New German Centreback For Arsenal?

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Apr 9th, 2013
48 Comments

Defence, it’s a contentious subject for Arsenal supporters and divides us almost as much as we are divided by our opinions on Wenger (I’m going to pretend there isn’t a middle ground as those that occupy that middle ground, like me, tend to get blasted by both sides).

Some say that this is the worst Arsenal defence they’ve ever seen and put the fact that Arsenal has the 4th best defence in the league and the best away defence in the league down to how poor the league is. Others say that this is a result of better defensive drills and more work on the training pitch thanks to assistant manager Steve Bould.

Some say that we have to improve our defence no matter what and others say that our defence is fine but too exposed by the midfield. I say that both are right. I say that our defence is decent when protected by the rest of the team as defence should start at the top but I also say that if we can improve then we should improve.

Arsène Wenger has said on many occasions that he turned down the opportunity to buy certain players because it would “kill” one of our promising young players. I have the utmost respect for our manager but have always and will always disagree with him on this (not that my opinion means squat to him nor should it). I firmly believe that if a player is good enough he is old enough and that if said player is good enough he will break into the team at the expense of other players. We shouldn’t wait for players to come good by leaving their paths unbarred. If they wish to leave to advance their careers then so be it. I’m pretty sure we’ll end up with more David Bentley’s than Andy Cole’s.

So, thinking about improvements, I want to talk about a player I have long admired and long felt we should pursue and, if the rumours are true we are pursuing.

Benedikt Höwedes (I bet you thought I was going to talk about Hummels when you saw the title), the Schalke captain has long been linked with a move away from the Bundesliga and I hope that if he moves, he joins the growing German influence in N5.

A true leader

A true leader

If he was to join I might surprise a few readers who I know will vehemently disagree when I say I’d want him to partner Mertesacker rather than displace him. Höwedes offers something familiar yet different to what Arsenal currently have. Höwedes plays with a more aggression than Mertesacker and with more accuracy and stability than Vermaelen for example who plays a reasonably aggressive game. Benedikt is adept at intercepting and disrupting attacks high up the pitch which would suit the high line that Arsenal play. It would also suit Mertesacker who statistically and realistically (to anyone who doesn’t wear manure-tinted glasses when watching Per) has been our best defender this season. Per has had his lack of pace exposed a few times this season but more often than not this can be attributed to a defensive error by others but moving on.

Playing such an aggressive game can leave you exposed if you misjudge the situation as Arsenal centre-backs have found to their detriment in this season and seasons past. However, I feel that Höwedes is very adept at this role and possesses a reasonable amount of pace, although not the sort of pace we benefit from Koscielny having, so when he goes to ground and doesn’t win the ball, which is rare, he is quick to recover. So recovery is another feather in his hat and he is a very good defender on his feet too.

Benedikt reads the game very well and has excellent positioning. A trait in Per that is appreciated by almost all Arsenal supporters despite their different opinions on his pace. Benedikt is an excellent interceptor and averages 3.2 interceptions per game (courtesy of WhoScored). Having a defender who is on you as quickly as Höwedes is makes it extremely difficult for opposing players to get comfortable in the match and find their rhythm. Against players like Aguero, Suarez and Bale this is an extremely useful tool.

The man Höwedes should partner

The man Höwedes should partner

A criticism of Arsenal’s defence in the Wenger years, with our attacking philosophy, has been the exposure in wide areas caused by a lack of support for the full-backs. This is often attributed to “lazy” wingers but as some point out, correctly, this is also down to a lack of support from centre-backs for their full-backs. In an age where full-backs are often deployed in advanced positions the support needs to come from behind as well as from in front. Höwedes understands this and often gives support to his full-backs and marshals his defence and central partner to do the same on the other side. Höwedes is a great defensive organiser and is an extremely vocal defender and leader. Arsenal often talk about having many leaders on the pitch and Arsenal supporters often bemoan a lack of a true leader in defence who will bark his orders like Adams did. Höwedes does this. His backlines are extremely well organised and if they fall out of line he makes sure he is heard over 60’000 screaming supporters.

