Borussia Dortmund conceded 49 goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League last season under the management of Thomas Tuchel. It’s a stat that has been criticised by many fans who have become disgruntled at Dortmund’s defensive stability. Their problems in defence continued this season under Peter Bosz and Peter Stöger and it’s something they have yet to rectify.
Almost ever-present in Borussia Dortmund’s defence over the past four seasons has been Greek defender, Sokratis Papastathopoulos. A move to Premier League club is looming but despite missed opportunities at Borussia Dortmund, the 29-year-old has established himself as one of their better players.
In a turbulent time, it will be up to Borussia Dortmund’s new coach Lucien Favre to try and search for clues to understand these problems. One of the keys to solving this problem might be to offload Sokratis to Arsenal for a reported €18 million. This move will be applauded by both sides as Arsenal get an experienced and tough defender, while Borussia are able to refresh their defence with the likes of Abdou Diallo.
But how would Sokratis fit in at Arsenal? And is he as bad as some say?
In short, he’s a brilliant defender. Sokratis has become established himself into an accomplished defender stuck in a calamitous environment. The Greek has been the key man in Dortmund’s defence for seasons and will probably leave the club more due to his age than his lack of quality. Arsenal will be getting a good defender for an even better price. Sokratis has that raw toughness that a rather lame Arsenal defence truly requires. Add to that his physical presence and you have an exceptional defender.
Newly appointed coach Unai Emery said in an interview with French journalist Marti Perarnau, translated to English by Get French Football News, that he prefers four players at the back, either in a 4-4-1-1 or in a 4-4-2. The Spaniard also mentions that pressing and possession tends to be his key to success wherever he ventures. It is therefore likely that Emery will employ a pressing tactic at Arsenal, a tactic that would suit Sokratis. The Greece international is used to pressing from his time at Borussia Dortmund, a club that founded the term ‘Gegenpressing’ under Jürgen Klopp.
Despite his lack of height, Sokratis wins his fair share of headers. Not only that, he is able to distribute the ball from the back, to the wing-backs or to the midfielders, often a defensive midfielder who drops down to latch on to the ball, which is something we may see under Emery’s Arsenal.
However, Sokratis has also shown prominence with long balls in behind the opposing defence, a role like that of Jerome Boateng. Therefore, he will also fit in well with Emery’s other idea, possession. In a team focussing on keeping the ball, having composed centre-backs is key. Utilising that outlet at the back, a competent ball-player who can dictate play from a very deep position is always good. His technical abilities will also come in handy at Arsenal.
Emery has also been keen to focus on set-pieces and heading is one of Sokratis’ strengths. Attacking or defending, it matters not to the Greek, who clears or scores them as if it was his expertise.
However, Sokratis does have tangible limits. They should however, not overshadow the marvellous fecundity of his assets. Sokratis has been quicker than he is right now, which could prove to be a real problem. He does also have some problems with maturity, which might seem odd due to his age.
He has, on multiple occasions, shown that he’s just not capable of keeping his feelings in order and tends to lash out whenever he sees fit. This could make him an unstable piece in Emery’s carefully planned jigsaw and could become a danger to his plans for success, if not stifled.
Moreover, Sokratis also tends to throw himself into rash and over-the-top tackles, challenges that may result in unfortunate situations for the Gunners. If played alongside Shkodran Mustafi, Arsenal would have two whimsical defenders with an ill-fated proneness to stupidity.
Sokratis is the kind of player that would probably fit Emery’s Arsenal quite well. He is strong, commanding and good at set-pieces. He also possesses a good right foot and commendable technical abilities.
Regardless, Sokratis would be a good signing for Arsenal. He’s had numerous years in the Champions League and has proved himself as an elite defender. For just short of €20m, the Gunners are getting themselves an established defender and one that doesn’t tolerate any nonsense. Arsenal would get a proper leader of men, no matter how rash he might be while he will also help the next generation of defenders at Arsenal, such as Konstantinos Mavropanos.
By Axel Falk.