Amid all the clamour over Mesut Ozil’s sidelining from the Europa League squad, and almost certainly the Premier League squad as well, the other man cast to the Arsenal fringes seems rather forgotten.
The limelight does not find Sokratis Papastathopoulos as easily as it does Ozil. Where Arsenal’s best paid player recently celebrated 25 million followers on Twitter their Greek centre-back has no legion of fans to call upon. Every social media post does not seem a potential dig to cynical eyes and he has not ridden into battle for Gunnersaurus. His every absence does not prompt a barrage of questions for Mikel Arteta.
Sokratis is rather fading into Arsenal’s past, a relic of the Unai Emery interregnum. That would be a harsh assessment of a player whose qualities were all too easily forgotten in north London.
Above all else, for the most part Arsenal have been a more successful side with Sokratis than without him. Over the course of the 2019/20 season the Gunners averaged 1.53 points in the 19 games the Greek centre-back played, 1.47 in those he didn’t. It’s hardly the sort of return to put them over the top in the race for European positions but it would seem to suggest that this team is at the very least no worse off with him in the side.
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That is not necessarily true for every defender in a backline that made a habit of clumsy errors in recent years. Sokratis is not enured from such mistakes, few were more direct and simple than the goal he handed Watford in a 2-2 draw last season, but they are more infrequent than his reputation suggests. Indeed in his time at Arsenal that is the only mistake leading to a goal that has been recorded in his Opta copy book.
Last season under Arteta, the centre-back was nothing if not disciplined and reliable. Between the Spaniard’s appointment and lockdown Sokratis started on eight occasions. In those games…