Opinion: Why Stephan Lichtsteiner is the perfect squad player for Arsenal
Photo: Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane

Opinion: Why Stephan Lichtsteiner is the perfect squad player for Arsenal

Arsenal raised eye brows when they signed 34-year-old Lichtsteiner last summer. 

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Mitul Samji

Switzerland international Stephan Lichtsteiner signed for Arsenal on a free transfer from Italian giants Juventus.

He did not come across as the flashiest or a marquee signing in the summer but his records speak for itself, winning 17 major honours so far in his playing career. Lichtsteiner is yet to win a European trophy despite coming close in two occasions with Juventus in 2015 and 2017 Champions League finals, losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Lichtsteiner arrived in North London with lots of optimism under new head coach Unai Emery. The Swiss has already displayed his veteran presence to the squad when he’s called upon.

He has been mainly featured as a regular starter in Arsenal’s Europa League and Carabao Cup Cup campaign so far. Lichtsteiner has also started twice in the Premier League and a few occasions came on as a substitute. The qualities of the fullback are still shining throughout the dressing room, both on and off the pitch, and here are some of the reasons why.

Longevity and a competitive player

Lichtsteiner may be 34 years of age and coming to the end of his career but right back spoke to various news outlets and highlighted his performance data, Lichtsteiner said he has the "physicality of a 28-year-old." It proved to be an extremely positive sign for Arsenal as he can play a big part in defence this season.

Longevity in the modern game at the highest level is extremely hard. Lichtsteiner is a modern-day footballer who truly appreciates the hand he has been dealt, yet takes nothing for granted. He is one who is serious about his career.

There can be comparisons with many former and present Premier League stars, most notably Ryan Giggs - former Manchester United legend who prolonged his playing career till the age of 40 who had the strength not only to play the game but to train as well. We can see a similarity in Lichtsteiner who also impressed at last summer’s World Cup in Russia.

When Lichtsteiner has featured he uses his experience, intelligence on the pitch, as well as adapting and changing his game, which he has effectively applied. There is no doubt that he is a competitor, providing much-needed backup and competition for Hector Bellerin.

Experience

Arsenal have club captain Laurent Koscielny back from a devastating injury in last season’s Europa League semi-final against eventual winners Atletico Madrid. He played 72 minutes in last night’s win over Qarabag, while former club skipper Per Mertesacker hung up his boots at the end of last season.

With the Gunners failing out of the Champions League places for the last two seasons under former boss Arsene Wenger, Lichtsteiner has helped lift an underachieved squad with filling in an important leadership void at Arsenal, which is an area the Gunners have lacked over the last few seasons.

Also, he has acted as an off-the-field leader to motivate both established and younger players making their way to the first team, who have struggled over the past couple of seasons.

Strengthens key positions in defence

As well as bring experience and leadership within the Arsenal dressing room, he also brings lot of versatility in defence, having featured as a left back in a few occasions to cover Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac when they were both sidelined.

He really helps to strengthen in defensive positions and steps in when needed and securing the holes at the back is the best start for the Gunners.

Arsenal fans know how talented and effective Bellerin was when he emerged himself into the first team back in the 2014-15 campaign but for a while, he hadn’t had a suitable backup competing in his position. Mathieu Debuchy departed Arsenal in January, but even he was injured for most of the season.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Calum Chambers have both filled in at right-back respectively but both have strengths and qualities in other positions. This has actually put huge pressure on Bellerin to stay fit all of last season, as he played 45 matches across all competitions last term.

With Lichtsteiner playing in the Arsenal team, they haven’t only found a solid back up, but they’ve found a player that can mentor Bellerin and can prove to be an asset in the Spaniard's development as a player.

During Lichtsteiner’s prime, he was regarded as a hard-worker, dynamic and a consistent defender with his stamina and crossing ability. Bellerin's crossing ability was very sub-par over last season and it is an area Lichtsteiner has mentored him as well as being really effective in the flanks, providing four assists in the Premier League. It is a small area of development that could prove to be significant over the course of the season.

Winning mentality

Lichtsteiner has won a host of titles and domestic cups over the past decade in Italy. He joined Arsenal over the summer and become the fourth player in the entire squad to have won a league title in one of the so-called “Top Five” leagues, alongside Petr Cech, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil.

It is an inexperienced squad in regards to winning domestic league titles. Lichtsteiner has led by example in tight situations and maintaining momentum as well as concentration ahead of or during games in which Arsenal have waiting for a breakthrough.

As the festive period cracks on, games normally come thick and fast – Lichtsteiner will continue to step in when needed and be an experienced figure at the heart of Arsenal’s defence.

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