Höwedes hold a good line and apart from Per wins more offsides on average than our centre-backs. According to WhoScored Höwedes has no apparent weaknesses however his dribbled past stats of an average of 0.9 times per game is quite a bit higher than Dave, Tom and Per on 0.2, 0.3 and 0.4 respectively however it’s a different league so I don’t want to beat him too hard with that stick. Even though his dribbled past stats are much higher than our lads he does have one of the lowest in the Bundesliga.

Timing of challenges are crucial as committed players are often the most carded players and Benedikt’s fouls stats is higher than our lads too but leeway must be given when it comes to fouls and cards as despite supporters of English clubs grumbles, our referees are a fair bit more lenient and likely to let play continue than their overseas colleagues.

Tackle!

Tackle!

One strength of Koscielny’s that is much respected and fondly remembered when Sol Campbell comes to mine is saving the day with last ditch tackles. This is a strength that Benedikt possesses and often uses to save Schalke. It is also a strength you hope your defenders never have to use but are glad they have it in their locker when the time comes. One-on-one situations has also been a criticism in the past of Arsenal defenders but Höwedes has incredible balance and is able to keep up with the pace and trickery of most attackers and rarely gives away the advantage with slow turns.

I have praised Per on many occasions for his ability to usher attackers in non-threatening positions, a trait that is underappreciated and often overlooked. Höwedes is also brilliant at this and is equally as good at using his reading of the game to position himself to repeatedly close down threats and angles just like Per. He is also very good at pressing and Arsenal’s best performances have come when they have pressed well.

One of the main strengths Benedikt possesses that I like is his concentration. He rarely gets so engrossed in a game that he is unaware of what is unfolding around him and judges the ball path very well and doesn’t allow himself to be tricked by players running in behind him or being dragged away by the wrong man. This concentration makes him good in the air when other defenders are easily distracted by the run of a man rather than the flight of the ball.

Fittingly for a team like Arsenal his passing and distribution is solid albeit it a little simplistic however this style of simple passing works extremely well for Per and is another overlooked and undervalued skill that often starts great attacking moves or eradicates danger. It also suits Arsenal’s counter-attacking abilities as both Mertesacker and Höwedes are great at getting the balls out to the flanks quickly and accurately.

Höwedes isn’t afraid to lump it/go long to clear danger which is something I know many Arsenal supporters would love as the cries of “clear it” or “get it out of there” or “smash it up the pitch” reverberate around wherever Arsenal supporters may be.

Benedikt is young and can improve further so would be an extremely astute and affordable investment. He could slot into the team next to Per or he could replace him as first-choice but either way we would have a very good player on our hands and with no significant departures we would finally have four very good centre-backs on our hands and would still be able to take advantage of the versatility of Koscielny at right-back and Vermaelen at left-back without compromising our depth at centre-half too much if we were hit with injuries.

There are plenty of options available to Arsenal this summer and I hope that Höwedes is one of them despite him signing a contract extension recently. We might go for him, we might not, but either way it’s going to be an interesting off-season.

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About "" - 213 Posts

South London Gooner born and bred now living in Bristol. Trainer enthusiast and aspiring author.

48 Responses to “New German Centreback For Arsenal?”

  1. yeah, howedes is a great prospect. It will also give arsene a chance to rotate his defence more often with per, koscienly and TV5 also there. We need that strength in depth in our defence. I think he is just waiting for Squillaci to leave so as to free up the wage bill a little and then he will definitely buy a center back.

  2. Byo says:

    Is this a wish or reliable information?
    Howedes is a good cb, to complement Arsenal’s backline.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Depending on how you look at it, both. It is a wish but also there are reports that we are interested and reliable information that Arsenal representatives have been back and forth to Germany for months hammering out deals for the close season so he could well be on his way but from my point of view at the moment it is just a wish.

