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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