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End of the year grades: defenders

It’s the end of the school year, and the end of the season, so we got our grade books out.

Arsenal FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

After the roller coaster Premier League season that Arsenal fans just went through, what better way to try and inflict as much self-harm as possible and relive the whole thing than to review the season’s performances and assign a grade to them? So that’s what I did. This article talks about Arsenal’s defense, and future pieces will break down the midfield and attack.

Basically, I gave each defender a grade on their season and some reasoning behind why I gave the grade I did. It was a tough year for the defenders, which is nothing new, but there were also some bright spots, if you can believe it.

Bernd Leno

31(1)PL + 3 EL matches


One of the absolute saviors of the season, the new signing from Germany proved to be the glue that kept Arsenal’s abysmal defense from being an absolute embarrassment. His ability to cater to the style of play that Emery wants, by starting the play from the back, helped him seamlessly overtake Petr Cech about a month or so into the season, and Leno has never looked like losing the starting spot. You would have liked to have seen maybe a handful of cleansheets more than the 8 that Arsenal had in the Premier League, but for his first season in a new league, and having old and largely terrible defenders in front of him warrants a pass. A rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak season for Arsenal defenders.

Petr Cech

7 PL + 10 EL matches


As we wind down on the Arsenal chapter of the career of Premier League titan and legend Petr Cech, his last season probably wasn’t the way he expected it to go. After claiming the starting spot in the beginning of the season, Cech’s inability to truly distribute with his feet cost him his long held spot as Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper. A decade-plus reign in the hardest league came to an end, and it did so in a sputter. Impressions would change with a Europa League trophy, which would change the tune of his retirement from somber to celebratory. All in all it was a final season of a player a step slower than he used to be. Hopefully it doesn’t cost Arsenal a chance at its first European trophy in 25 years.

Hector Bellerin

18(1) PL matches


Losing Bellerin during the busiest time in the schedule was a season-defining moment for Arsenal. Seeing the lightning-quick Spaniard pull up with no contact sent every Arsenal fan’s heart plunging into their stomach. It forced Arsenal to be one dimensional in how they attacked, as their balanced attack down each wing was disrupted due to having to rely on 73-year old Stephen Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson, who, love him to death, is not very good. I gave him a B+ because of the limited impact over the whole season, and is definitely not docking him due to his injury and missed time. Hopefully Bellerin can make a full recovery, so we can see the bright young fullback that we saw earlier this year develop into the top defender we all know he can be.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

11(5) PL + 8(1) EL matches


One of the bright spots of the entire season for Arsenal was the emergence of a young academy product cementing a starting spot into the Arsenal starting eleven, which Ainsley Maitland-Niles did this winter and into the spring. AMN’s injection into the side was exactly that, and revived a dead right wing that really opened the pitch up for Arsenal’s creators. One of the highlights of the season was assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Valencia, as he skipped past his defender and sent a bullet to the front post that all but sent Arsenal to Baku for the Europa League Final. His confidence since taking over the position has increased exponentially, it has seemed, and the young player has finally seemed to have shown that he belongs in the starting eleven, and isn’t just there for novelty or for any gesture sake. A great season and one to build on for the Londoner.

Stephan Lichtsteiner

10(4) PL + 6 EL matches


A free transfer from title winning machine Juventus last summer, Lichtsteiner proved to be a step or three past the pace as soon as he arrived in England, and was almost a complete write-off a couple months in. The Swiss international might have brought other things to the table like clubhouse leadership and veteran presence, but this isn’t baseball and nobody really values those things that highly in soccer. I really don’t think this guy had much of an impact, as our defense pretty much stayed idle from last year to this year. An absolute couch fire of a move, and one that will be quickly forgotten in the mind of Arsenal fans. Good riddance, Stephan.

Carl Jenkinson

2(1) PL + 3 EL matches


A fellow Gooner and Arsenal cult hero, Carl Jenkinson’s time at Arsenal has finally come to an end, and it’s a bittersweet moment. On one hand, the club has to move him on, and his rather hefty wage going off the books is going to be needed during this summer. One the other hand, it’s not every day that a kid who grows up a fan of a club gets to play until he is 25+ for them. It’s the end to a fairytale ending that every fan would kill to live out. It was a nice ride Carl, thanks for all the memories and the banter.