  3. Julien Durand says:

    Great read, and makes a lot of sense. I would say some of the best defenders out there at the moment are German (with Kos and Varane putting in a nice shift for the Frenchies :p ), and I’d be happy with any CB between Howedes, Hummels, Boateng, or Badstuber, especially should Vermaelen leave as has been rumoured.

    All of them have their individual strengths, though personally I’m a fan of Boateng simply because of his pace and versatility (which could complement Mertesacker much like Koscielny does at the moment).

    Regardless, if the summer clear-out/shopping spree does happen, it’s a very exciting time to be a Gooner.

    • yomi says:

      oh am sure this guy can even play the defensive midfield we lack that role mostly he is great one

  4. Per says:

    9th March 2013, Benedikt Höwedes extended his contract with
    Schalke 04 until 30 June 2017
    He’s not for sale!

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Snore! Did you not read the part where I said he had signed a new contract? Also, players sign new contracts and get sold soon after all the time. Just because he signed it doesn’t mean he’s not for sale, it means that he’s more expensive.

    • akoanghenyongbasketbolman says:

      it’s a good bit of business if seen in the point of view of the owner but i just don’t see the player’s sense of signing a new contract if he just wanted to go after all.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Just because he signed a contract it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to leave nor does not signing a contract mean he wants to stay.

      He could have signed with the intention of staying and then Schalke could say to him in the summer “we’ve accepted a bid from Arsenal for you” and he could then decide that he wants to leave.

    • Julien Durand says:

      it’s the legal equivalent of playing hard to get. doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get him.

    • Dylan says:

      Do you not remember T. Henry signed a new contract with us then left less than 12 months later… New contracts mean squat

  5. Mercurial says:

    Didn’t he sign a new deal recently? That would make him hard to get. N’Koulou might be the better option as per availability.

  6. Nir says:

    Well I would love to see Kos playing no matter alongside Per or Howedes or Vermaelen.
    Nicely written article Daniel

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I’d quite like a 5 man defence with our full-backs playing as wing-backs. Would allow us to play all our best defenders as well as two strikers.

    • nIR says:

      Its hard to see Wenger going for 5 man defence line. He isnt even playing 4-4-2, when we have Giroud who desperately need another striker to play well.
      Nevertheless I dont think Per is our best cb atm, too slow for PL

  7. aaaa says:

    Hi y do we keep looking at this type of player when for we need some body like Santana at Dortmund he wud be perfect very tall cl experience quick brings the ball out well and would cost more then 6mill

  8. Great stuff. Guess you’re one of d first who mentions about him. I think AFC.should hv deep enough squad to play various strategy. I do not believe possession football works all d time (even barca got beaten by madrid). There’ll be a time when we hv to sit deep (I’m more of a “win-or-die” gooners). He will give us room of options if he joins (altho I still prefer hummels)

  9. Girds says:

    I have seen we have been linked with Lars Bender of Leverkusen. Any truth there or just rumours. Germany are starting to produce a good crop of players.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      There could be truth. Arsenal representatives have been back and forth to various parts of Germany for months. Quite a few deals being lined up as the rumours go.

  10. Stephen Simmons says:

    I never leave comments, but your article was very well written. I wouldn’t mind seeing an advanced 5 man defense – kos, per, tv with gibbs on the left and someone like ramsey/jenkinson on the right. This “advanced” LB role would have been something Santos would have thrived on –> I do feel quite bad for him, becuase he really isn’t a typical LB and I always thought it was a bad move for him to come to Arsenal.

    I’m a huge Verminator fan … I don’t see why we don’t have him play as a DM??? –> defensive minded, extremely aggresive, loves to go forward, and this will keep everyone off his back instead of being a starting CB – I only wonder if his distribution is good enough, but our midfield is LOADED with guys like Wilshire, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Rosicky all extremely comfortable on the ball

    I believe in AW, but I’ve always subscribe to the notion that: “you fit the system to the players you have, instead of trying to fit the players into a particular system” … but that’s only my opinion.

