We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far.
In the first of three articles, we’ll be looking into (theoretically) the bedrock of the team – the goalkeepers and defenders.
Petr Cech – 6.5/10
The veteran goalkeeper was the surprise first choice shot stopper for the Gunners at the start of the season considering the big money acquisition of Bernd Leno, a “modern goalkeeper” who was adept with his feet. This is an important trait in Emery’s plans to play out of the back and there were worries that Cech, an ageing ‘keeper whose strengths don’t include these traits would struggle.
And struggle he did. Cech lacked the composure with the ball at his feet and was almost culpable for a few major blunders. That was in stark contrast to his shot stopping and command of the box as he often bailed the defence out on many occasions as they struggled for cohesion in front of him.
His performances did improve with each game, averaging 4 shots saved per game (1.9 saves in the penalty box alone) but succumbed to injury and has lost his spot to Leno. Something tells me he won’t be first choice any longer.
Bernd Leno – 7/10
The German international never looked back after displacing Cech after the latter’s injury. Leno hasn’t been spectacular but has had pretty steady performances.
He definitely looks more comfortable on the ball. Despite the myth that all ball playing goalkeepers are adept at a dribbling past pressing forwards (blame them on those Neuer Youtube highlights), he’s not afraid to boot the ball long if the situation calls for it.
Leno still looks like he is acclimatizing to the robust English game. He’s had some shaky moments, the Southampton game comes to mind, but he’ll be a reliable performer if he continues to improve as the season goes on.
Hector Bellerin – 7.5/10
Bellerin’s performances, like many Arsenal youth products, hit a glass ceiling towards the end of Wenger’s regime. He was extremely enthusiastic about learning from the new management team during pre-season and has flourished under the tutelage of Emery and his team.
Tactically more astute with his positioning, Bellerin also has gotten 4 assists to his name this season. His role in the team is crucial due to the lack of wide players in midfield and it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s results have tailed off since his injury in the game against Southampton.
Could move up a gear if he just has a settled partner ahead of him on the right side of midfield.
Stephan Lichtsteiner – 4/10
I was unsure if Lichtsteiner was a good acquisition from Juventus. Massively experienced and a master of the dark arts, he looked a good fit as a back up to Bellerin and could also play a big part in the locker room.
While we aren’t privy to his impact in the locker room, Lichtsteiner has been below par on the pitch and occasionally, a liability (as seen in the build up to the goal conceded to Brighton). I do have sympathy for him as he’s got the unenviable position of having to adjust to a new, faster paced league at the age of 34 in a physically demanding position. On top of that, the collective defensive issues and the constant rotation due to the growing injury list makes it doubly hard for Lichtsteiner.
At this rate, I’d even take Jenkinson over him to play right back. A longer term replacement for Lichtsteiner will be on the agenda this summer.
Sead Kolasinac – 6/10
One of many polarising players in the team. Kolasinac’s got the physique of a burly centre back with the balance and agility of a twinkle toed winger. He is a player who needs a run of games to get into his best form. Kolasinac struggled earlier in the season, especially with the defensive side of the game.
However, his ability to provide width and deliver the final ball means he’s considered one of the most important players in attack for Emery – he registers an average of 1.8 key passes per game.
Emery needs to find a way for the team to cover for Kolasinac’s defensive gaps and allow him to channel his inner Marcelo as Arsenal’s creator from the left.
Nacho Monreal – 6/10
I’ve got a soft spot for Nacho. He’s been a reliable and underrated player for Arsenal but this looks like a season too far for him as a regular starter. He’s struggled with injuries but he’s still scored a goal and notched 3 assists in 14 games across all competitions.
Nacho could still do a decent as back up to Kolasinac and needs to have his minutes managed as he approaches 33 years of age in 2019. A left back should be on the list for the likes of Sven and Raul.
Shkodran Mustafi – 4/10
Mustafi has been a calamity. He makes rash tackles, switches off at important moments and often dangles his leg out to “tackle”. These are Sunday League-level errors that has no place in this team. His defending in the second goal scored by Liverpool at Anfield says it all.
You see the talent in him when he nicks the ball off opponents and plays calmly out from the back. On paper, he’s a World Cup winner, a player in his prime years and has had two and a half seasons with the team. Mustafi should be an undisputed player at the back but he’s been a massive failure.
Arsenal will not be able to push for a top 4 position with Mustafi as the first-choice centre back. They need a January signing to relegate Mustafi to the bench for the second half of the season before selling him in the summer.
Rob Holding – 7/10
Probably due to inexperience, Holding had to sit out the first few games of the season as Emery went with the more experienced duo of Sokratis and Mustafi.
Holding made his first competitive appearance against Vorskla at the end of September and was a regular fixture since. Predominantly a left sided centre back, he caught the eye with steady performances at the back and assured technique when passing and dribbling out from defence.
Holding’s season was curtailed prematurely with an ACL injury and is a big loss for the team lacking in defensive numbers.
Sokratis – 6.5/10
Sokratis has the makings of a cult hero at Arsenal. Deceptively quick, strong in the tackle and a student of the dark arts, he has had good performances in the Arsenal shirt. However, his game is also marred with the occasional needless tackles that put the team under pressure. The kick on Salah’s calves at Anfield displayed the need for better discipline as he gave away a silly penalty to seal the game for Liverpool.
I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt as he’s still new to the team and has been thrusted into a dysfunctional backline but Sokratis has room for improvement in the second half of the season.
Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.