Laurent Koscielny

13(4) PL + 9 EL matches


Where would Arsenal be without Laurent Koscielny? After missing the 2018 World Cup, where he missed out on winning the whole thing with France, the 33-year old put aside all that pain and bitterness aside and put together one of his most impressive seasons that he has had at Arsenal. During a time in which both Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin went down for the season, Koscielny delivered and then some, leading the way to some of our biggest wins of the season of Chelsea and Manchester United and a run to a European Final.

If you told me that Koscielny would be back for a month or two at the beginning of the season I would have probably laughed in your face. But the Frenchman came back like he was 28 and put together some incredibly impressive and important performances. He’s a leader of men, and one that I will miss if he does decide to leave this summer.

Shkodran Mustafi

31 PL + 5(1) EL matches


The bane of many Arsenal fans’ very existence. One of the most disliked Arsenal players that I can remember, and for good reason. As Mustafi has gone from World Cup winning defender to a human highlight reel that is almost never ending. I still have night terrors from the Liverpool game thanks to him, and my doctor says they are probably not going away any time soon. The club need to sell him, and hopefully the rumors of A.C. Milan’s interest because selling Mustafi back to Gazidis would just be *chefs kiss*. I really don’t have anything to say about this guy, he’s already drained me of enough joy in my life.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos

25 PL + 10 EL matches


After coming to Arsenal with some doubts after his last couple of seasons at Borussia Dortmund, Sokratis adapted to the physical and fast Premier League as well as you can ask any defender. Much like the new manager that came to Arsenal in the same summer, Sokratis was best in the biggest games, shutting down Harry Kane in both North London Derbies, something that hasn’t been done in a long, long time it seems. Sokratis seemed to relish the big matchups against other heralded strikers, but often seemed to lose focus against lower level opposition. It was a good opening season for the Greek defender, and one that really needs to be built upon if Arsenal want to finish anywhere near the top-4 next season.

Rob Holding

9(1) PL + 5 EL matches


Similar to Hector Bellerin’s injury, Holding’s injury threw a large monkey wrench into Arsenal’s season, and one that left them on the fraying edge of crisis throughout much of the second half of the season, due to the higher ups at Arsenal not being able to recruit any support during the winter window (shoutout to Denis Suarez, though). It really looked like this was going to be the liftoff season that saw the young Englishmen really cement his side as one of the first defenders names picked week in and week out, and one bad little slip at Manchester United put a halt to all of that. But as far as the season he had leading up to it, he was definitely standing out. Hopefully the defender can get back to the form he was in, for all of our sakes and hopes.

Dino Mavropanos

3(1) PL matches


All of the hype in the world seemed to be hovering over the young Greek defender ever since his arrival last winter, and that hype train seems to have hit the brakes over the past six months. Mavropanos just can’t seem to stay healthy, and with the lengthy absence due to his groin strain, it looks like this could be a reoccurring issue that could put a major damper on the development of his immense talent. He seemed completely out of place when he did play at Watford, but looks just a little skittish and probably in need of another season on loan or regular football whether that’s in the lower cups or group stages next fall.

Sead Kolasinac

22(2) PL + 7(2) EL matches


The Bosnian Tank was at many points throughout the season Arsenal’s creative attacking outlet. An absolute monster once he gets his momentum going, his aggressive running style and powerful crosses were a huge reason why Arsenal finished as close to the top four as they did. When Emery looked like he was freezing out Ramsey and Ozil, two of Arsenal’s most creative players, out of the squad, Kolasinac did the best job he could in influencing the final third, and he has the assists to show for it. His defending is still suspect to say the least, but if that is tidied up and he can stay healthy all throughout next season, we could see a dangerous option at left back.

Nacho Monreal

21(1) PL + 9(2) EL matches


One of the most consistent and underrated players for Arsenal over the past few years, the 33 year old Monreal finally showed the first signs of aging. Luckily enough for Nacho, Emery was able to hide his lost step by slotting him as the third center back on the left side, allowing him to roam forward like he is used to, but allowing him to stay within an area in order to not get isolated. It seems like Nacho’s time at Arsenal is winding to a close, but his leadership-by-example attitude is something that is going to missed once he moves on. An all around decent season, but far from the best we have seen from him.