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Why Arsene Wenger prefers Phil Jagielka to Cahill and Samba

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“If Arsenal bought Chris Samba/Gary Cahill they would win the league”

This is a belief that has resonated through football blogs, TV studios, podcasts, and just about everywhere else over the last 6 months or so. The push from fans (both with an Arsenal affinity and frustrated neutrals) for Arsene Wenger to buy a huge, powerful stopper has become so much of a movement that #ArsenalshouldbuyGaryCahill could probably trend on Twitter, maybe it even has.

So, rather than dive in and sign one of these two brutes, why has Arsene Wenger decided to bid for six-foot-nothing Phil Jagielka? Is Wenger set on doing exactly the opposite to what the majority of Arsenal fans want just to spite them? Does he hold some secret vendetta against any defender taller than himself?  The answer, as usual, lies in his policy around the way his side plays *pauses for groans*, and in that respect, neither Cahill nor Samba would fit in as well as Jagielka.

There is no doubt Arsenal could do with a more aerially dominant defence – it almost goes without saying when you consider Arsenal conceded more than half their league goals last season from set-pieces – however, bringing in a lummox such as Samba or Cahill would weaken Arsenal’s play from the back,  both play for sides who play a more direct style. Arsenal’s game also involves a lot of pressing, and subsequently a high defensive line, so the entire back four would need to be quick and intelligent. Bringing in Cahill or Samba would certainly plug the set-pieces hole in Arsenal’s ship, but it would open a range of others, which may be more difficult to deal with.

Another question to be raised about both Samba and Cahill (the latter in particular) is, are they actually good enough defenders for Arsenal? Neither Blackburn, nor Bolton had particularly impressive defensive records last season, with Bolton in particular only keeping 5 clean sheets, the second lowest in the division. While these defensive records can’t be completely laid at the doors of either player, it does make you think twice. To extend the clean sheet stat-attack, Gary Cahill has averaged just 3 clean sheets a season over the last two years.

Some history: Arsenal’s “Invincibles” side of 2003/04 comprised of a back four of whom all started their careers in more forward positions. Both Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole were forwards at youth level, before breaking through as defenders, while Lauren and Kolo Toure were box-to-box midfielders before Wenger signed them and moved them back into defence.  Even in the current defence, Laurent Koscielny and Keiran Gibbs have had spells in midfield in the past. Looking at it this way, Phil Jagielka seems right up Wenger’s street, as a player who spent a large part of his career as a midfielder for Sheffield United.   This all fits in with Wenger’s mantra. Jagielka is used to playing in a position where he would have as much, if not more, constructive ball-playing duties as destructive ones.  While Cahill or Samba would have to learn to curb their instincts to hoof the ball forward in search of a target man, Jagielka would be more comfortable looking to give the ball off to Wilshere or Fabregas (if he is still at the club).

Wenger bid for Jagielka last summer, and again this, so he is clearly aware his side could use another defender.  In Phil Jagielka, Wenger sees a compromise; a sturdy dependable centre back with strength, and good aerial ability, yet more guile and intelligence than the more extreme suggestions thrown around the blogosphere.

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24 comments
  • king gooner says:

    however a good footballer “jags”might be ,our prob,as everyone is aware of & the stats back it up is set pieces.this is where we dropped points to various route one sides aka stoke,brum,rovers etc-fix that prob & not only will you play IMPROVE but we have also the added threat(plan b)that we never had previously-so”jags”no thanks!get in big chris AND cahill fast!

  • shant says:

    this is one of the best analytical pieces i have read in a long time, and the sort of thing i would quite happily read 24/7 … well done mate, nice angle …

  • Jack says:

    Everton’s defensive record last year was far more to do with Baines and Distin than Jagielka. The media let him get away with errors without being overtly critical because he’s English. Having the combative, 6’4″ Distin as a partner meant the pressure of defending aerial danger was taken off him – a luxury that will not be afforded to him at Arsenal. I think Wenger has misplaced his ability to recognise team balance. click my name.

    • Lee says:

      You’re way off Jack, whilst Distin has power and strength, he made many more an error than Jags, and wasn’t notably more effective in the air, and thats not to say Distin doesn’t dominate in that area, more to say Jagielka is much more effective than his height suggests.

