From Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams to Kolu Toure, Sol Campbell and William Gallas, Arsenal have never had the shortage of quality defenders in their team. When Arsenal went an entire season unbeaten in 2003-04, the Gunners’ strike force was hailed as one of the best in Europe. With the team scoring 73 goals, Arsenal finished the season with an impressive goal differential of 47, 10 better than Chelsea’s. Arsenal’s success, however, was not just beacause of their prolific goal-scoring but also because of the quality of their defense. The quartet of Lauren, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole, with a prolific Jens Lehmann keeping the goa,l conceded only 26 goals in the Gunners’ title-winning campaign.
Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, the Arsenal defense leaked 49 goals (at an average of 1.29 goals per game), the most among the top 4 teams in the league. It was only because of the goal-scoring form of Robin van Persie that Arsenal managed to finish 3rd in the League Table. Although no new defenders were signed, apart Nacho Monreal, who joined the team only at the end of the Winter Transfer Window, the Arsenal defense has so conceded only 37 goals in 37 games this season (an average of only one goal per game), the second best defensive record in the league, behind last year’s winners Manchester City. This along with 71 goals scored in the season already gives Arsenal the third best record in the league, in terms of goal differential, behind Manchester United and Chelsea. The team will have a chance to better that record this Sunday when Arsenal face-off against Newcastle United and finish above Chelsea.
With an in-depth Statistical analysis, let us find out who has been the best defender for Arsenal this season.
The following table will show the defensive record of Arsenal’s defenders.
Per Mertasacker, with 33 appearances has made more appearances for Arsenal than any other defender this season, followed by Thomas Vermaelen (29) and Kieran Gibbs(26). Quite significant, since he was considered a 3rd choice central defender ever since he arrived at the club.
Mertesacker has also made the most number of clearances (160), followed by Thomas Vermaelen (130) and Laurent Koscielny (118). Apart from this, he has also made decent number of tackles, 68% of which were successful. Kieran Gibbs is the most successful in this regard with 72 tackles and an impressive 72% success, closely followed by long-serving Full-Back Bacary Sagna with 53 tackles (43 of which were successful). Another interesting Statistic is that Per Mertesacker is the only regular* Arsenal defender who has not made an error that has led to a shot. Surprising but it shows just how much he has improved, compared to last season. Based only on Statistics, one may infer that Per Mertesacker has been Arsenal’s best Central Defender this season, something which will very much be true even if we compare the performances. He has been consistent at the back and formed a formidable partnership with Laurent Koscielny at the centre of Arsenal’s defense, thus keeping the captain of the team on the bench.
* Ignasi Miquel’s contribution is not considered in the comparison as he has played for only 3 minutes.
Although not considered an essential attribute for defenders, let us now try to compare the creativity and goal scoring of Arsenal’s defenders this season.
I may appear to have a slight bias towards the Big Friendly Giant but I have the stats to support my inference that Per Mertesacker has been Arsenal’s best defender this season.As can be seen from the above table, Arsenal’s defenders have contributed 5 goals and 5 assists thus far, with one game left to be played on Sunday. Per Mertesacker, who has made a habbit of scoring against traditional rivals Tottenham Hotspurs, leads the goal scoring chart with 3 goals and Kieran Gibbs with 3 Assists leads in terms of Assists provided. Interestingly, Mertesacker has scored more goals than Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta (excluding penalties). In terms of crossing accuracy, Nacho Monreal marginally leads Kieran Gibbs who has however made 10 more appearances.
At the end of last season, Arséne’s decision to sign Per Mertasacker was widely criticized by the Media and Arsenal faithfuls. It was believed that the big German just did not have it in him to have a positive impact in English football. Choosing not to react to the criticism, Per let his defending do the talking and has become Arsenal’s best defender. At least that is what the statistics suggest. After struggling a bit in his early days at Arsenal, he has adapted well to the fast-paced and physical nature of English football and more or less cemented his place as a Central Defender in Arsenal line-up.
Lovingly called the Big F*****g German by the fans, Mertesacker has won over the club faithfuls by the virtue of his consistent performance, hard-work, eagerness to get better and more importantly by giving his 100% every time he has worn the Arsenal colours. If he continues to perform like he has been in this season, it should not surprise anyone if the German is considered amongst the top 10 defenders to have played for Arsenal. Until next week, this is me signing off hoping to see another consistent performance by the BIG F*****G GERMAN.
[box_light]All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]