We focus too much on ball playing centre backs. “Rolls Royce defenders” like Rio Ferdinand. Players like the now retired Englishman who looked classy but could also defend are few and fair between.

Sokratis is a defender. He defends. That is what he is paid for.

What he creates is a rock at the back that others can play around. A reliable defender that will let Arsenal go out and get a ball playing partner, knowing they have a solid option next to him.

He is more Vidic than Ferdinand, and is exactly what Arsenal have needed for a decade.

Lucas Torreira

Uruguayan central midfielder Lucas Torreira has been a revolution since he broke into the team. He is exactly the player we have been missing for some years.

Like Sokratis, he understands his role within a balanced XI. He is there to defend, to shield the back 4, to provide them cover. His influence on the entire team is obvious to all.

Torreira not only defends, however. He can also play. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, he has given the side another passing option alongside Xhaka.

The sign of a top player is they make those around them look better, Torreira has done this with Xhaka. It is a partnership that we can look forward to developing as the years role on.

It is incredible to think that Torreira is just 22-years old. He will deveop into one of the best central midfields in the world.

Whilst Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool went big on Fred, Jorginho, Fabinho and Kieta, Arsenal secured Torreira for just £22m – we clearly got the best player.

Onwards and upwards for the lad!

Mattéo Guendouzi

The greatest compliment you can give Matteo Guendouzi is that people are now wondering why we did not cash in on Aaron Ramsey in the summer.

Football is easy in hindsight, and no one could have guessed when we signed the 19-year old Sideshow Bob impersonator from the French Division 2 for just £7million that he would be pushing senior team mates down the pecking order.

The fear for the club over the summer with Ramsey is that we only had 2 senior midfielders – Xhaka and Elneny. Torreira was a new signing and Guendouzi was coming in to be on the fringes of the first team squad. He was pencilled in for the Europa League and League Cup.

Due to players returning from the World Cup, Guendouzi got some game time. And he has proved the old age correct. If you are good enough, you are old enough.

People already actually forget that he is just 19. He is younger than Mason Mount, who was called up for the England squad after some impressive displays in the Championship.

He has not been perfect this season. He is a little bit slow on the ball when passing, and doesn’t easily make space for himself to receive the ball off the defenders. But he is 19-years old, and will improve.

Guendouzi has moved ahead of Elneny in the pecking order and is first choice back up for Xhaka and Torreira. His performances are going to save Arsenal a lot of money when it comes to Ramsey leaving.

The Frenchman will have a bad patch. All young players do. But with the squad depth around him, Emery will be able to take him out when he is performing poorly.

This lad has a bright future.


In summary, the first full transfer window for Sven Mislintat has been a success. He has added some experienced leaders to the squad, and signed some very talented young players.

He seems to have bought pro-active planning to Arsenal’s transfers for the first time in years.

Keenos

Arsenal sign proper defender

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.

Keenos