  11. Michael says:

    Very good read Daniel, what springs to my mind however is that it would be hard to keep 4 quality CBs at the club for a longer period of time since one of them (likely Vermaelen) would probably spend a lot of times on the bench given our current formation and barring any lengthy injuries to the other CBs. Your thoughts on this?

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I don’t think it’s impossible to keep all those players happy but I guess we wouldn’t want players who are happy at being bit part players.

  12. jd says:

    i hope Arsene wenger is reading all of this comment..i hope arsenal can sign this howedes to improve our defence.keep vermaelen too

  13. MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

    Please tell me, what is Mertesacker good at?

    strong tackling?
    blazing speed?
    aerial aggression ?
    leadership?
    quick play?
    long ball?

    Lets face it; hes a tall softy with decent organizational skills and nothing more.
    1. Sell Mertesacker, Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Ramsey, Arshavin, Podolski
    2. Bring in 2 CB’s (Hummels, Howedes) or (Armorebieta)
    3. Teach both Vermaelaen and Koscielny the CDM/RB positions for versatility
    4. Purchase Lewandowski, Gotze)

    Arsenal – Mertesacker + Dortmund = UEFA Champions League

    just imagine…

    Jenkinson Hummels Howedes Gibbs

    Vermaelaen

    Carzorla Wilshire

    Walcott Lewandowski Gotze

    or….

    Jenkinson Hummels Howedes Monreal

    Chamberlain Carzorla Wilshire Gotze

    Lewandowski Giroud

    Either would be beautiful. Substitutes would be strong.
    Would finally be built to withstand injury and international play.
    *Poldolski is a fine player but does not fit arsenal
    *Ramsey will be good but we dont have patience for his development
    *If Vermaelen/ Koscielny can’t adapt, sell them

    #fifamanagermode

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Firstly, Vermaelen is too attack minded to be a CDM. Secondly, if you can’t see what Mertesacker brings to the table you clearly play too much Fifa or Football Manager because that’s what it seems you judge players on.

    • MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

      1. How can Vermaelen be too attack minded to be a CDM but have played CB his most of his professional career? I’ve played both positions at a high level and believe with discipline he can excel there. Never doubt a player of his caliber’s adaptability.

      2. As an online journalist it would be intelligent to watch your disrespectful insults towards your viewers. You know not of my or any other of your viewers status in the world of futbol.

      3. If you think Mertesacker is a top quality CB then you must have never played CB in your life. CB’s should be feared, not focused on and attacked.

      That being said still a decent article.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      1. Vermaelen is constantly caught out of position as a result of his forward forays.

      2. I respond as I see fit. You responded as you felt fit. Your comments were ludicrous to me and I responded as such.

      3. Again, if you think Mertesacker isn’t a good CB then you play too much Fifa. I respect the opinions of multiple professional managers who have picked Mertesacker time and time again for their club and national sides far more than yours.

      If you have a sensible debate to share I’ll be more that happy to engage but discussions that revolve around Per being rubbish or selling Ramsey like you suggested are an utter waste of my time and I refuse to entertain them or this one further.

      That said, I’m glad you liked the article and hope to see your comments in the future.

    • MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

      Fair enough.

      Per has lost his starting spot internationally and is not a secured start at Arsenal; However, I can agree that he would do well in leagues other than the EPL. I just personally think he is a bad fit for what Arsenal needs right now.

      p.s. Would love to read an article on the potential of our younger players, comparing their styles to veterans and such.

    • Leonhard says:

      yeah, you’re really showing off your knowledge here…
      Mertesacker has started more games and played more minutes than any other CB in the German NT in this WC-qual. Actually the one and only defender to match Mertesacker is Captain Lahm who has also played 5×90 min (out of 6 games). I think we can all agree that this pretty much means he hasn’t lost his starting spot.
      And about Per not being what you call a secured start; in what world does 27 starts out of a possible 31 and being our most used CB throughout the season not qualify as a secured start?
      And I really don’t even want to get started with your initial post. so ludicrous.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Not secured a start at Arsenal? Are you sure mate…. he’s our first choice CB. When fit, he plays, 99% of the time. Also, he hasn’t lost his international spot. His manager rotates the players starting next to Hummels, or that is what I see any way.

    • MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

      @Leonhard I’m pretty sure both Boateng and Hummels are injured, leaving Per as the clear choice for Germany.

      @DanielCowan Mainly because Vermaelen and Koscielny have proven time and time again they cannot control the center together at all, both being aggressive backs, Per starts. In addition, Per is healthy and costs a good amount of money, consequently he starts. Vermaelen will win his starting spot back from the back whos form drops. Koscielny will play consistently well as he always does. Mertesacker’s spot isn’t secure.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Mate, that is not what you claimed. You said he had not secured a starting spot at Arsenal, you said nothing about him getting the spot by default. You’re moving the goalposts. And you’re wrong, his spot is secure at the moment because he plays when he is fit. Although it could be argued that no player has a secured spot and that just completely defeats the point you are failing to make.

    • MERTESACKER RULES says:

      I’m pointing out that his spot is awarded by default because it supports my belief that his spot is not secured. My claims are consistent in each and every post. And as a testament to my strong belief in this I will forever post as ‘MERTESACKER SUCKS’ even after Per loses his starting spot for good. As for debate purposes, you’ve brought up no reasoning other than the apparent ‘top managers have put Per in their squad’ like statement to convince me otherwise. So even although you may view yourself as an all knowledgeable always correct journalist, it seems you lack the art of conviction as well. Good try though

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Nice try at trying to come across as a consistent and compelling debater. You have been consistent at extending your opinion. You state one thing and then when you state another you claim that was your original statement when it clearly was not, it is there in black and white for all to see.

      Also, I don’t consider myself a journalist. I am a hobbyist blogger.

      Your original statement said nothing about his spot being award by default or that it was not secured. You said:

      Per has lost his starting spot internationally and is not a secured start at Arsenal

      Verbatim

      You are backtracking and have chosen this special time to humiliate yourself publicly. Just admit that you did not state those things originally, take it like a man, and move on. People will forget very quickly that you’ve made an error if you admit it.

      Final words; I don’t need a stronger argument than top managers play Per because it is multiple managers. You cannot claim that all of these managers are idiots or have a dearth of talent and thus have to play Per because that is just ridiculous.

    • MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

      Okay at this point I have to rhetorically ask whether you’re a complete idiot or not.

      “Per has lost his starting spot internationally and is not a secured start at Arsenal”

      Are you aware of what the term “secured” means?

      Secured(Merriam Webster Dictionary)- free from danger

      All of my posts are arguing the same exact thing which is:
      1. Per Mertesacker sucks
      2. Per Mertesacker will lose his Arsenal spot (is not a secured start)
      3. Per Mertesacker is only the best choice by process of elimination.

      I’m gonna assume you’re not a complete idiot and that there is a language/ slang barrier and/ or internet/ text barrier causing the misunderstanding because I honestly cannot view any other reasons for you to misinterpret so horribly, and still believe that my stance has varied.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Are you an idiot?

      I know what secured means but do you know how to structure a sentence in English? If what you claim to have meant in your original statement is in fact what you meant then you clearly cannot structure a sentence as it would be “secured starter” not “secured start”.

      I never said your opinion varied. I said your statements varied. You added extra things on and claimed you stated them original when you did not. Your opinions may well have stayed the same but what you expressed, and that is what we are debating, has grown from one statement to a wider statement with a more comprehensive view.

      I completely and utterly disagree with your view but that’s something completely different. Facts are, your statement was not as comprehensive as you have since claimed. Accept that and move on. This conversation is over.

    • MERTESACKER SUCKS says:

      1. Where I come from “start” and “starter” are used interchangeably in terms of sports.

      2. One comment will never be enough to completely express a feeling/ and or opinion so of course more detail is uncovered as the conversation prolongs.

