An Arsenal Fans Analysis – Who Does What in the Defensive roles?

“Who Does What” An overview of the Defensive roles by JA

Hey Arsenal fans. Hope y’all fine as we get ready for payback time against Liverpool. So “Who does what” will be a series explaining the roles of players on the field. I wrote this because I noticed that some people tend to fail to appreciate or understand a lot of good players, due to highly inaccurate ideas in their heads. So today we’re starting with the defence. A proper defence can be broken into three broad sections: Goalkeeping, Fullbacks and Centre-Backs. so let’s start with the goalkeeper role.

What makes a good goalkeeper?
Beyond the Superman dives and amazing saves, a goalkeeper should be very vocal, have a great sense of game reading, and be an accurate long passer. Manuel Neuer is the world’s best at this point mainly because of his game reading. He is always sweeping up behind his back line and intercepting crosses, and that is very useful in giving his team the liberty to play. He also possesses great ball playing skills which means his distribution is excellent. This gives him more accurate clearances and an ability to spring counter attacks in a single move. Our own Szczesny is a very vocal keeper. Until recent times, he would improve our performance during set pieces. Since a keeper has the widest view of the pitch, being vocal means his defense will be better organized. So how many qualities do our keepers have of a good keeper? You judge.

Full backs

Now I’m going to look at the full backs. Predominantly since the beginning of organized soccer, full backs were positioned on either side of the center backs. In the modern game a full back is so much more of an attacking option but their major role is to limit the usefulness of opposition wingers. Fullbacks are also an optional part of the defense. Some teams use their wingers as fullbacks (and the reverse is true).

Most people live under the impression that a fullback has to be a very fast runner to chase down wingers but I believe that is dependant on the role assigned to them. If they are assigned to get forward and support the attack, then yes, speed is paramount, especially in falling back after losing the ball. A winger with an attacking assignment should at the very least be an average dribbler, passer and crosser but being good at those three will make a great offensive fullback.

Sometimes though a fullback can be asked to sit back and defend all through the game. This type is not required to be very fast. Game reading is a better quality than speed. Being a defender though, the latter qualities are paramount for any fullback. If you can’t read the game, every attacking midfielder and winger will have fun turning you into a clown! A full back should be good at interceptions and marking as much as anything. A proper offensive fullback, just like anyone who would play fullback at Arsenal should be ready to bomb forward and support an attack high up the pitch.

Lastly. Right footed or left footed, any fullback can play on any side. in fact my favourite left back of all time, Paolo Maldini, was right footed and there is a whole plethora of players that have played on the opposite side of their best foot. So how do you rate our fullbacks at Arsenal?

Centre backs

In the final part, we look at the heart of the defence. The centre-backs. The view on a good central defender varies from person to person, but the one thing I have learned from the few years I’ve watched soccer is that a good central defensive partnership is much more than the sum of individuals. Central defence can be composed of two or three players depending on a coach’s tactics One default though in any good central defensive partnership is a sweeper. In fact, most of the highly rated defenders of all time are actually sweepers, talk of Franz Bankenbuer, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Canavarro, and our very own Tony Adams to mention but a few. They are also known as liberos.

The second highly recommended designation is that of an aggressor or traditionally known as number 4 In a 3 man center back, one will most probably have 2 aggressors and 1 sweeper. Most sweepers happen to be slow but very intelligent. They are less aggressive, better at game reading and zonal marking than hard tackling, jostling and man marking. They do not necessarily have to be very accurate passers but it would be an added advantage. A sweeper, traditionally known as a number five is supposed to be the last man in a defense. A sweeper should be always be in position to organize the back line during the game. He also deploys his fellow defenders to mark, cover and/or perform any other required task to keep a defense solid.

Lastly,it is mostly recommended that a sweeper does not take part in marking. This is to ensure that he keeps a clear view of his men and picks up any loose balls for “sweeping”. This measure also helps in laying offside traps as all others should be slightly in front of the sweeper making timing of the trap easier. The number 4, the aggressor, is usually the more aggressive of the two. More attracted to the ball and the direct opposite of a good sweeper. Fast, aggressive, strong, more gangly. The two types usually combine to make a good defense as they complement each other’s abilities and cover each others weaknesses. Playing two aggressors results in defenders getting caught flat footed by the quick runners and through passes between the defence. Playing two sweepers results is a comedy show when they come up against quick tricky attackers.

I guess that’s it for the defense!



  1. ethangooner says:

    Top post. Thanks Joe
    There’s a reason Chamber and Merte should not be paired, same as Hummels and Mert cannot play well together while both are better with Boateng who arguably having less profile than the above two but got the nod. Lacking backup CB playing similarly to Koscielny cost us this season. And sorry for many who want Hummels, he is not urgently needed, he is a clear upgrade over Merte but cannot play in Kos role. And also we have a ready made heir for Mert position in Chamber.

  2. they are those who can play both kind of cd and in all kinds of formations ,is the type of player that will not only replace mert bt be the transition btwn replacing koscieny and adding a new cd beening that he be in his early 20s tho n chambers is not that type of player sorry his good for future bt still 3rd choose lk keane nothing wrong wt that

    1. Joe says:

      You rarely find acenterback who can be a sweeper and aggressor

  3. we have one of the best goalkeepers , that’s all I ever wanted beening the best goalkeeper in the world is merel down to the quality n team set up defensively n we don’t have that in lk 10yrs now sorry

  4. davidnz says:

    Sanogo and Giroud should play CB.
    They know how to keep the
    ball from going into the net.

  5. SoOpa AeoN says:

    I feel so sorry for a defence containing mertesacker on it , and there’s usually a slight sense of relief havin Koscielny around…..Between em both, Kos is the better player…..LiL wonder why he’s almost always injured.. He gives his all to cover for mert’s Lazy a*s

    1. Trudeau says:

      That’s really harsh. For everyone who is dissing Mertesacker, I’d encourage you to objectively think of where we would be this season (and last year) if he didn’t play almost every game. He’s far from perfect and of course there are better players out there but – news flash – we don’t have them and he’s the best we have. We’d be in a helluva lot more trouble if he wasn’t here or went down injured like 90 per cent of the squad.

      1. jonestown1 says:

        Well said Trudeau. It is more useful to judge CBs as a pair or a unit. The best units are usually two contrasting types with skill sets that compliment each other. I’m a big fan of LK but think many have selective and biased memories – I would wager that LK’s list of defensive errors for the past couple of seasons is probably a longer list that PMs. I’ve noticed how many fans are more prone to forgiving and forgetting, or just plain ignoring, errors from those players who outwardly exhibit more energy and passion. But an error is an error – doesn’t matter how hard you appear to be trying. AOC is a favourite of mine but he probably makes more errors in possession and poor decisions then any other Arsenal midfielder. Ozil probably makes fewer errors and generally better decisions but people will shine a harsher light on him when he does make an error because of the perceived lack of caring/effort.

  6. tissiam says:

    judging by the comments i read about our players,manager…this article should have been written a long time ago as it seems that a lot of our fans criticize , make comments which show a complete lack of knowledge or/and understanding of the basics of this beautiful sport!!COYG!!

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