Arsenal's best patchwork defence

Posted by Sam Limbert

Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty ImagesArsenal's defence during their 2006 Champions League run was the stuff of legend.

With the Champions League restarting, and some uncertainty present over how Arsenal will line up in the next big games, I've tried to reassure myself that a patchwork defence might not be the disaster it has the potential to be.

There were good signs at Sunderland that the team can adapt to unexpected injuries and suspensions. However, that victory still didn't come close to the 2006 Champions League defence that Arsene Wenger cobbled together. If Arsenal are still missing the injured Thomas Vermaelen and/or Laurent Koscielny for next week's visit of Bayern Munich, the back four that are selected could do with rekindling some of the spirit of the 2006 record breakers.

Going to the Bernabeu to face the Real Madrid Galacticos, Wenger was unable to call on the services of Lauren, Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy and Sol Campbell. The inexperienced Emmanuel Eboue and Philippe Senderos joined Kolo Toure in the back line, with holding midfielder Mathieu Flamini filling in at left back.

Arsenal hadn't been in great league form but for one of the first times in Wenger's reign played a 4-5-1 formation to try and protect the patchwork back four. After shutting out Madrid away from home, Arsenal went on to not concede a goal all the way up until the final, with the same back four playing all the way until the semifinal second leg. The clean sheets kept by the random defence were part of a Champions League record of 10 consecutive shutouts.

The likes of Ronaldo, Raul, Zidane, Beckham, Nedved, Ibrahimovic, Trezeguet and Riquelme were all thwarted by Arsenal's unlikely heroes.

The record that they set shouldn't serve as a reason for not trying to select players in their proper positions. However, it was proof that sometimes adversity can bring the team together. The clean sheets were based on the team trying to be solid, and that could be the best policy against Bayern Munich next week.

Whilst the focus of that record and run to the final was on the defence, the whole team contributed to the impressive and unexpected wins in Europe. Gilberto was at his best as the invisible wall, Cesc Fabregas was able to keep the team ticking over by keeping possession and Freddie Ljungberg played the action man role in behind Thierry Henry. Although Henry was most effective when able to play as part of a front two, to have his pace and strength was a great option to use to release the pressure on the makeshift back four.

Should Arsenal be in a similar position for the next few games, the onus will be on the whole team to help the defence. Obviously, Olivier Giroud isn't in the same class as Henry. However, he has improved at holding the ball up and bringing others into play. The current side are also missing someone of the ability of Gilberto to sit in front of the defence, meaning there will be pressure on Mikel Arteta to break up play before they can run at the potentially weak centre.

I still find it hard to rationally explain quite how Lehmann, Eboue, Toure, Senderos and Flamini kept out Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal. There were moments of luck along the way; however, the whole team contributed and almost brought the biggest trophy in club football to Highbury.

It's disappointing that Wenger didn't add more players to the squad in January and seemingly left the club in a position where the defence could quickly be down to the bare bones. They can still make the most of a dodgy situation and take heart from the epic rear-guard efforts that broke a Champions League record in 2006.

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