      3. Yes way too long of a convo, good chat.

  14. Höwedes is probably one of the most underrated defenders in world football. Behind Subotic and Hummels, he is right up there with the very best the Bundesliga has to offer. With just the right amount of pace for a defender, he wouldn’t struggle with the fastest of opponents, and he is very strong – essentially a Subotic-type player, while Hummels is a bit of a steam train. I’d take any of these three at Arsenal, and Höwedes even plays RB for the German national team. That gives us Corp. Jenks, Kos and Höwedes should Sagna leave.

    I would be incredibly excited if someone of his calibre were to come into the team, and he’d slot right into the efficient passing style the current squad are starting to improve on. Wouldn’t be too expensive either in my book. £10-15m with a decent £65/70k contract, as opposed to the Dortmund pair, who would command £20m+ with £150k salaries.

  15. Cupsui says:

    Hey Dan
    Good article as always. Good to get some technical analysis on the gooners.

    But i still think Kozzer is our number 1 CB. We have seen the last month his performances vastly improved as he has been without injury for a stretch now (fingers crossed). It has been injuries that have disrupted his campaign…clearly. TECHNICALLY THE BEST DEFENDER IN THE EPL (Kompany right now is a better all-round defender, but i think Koz will be stronger if he stays injury free). It is no coincidence that Bayern and Barca are courting him (I hope Wenger gives them a warm glass of f*#k right off if they come asking anymore.

    For me Per is a good player but i have said this before he is not great. I think the Per and Kozzer combo is our best and a very strong and solid CB combo. But Per is still too slow on the turn for me and rapid hard working defenders trouble him (he struggled against Long). If we are to improve our defence we need someone that is a similar style to per: great reader of the game, great timing in the tackle but stronger in the air and sharper around the pitch (especially acceleration wise). I don’t know a lot about howedes but he does look quite sharp and could be that guy…i’m not going to speculate on who could be cause there is by far enough of that going around.

    For me if the right offer came in for TV5 i would take it. He has digressed and is not the right defender for the Arsenal system, he also looks like he could use a fresh start. He wasn’t the captain we had all hoped for, he has always been overrated IMHO cause he scored goals early, positionally he is a bit of a mess. Honestly i think he has been our biggest disappointment this season by a fair margin. Barca are rumoured to hold an interest so if they come for Koz i would offer TV5 and say no dice on Koz. The biggest problem with TV5 is that he would be a great squad player, but you CANNOT have your captain as a squad player.

    This may then lead to us needing two CBs, i would suggest a young gun and an experienced, tactically exceptional player that is a leader.

    FINAL COMMENT: Don’t get me wrong (Dan or others) Per is quality and our best CB this season (mainly due to Koz’s injury struggles). He DEFINITELY has a place in the squad and would still be a frequent starter even with TV5 leaving and two new CBs coming in.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I love Kos but feel he benefits from playing with Per. For me, Per makes Koscielny the player he is. You only need to look at how poorly Koscielny plays with other CBs to recognise that. You are right though, Koscielny is our best all-round defender.

    • Cupsui says:

      I agree that koz benefits from Per because he has the tactical, game reading style of play that benefits Kozzer’s game. Thats the balances that Arsene needs to find. Thats why if we sign a CB we need one in the style of Per, a game reader, a tackler, a tactically savy defender because that helps Koz and would be the best balance for our defence, but it would help for him to have some more pace and acceleration, as we know this is where the big german is usually caught out.

  16. SweetAFCJane says:

    Am writing this after the Norwich game (which I went to) and Kos was less effective: he definitely works better with Per. Vermaelen was better than he’s been in a while – I love him and want him to get back to his great form of last year. Gibbs contributed well; did begin to flag but he’d run his arse off. The point is it’s not about the individuals, but how they work with each other & as a team & it is telling that different pairings can much such a difference. Howedes seems a great prospect & from what you say he’d work well in a variety of combos. I just hope Arsene reads your blog!

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