      Also our defensive record has very little to do with Baines, as an attacking outlet he was outstanding, however this did leave a vulnerability to counter attack on our left side and was used by many a opposing manager last season. Meaning the pace of Distin and Jagielka became essential.

      However if Wenger wants a centre half, we always have Joseph Yobo available

  • Mark says:

    With all due respect Jack your mah has more balance. Wenger (proven premier league manager) recognises Jagielka as a solid, dependable premier league and England International player. Also, Wenger has delivered(albeit not for a while) trophies to the Arse. Fans are great for banter but you really dont understand football if you believe the fans know more than the manager. As a blue, I know for a FACT that Distin had more individual & costly errors than any other everton player last season. Do u remember when Torres was on top of his game and Jags had him in his back pocket? No? Wenger does.

    • Jude says:

      He was also the same solid premier league manager that allowed the team to play so terribly while defending set pieces; not for a month or half a season, but for a couple of seasons. If thing do not change, we will have the same problem this coming season. We have the right to question his judgement in this area.

  • Adamski says:

    Good article Caolan, I think there are a lot of valid points brought up in this article that a lot of fans are oblivious to when it comes to the selection process of a transfer. Many fans are spurting the same repetitive comments, half of which are just saying it because they’ve heard everyone else and the media banging on about it. If Wenger bought Samba (who I do like as a player) and he was clearing the ball away a lot of the time, it may not be obvious to the untrained eye but that is gifting the opposition possession which can lead to more pressure on the team to defend, which then leads to more mistakes and more leaked goals. Why work so long & hard creating a team to play a certain way if you arent then going to just make the MINOR adjustments required by getting better players in to play those positions. Set pieces are still a worry but from the other half of goals we conceded last season would have been due to individual errors, which I doubt Jag would contribute a lot to.

  • Alex says:

    I disagree about Cahill. Samba might be an old facion brute defenter. He’ll head and tackle anything, both in defence, and in the last minutes of the games when Rovers need a goal, in attack. But he struggles positionally, and he can’t pass the ball to save his life.

    Cahill, on the other hand, is very calm and composed on the ball. He doesn’t just kick it away, he actually looks for a pass. And even if he does hoof it to safety, is that so bad? Remember when Ramsey, Fabregas, Denilson, Song, Clichy and others thy to pass and play their way out, only resulting in a bad pass or a bad first touch, that resultet in conceding a goal. Koscielny was also guilty of giving the ball away trying to pass to on of the midfielders. So having a defender that kicks iy far away when there is no way of playing out, would be a breath of fresh air. Also keep in mind, that Cahill made several over the top passes inbehind the defence that resultet in goals or at least dangerous moments. So he has a good passing foot for a defender. I see Cahill as a perfect partner for Vermaelen. Besides, he already said he wanted to join Arsenal if the opportunity is there. And Jags said no to Wenger.

  • Mark says:

    I’m an Everton fan so am a little biased I admit but I do feel Jags is the better of the three players. Despite not being as big as the other two he is excellent in the air. I remember a game against the Arse at Goodison about three years ago and he didn’t lose a header against Adebayour all night. Similarly as someone has already mentioned he had Torres in his back pocket a couple of times when he was on fire before he’d lost his mojo. The only thing I’d disagree with about the article is his superior distribution. This is actually his main weakness. I am largely talking about long range distribution which he would not be likely to do at Arsenal but Heitinga for us has far better feet than Jags. That said Jags is the best CB at Everton, he has pace, excellent positional sense and a great attitude. The only problem you have is that he seems to be happy at Everton and has been earmarked as the next captain once Phil moves on.

  • okwu sunday says:

    if he is good get him fast,we cant wait for him before the leaque start.

  • Edu says:

    I tink dat cahil wil b a good inclusion and good partner for our crazy vermalen.i tink he is quite composed and tactful in defence.

  • triple000zero says:

    When is AW going to buy Sylvain Distin to be honest he is tall and more of a typical AW signing

  • Jon says:

    Cahill can not bench kos. Not this season, maybe last season. Kos is is our best defender now.

  • PWilson says:

    Have I missed something? Everything I have been reading lately clearly reflects an attitude from Jagielka that he does not WANT to come to the Arsenal. If that is the case, why the pursuit? We already have 2 players who don’t WANT to be here. Why would we want another? If Cesc and Nasri do stay, it will be to “professionaly fufill an obligation.” Where’s the passion and desire for them to WIN for Arsenal. From what I am reading, I don’t see that desire coming from Jagielka.

