Along with the signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Lucas Torreira, and Bernd Leno, there is a new much-needed addition in the heart of Arsenal’s defence – Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The experienced 30-years-old comes to join his ex-teammates from Borussia Dortmund Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for his first season in the Premier League. Having experience in three different countries (Greece, Italy, and Germany) the Greek international meets a new challenge in his career.
The centre-back featured in 43 of Dortmund’s 48 competitive fixtures in 2017/18 and played a huge part of their performance during the season. He managed to reach the starting XI although when he arrived at the German side in 2013 he was a second choice defender with Mats Hummels playing regularly. His none-shall-pass philosophy helped Borussia keep 12 clean sheets (almost as much as Arsenal – 13) and his aggressive style of play caused lots of trouble to the opposing forwards in the league.
Style of play
His role in the centre of the defence is perfect for more attacking teams where he is able to do what he does best – defend, tackle and pass. He is always ready to take the lead and that’s something that surely will help the sometimes chaotic back four at Arsenal.
Sokratis likes to play short passes and often dives into tackles. He is well known for his will to keep the rivals out of the danger zone and his composure and self-believe are perfect for a team with defensive issues as were the Gunners last season.
You won’t see him do as many interceptions as he is expected to but that’s something his new teammates can offset. The defender had 90% pass completion and showed he is a great team player and contributes effectively in the defensive actions. His great ability in the air extends to attacking set plays and having in mind that Arsenal scored 16 goals from set plays last season (more than any other club), the Greek may turn out as a great option in such situations.
The new signing is good at the aerial duels and that’s perfect news for Unai Emery as the players’ success rate is 65,3% more than the ratio of his new partners – Mustafi (60,7%), Koscielny (58,7%) and Monreal (52,6%). As I mentioned tackling is one of his specialities and he never leaves an opponent to pass freely in his zone. He averaged 2.5 completed tackles per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga with an impressive success rate of 92%. His high level of concentration, as Stephen Lichtsteiner’s, is something much-needed at the Emirates too. He also has a good success rate in the loose ball duels and the clearances.
He receives the ball and has 3 options for a pass, with the easiest one being Jeremy Toljan.
But he saw the opportunity in a long-range pass to Andriy Yarmolenko. The winger received the ball and continued forward where he had the option to make a cross which eventually could turn to an assist.
In this international cap, the defender received the ball and ran towards the centre.
He had two options for a short pass but he showed his great football intelligence and made a long-range pass that no one was expecting
1 vs 1 and dribbling
Here he goes 1 vs 1, dribbling and wins the offensive duel going forward.
By the time he reaches the ball he goes into another offensive duel and kicks the ball further.
Just when you thought he left the ball to go out or gave up the possession, he managed to reach it and continue the attack.
Three of the opposing players were applying pressure on him. But he managed to escape the pressing duel with good dribbling and passed the ball so his team would be out of danger.
In here he made an important interception and started a counterattack. He reached Stuttgart’s half and made a simple short pass to continue the attack although Christian Pulisic wasted it.
His partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Back in the days when the two were teammates at Borussia Dortmund, they used to work smoothly together. Here again, the Greek international decided to do a long-range pass to Aubameyang and participate in the build-up.
In this game, the centre-back goes for a fantastic through pass to Pulisic, who managed to free himself and go forward, along with the perfect movement of Aubameyang. The final result is Pulisic assisting to Pierre for making it 3:0.
Sokratis is a great team player and always tries to make a good transition to the players upfront.
His discipline is not among his best qualities. He commits fouls often and was booked more times during the 2017/2018 season than his new teammates on that position – 10 yellow cards and 1 red card in 43 games.
He has a way fewer interceptions (1.1) per 90 minutes than the others but that’s something he tries to offset going 1 vs 1 and eventually winning back the possession of the ball. It often ends up in the hands of the goalkeeper as Sokratis tries to prevent any mistakes and gives it back to him.
Fitting into Arsenal’s squad and into Premier league
The defender should fit perfectly to the Premier league with his aggressive style of play as it is well known that the Premiership is one of the most dynamic competitions in the World. The only concern is whether the similarities with Shkodran Mustafi are going to be an obstacle. Are they going to play side by side or one of them is going to be benched? But with Koscielny side-lined with an injury, it seems like Emery will try playing both as the new coach usually plays 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
Arsenal conceded 51 goals in 2017/18 (more than in any season since the formation of the Premier League) and the new manager worked towards bringing new experienced players and strengthening the defensive line. Bringing the likes of Sokratis, Lichtsteiner and Bernd Leno It’s safe to say he is moving in the right direction.
The Gunners made 15 errors that led to goals. There is no team in the Premier League to top that. And they also conceded more shots on target (146) than any of last season’s top six sides. No wonder Emery decided to focus this transfer window on more defensive signings.