Arsenal legends Nigel Winterburn and Lauren on the lost art of defending
Arsenal icon Nigel Winterburn believes Mikel Arteta’s woes stem from the lost art of defending.
With the Gunners losing 2-0 Premier League boys Brentford this week the focus is once again on the ability to defend.
Winterburn spent eight years under George Graham, a manager who was renowned for demanding defensive discipline.
Yet, the 57-year-old who played for the north London giants between 1987 to 2000, believes the risks associated with playing out from the back were too high when he was a player.
Speaking to Betway, he said: “The way that teams are playing out from the back, modern defenders and full-backs have got be very comfortable on the ball because they're often in advanced areas,” he says.
“But we were always judged by what we did defensively under George.
“Down my side I could go and play, but you knew that Lee [Dixon] would have to tuck round alongside the other two centre halves and vice versa if Lee went.”
Winterburn extended his career at Highbury under Arsene Wenger as part of the club’s legendary back four.
Despite being considered a veteran at the time, Winterburn played a crucial part in Arsenal’s 1998 double-winning side.
“Yes, we did play it out from the back at times when Arsene took over,” the Gunners stalwart explains, adding: “but as soon as the goalkeeper got the ball, it’s up to the halfway line and you’d play from the knockdowns.
“I think the whole ethos of the game, particularly how quick it is, has changed.
“When I first started, the game was a lot slower. You think about the conditions, very rarely would you get a green pitch after Christmas.”
With Arteta’s Arsenal set to face Champions League winners Chelsea at the Emirates this weekend before a tough trip to the Etihad to take on current Premier League champions Manchester City, Gunners legend Lauren has also had his say.
Former Arsenal Invincible Lauren is well aware of the problems Arsenal face when attempting to play out from the back.
The former right-back, who was originally signed as a midfielder in 2000, believes it is a tactic that has repeatedly cost the Gunners dearly over the last few years, including their season opener at Brentford.
“I had to change my position and I had a few problems defending in the beginning, especially when the ball was on the other side I was caught ball-watching a lot,” he says.
“But now, they are asking defenders for more things. We have to re-adapt ourselves to the new era.”
“But to be the best now, you have to combine the best of the most traditional skills and the best of the modern-day skills.
“Evolution is good.”
However, Winterburn believes plenty of modern-day players would struggle to cope with the rigours of the hard work demanded in previous eras.
“I think if we were to go out and walk through some of the training sessions that George put on for our back four with a modern player, they might look at you in disbelief,” says Winterburn.
“We used to go out a couple of times a week and it would just be the back four with the manager on the training pitch. There wouldn’t even be a goalkeeper and we wouldn’t have the ball on the floor.
“He would be jogging through positions that we would have to react to, imagining there was a piece of rope in between each player so the lines always stayed the same and you move in sync.”
“There was a lot more discipline involved compared to now.”