    • Caolan Cosgrove says:

      Admittedly, I wrote this article prior to any suggestion that Jagielka wanted to stay in the north west. Obviously if Jagielka doesn’t want to go to Arsenal, he won’t and it’ll all just be a watse of time.

      However, I wouldn’t take those suggestions of Jagielka not wanting to leave too seriously. The ‘exclusive’ by The Mirror doesn’t really have a solid source (not to say it isn’t true of course).

  • geoff says:

    It makes me laugh this total garbage. Cahill is a far, far better player than Jagielka who looks and plays like he’s crocked!Garry is a total athlete who can play anywhere. He has some weaknesses but nothing like Samba and Jagielka.Wenger is fast becoming a clown with his deliberations. It looks like Arsenal will be returning to their 1980’s mid table position any time soon under this bloke. Arsenal haven’t always been one of the top 4 clubs in this country you know!

    • Charlie says:

      Geoff you don’t know what you’re talking about. “Wenger is fast becoming a clown” followed by “Arsenal haven’t always been one of the top 4 clubs”. Don’t you see that you’re contradicting yourself. Wenger is responsible for us staying a top 4 club, a position that used to be very rare, and therefore very far from ever being a clown. As for your ranting about him deliberating in the transfer market yet more stupidity. Have you noticed how teams playing in the Champions League always get the star players. Even a club like Shakhtar Donetsk can attract quality players because they play in that competition regularly. Spurs, on the other hand, found it easy to attract players last year and very difficult this year because they’re not in the Champions League. Arsenal will know next week whether we’ll be in that competition and then we’ll see some activity.

  • Hifi says:

    Are you all seeing the way that Vermaelen is a first choice centreback and Arsenal is trying to buy second choice centreback currently?

    I think Koscielny is a very good partner for Vermaelen.

    We need more solid third choice defender than Djourou. And we need to get rid of Squillaci, who is a good defender but not for Arsenal. If you want Samba to Arsenal, i’m sure he would not be even as good as Squillaci. Samba has power, that’s good, but he need to play in the team that defends and make counter attacks.

    I think problem with set pieces is not fixed with buying a defender. You are defending with the whole team on set pieces. Arsenal practice 90% of time passing, no wonder that they are not good at defending or pressing.

    Another way is to make more goals. I think that’s the way Wenger prefers winning the matches. Then Arsenal need more good attacking players that they can still be fresh at the end of the season.

  • Balotelli says:

    amen.
    It frustrates me when people think stopping a few extra set plays a season = better defender. That’s just one part of defending. If Cahill and Samba were any good at the other aspects (basically open-play) then they wouldn’t be playing for Bolton and Blackburn respectively. That’s not even taking into account ability on the ball, simply open-play defending.

  • George Graham says:

    Nice analysis, laddie, but yer wrong. the last time the Arsenal had a convincing defence was when we had Dixon Adams Keown Bould Winterburn and guess what? none of them would have been picked according to the logic above. On the other hand the likes of Gary Cahill would seem to fit right in!

  • whistleblower says:

    Obvious from most comments that the majority of pundicts have not seen much of Samba playing. THe man Has the ability to play short accurate passes out of defence, but all too often these type of balls are just Not available playing for Rovers. Samba would surprise a lot of people with his Quality if he played with other top players. AS for the comment on his poor positional sense, its just not so. The guy is tailor made for AW to shore up the Gunners defence.

  • Mike says:

    Excellent article, spot on with Arsene’s philosophy for CB’s. Look at Pique and Puyol, neither of which are excellent one-on-one defenders, but they fit the style of play because they have good feet and can move the ball. Valdes also falls into this category (not the best keeper ever, but good feet/distribution…if you don’t believe me, watch Barca when Pinto plays).

  • Charlie says:

    Thought this was heading in the complete opposite direction when i started reading but i agree completely. Everton, along with Fulham, have had the best defense outside the European qualifying teams ever since Jags arrived. It’s a team game but the CBs are more influential than anyone and he’s reliable too. More than that he’s the most suited to Arsenals’ play posessing sufficient pace for a team that plays a high line. He’s unspectacular but consistent and without any major weaknesses plus he is experienced and English. I can’t think of any defender more suitable. If Arsene signs Jags and Hazard after qualifying for the Champions League i’ll be happy.

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