Arsenal: Why a solid defence could see the return of silverware at Arsenal
Under George Graham Arsenal defensively were solid as a rock. With Seaman, Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn holding the fort, the Gunners could see out most games and the chant of 'One-nil to the Arsenal' became a terrace favourite.
Then Arsene Wenger took over and turned the Gunners into one of the most attacking teams ever to grace the English game. If the opposition scored one, the likes of Anelka, Henry, Bergkamp or Wiltord had the skills to go up the pitch and score two.
Unfortunately, in recent seasons, Arsenal's defence has been the butt of a number of jokes. In Almunia in goals they had a keeper who could pull off a world class save one minute and then let one trickle through his legs the next. The same could be said for Fabianski, or Flappy Handski as he was affectionately known.
Wenger's signings did little to help. Mikael Silvestre was way past his best when he arrived, Senderos never looked comfortable at the Emirates, Squillaci made Emile Heskey look like Messi and even Emmanuel Eboue never even knew what he was going to do when he crossed the white line.
But, whisper it very quietly, that could now be all in the past. Arsenal have made an unbeaten start to the 2012/13 campaign and Arsenal's defence has remained lock tight. Fantasy managers have been wary of picking Arsenal defenders over the past few seasons, but this year they are must-haves as they are the only Premier League team yet to concede a goal.
The last time they managed such a feat was in March 2011 when they beat Wolves 2-0, Stoke 1-0 and drew with Sunderland 0-0, all at home. But this current run is much more impressive. They were disappointed with the opening day draw against Sunderland, but leaving the Britannia without conceding is a decent result and, although Liverpool's striking problems have been well-publicised, to stop them from scoring at Anfield - especially after they held the champions seven days previously - is a heck of an achievement.
Everyone knows that you don't lose games if you don't concede goals and no-one knows that better than Wenger's new assistant Steve Bould. He was part of the famous Arsenal defence of the 90s and it looks as though he has had some serious training sessions with Vermaelen and co. Now the Belgium defender has been one of Wenger's best signings of recent years. He is quick, has great positional awareness and is a leader of men. But even he must have learned vital information from Bould.
One man who certainly has is the German international Per Mertesacker. He has looked like a different player this season. Last year when he joined he looked slow, hesitant and sluggish. So far he has looked sharp, decisive and locked in. Carl Jenkinson was another player who looked out of his depth last season, but he has stepped in for Bacary Sagna and looked much more confident going up and down the flank.
Finally, Arsenal look organised at the back and teams are going to have to be really smart in order to break them down. With the experience of Sagna and Koscielny, who has emerged as a real fans' favourite in recent months, still to come back, Arsenal are going back to their defensive roots.
On Saturday they host Southampton and the Saints will fancy their chances having scored twice against both Manchester City and Manchester United. But Arsenal are gunning to make it four consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time since February 2009. On that occasion Arsenal held firm against West Ham, Spurs, Sunderland and Fulham, but the Gunners were unable to score in any of those games.
Offensively Arsenal have a few concerns. Although Podolski and Cazorla opened their accounts against Liverpool, Olivier Giroud has yet to show the Arsenal fans what the big deal is. But let's not be too hard on him just yet. It took Thierry Henry a while to adapt to the Premier League and look at what he achieved at the club.
Arsenal may not be lighting up the Premier League with their usual flair and attacking football just yet but the confidence that having a rock tight defence will bring should allow them to push on, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to concede anywhere near as many as last year. Remember at this stage 12 months ago, Arsenal had already shipped 10.
The Gunners are already better off than they were last season and will be a much tougher beast to break down this year. You never know, despite all the doom and gloom regarding the departures of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will have the last laugh by ending their trophy drought this season.
Calling all Arsenal fans: How impressed have you been with Arsenal defensively this season? How much credit do you give to Steve Bould? Are you going into this weekend's game confident that you are not going to concede? Can Arsenal end their trophy drought? Is Bould the natural successor to Wenger when he eventually leaves? Will Wenger win a trophy again before he retires? Whatever your views we'd love to hear from you.
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