Sokratis: The Greek aiming to help implement Arsenal's new defensive philosophy
Sokratis, pictured with Dortmund, brings plenty of experience to Arsenal | Photo credit: VAVEL - Daniel Nieto.

Sokratis: The Greek aiming to help implement Arsenal's new defensive philosophy

Arsenal's recent defensive acquisition is beginning to show signs of why he was brought to North London.

Matt Dawson

Sokratis [Sōkrátēs], a male given name equivalent to Socrates in English, derives from two terms. One, sṓzō, to save and rescue, and two, krátos [κράτος] a noun for might, strength and power.

Coincidently, safe and powerful are two adjectives which perfectly describe Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Much like his namesake, the Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, he has been a major influencer. Not in the way of ethical thinking, however, but in the manner new manager Unai Emery is aiming to implement Arsenal's defensive structure.

The Gunners have been subpar when it's come to defending for many years but out of each defender in 2018/19, Sokratis, as his name describes, has been the strongest.

Emery wants his team to build out from the back and Sokratis has looked the most convincing by a considerable distance.

He arrived from Borussia Dortmund in the summer with German pundits and Bundesliga fans claiming he was past it. However, early signs show that he's still got what it takes.

His name may bear resemblance to that of the Ancient Greek philosopher but there is no Socratic questioning about his defending. It is straightforward, there are no complications or secrets behind it. It is simply see ball, get ball - and he's very good at it.

A player who loves to defend

Sokratis' first interview with the club when he signed in July was hugely refreshing: "I'm a normal defender who likes to defend." Arsenal fans hearing that must have been left gleaming from top to bottom. For all too long, barring the club's captain Laurent Koscielny, it's looked as those put in the Gunners backline don't want to defend.

That may be doing a disservice to those who show 100% commitment to the club, but the Gunners have been rather shambolic at the back for the past decade. Sokratis is a player looking to amend that.

"I like that my team doesn't [concede] goals and I like the zero in the defence of course. I will do everything to help achieve these goals," he added during his first interview. His response, unlike Socrates, was far from philosophical. It was simple and to the point, much like his defending.

Although the Gunners are still yet to keep a clean sheet this season, something which will frustrate both him and the rest of the side, there are strong signs particularly in the last couple of games that Sokratis is beginning to find his feet in English football.

Key attributes

What is noticeable about the 30-year-old is how particularly strong in the air he is. He's shown evidence of being good in the tackle whilst he also has remarkable pace; something he displayed to good effect against Vorskla, using his pace to recover well during a period in the second half.

Surprisingly he is the third quickest player at the club. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, a team mate of the Greek international at Dortmund too, released a table of the speed of some of the Arsenal players. Sokratis was behind only Aubameyang and Hector Bellerin on the list.

Reflecting again upon his first interview with the Gunners, Sokratis also commented: "I think that a defender first has to defend, to protect the goal." It's hardly groundbreaking philosophical thinking as Socrates was known for, but it would be handy advice for the rest of the Gunners backline who seemingly forget that.

Sokratis also has other qualities too. Like the retired Per Mertesacker, who has joined Arsenal's backroom staff, he reads the game intelligently and is a natural leader. Furthermore, he's shown good purpose with the ball at his feet and knows how to pick a pass.

He seems to fit perfectly what Emery is looking for in his defence, but it's important not to get ahead of ourselves so soon into the new season.

Long term answer?

It must be said that it's difficult to consider that at 30-years-old whether Sokratis is just a stop-gap signing for Arsenal or whether he can help them produce long term results.

Shkodran Mustafi has had a turbulent spell with the Gunners so far and despite the odd convincing game is yet to really show why Arsene Wenger paid over £35m for the German. In comparison, Sokratis cost around £17m. A mere snip in today's market.

It's exciting to think about Sokratis' potential partnership alongside Koscielny later in the season. The Frenchman isn't due back for another couple of months after rupturing his Achilles tendon against Atletico Madrid last campaign, but Arsenal will surely look a more solid outfit with the pair of them in defence.

Sokratis still has years ahead of him and even if he's not a long term answer, then by the time his best years are beyond him another Greek defender at the club in Konstantinos Mavropanos may be ready.

It would be rather appropriate for another Socrates, teacher of Plato, to take a young Greek under his wing and tutor him to an expert level of thinking, or in this case defending.

For now, however, there are more immediate concerns. Arsenal will need to sort out their defensive issues quick if they are to challenge for a top four spot.

Emery's team may be a work of progress, but with Sokratis in defence Arsenal look to have a wise head capable of enforcing what is required.