Former Arsenal star Nigel Winterburn says that the art of defending in the Premier League has evolved massively over the past couple of decades.

Brentford v Arsenal Premier League Brentford s Ivan Toney and Arsenals Pablo Mari during the Premier League match at the Brentford Community Stadium, Brentford Copyright: Daniel Hambury
Brentford v Arsenal Premier League – Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Arsenal’s Pablo Mari during the Premier League match at the Brentford Community Stadium, Brentford. Copyright: Daniel Hambury

Winterburn was part of a golden era for defenders at Arsenal, forming a formidable backline alongside the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon.

He helped the Gunners win three league titles during his time at the club, with their success built on the uncompromising nature of their back four.

In a recent interview with Betway Insider, the ex-Arsenal star explained how some traditional defensive skills have been marginalised in recent years.

“When I played, you had to be an outstanding defender or you wouldn’t get into one of the top four teams,” said Winterburn.

“Now you don’t have to be as good defensively, but if you don’t have that quality on the ball then you probably wouldn’t get into a top team.”

Defending has been a major issue for Arsenal in recent years, with team often accused of buckling under pressure.

That point was highlighted to perfection in their season opener against Brentford on Friday, as the Gunners slumped to a disappointing 2-0 defeat.

The back four of Kieran Tierney, Pablo Mari, Ben White and Calum Chambers looked extremely shaky against the newly-promoted Bees.

Both full-backs were vulnerable, with Chambers at fault for the first goal and Tierney allowing Brentford to run riot down his flank.

Mari was just about the pick of the bunch at centre-back, although he failed to cover himself in glory for the Bees’ second goal.

White had a nightmare, leaving many fans questioning the wisdom in spending £50 million to secure his services from Brighton & Hove Albion.

Manager Mikel Arteta is keen to implement a possession-based style of play, but he lacks the personnel to successful achieve his aim.

With that in mind, it beggars belief why the Spaniard continues to persist with a defensive system that clearly does not suit his players.

As highlighted by Winterburn, playing out from the back is a risky tactic, particularly if the players lack the necessary skills to play that way.

The 57-year-old believes that the current crop of players would be astounded at how he was taught to defend when George Graham was in charge.

“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,” Winterburn added.

“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.”

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Arsenal. Football. Life. Writing about Arsenal since 2008.