Arsenal completed their third signing of the summer transfer window last week with the capture of centre-half Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund for an undisclosed fee.
The experienced defender has penned what the Gunners say is a “long-term contract” with the club and is new manager Unai Emery’s second defensive signing who is aged 30 or above, after veteran full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner joined the north London side in June.
Sokratis, who is commonly referred to by his forename, has over a decade of first-team experience and joins Arsenal after seven seasons in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and then Dortmund.
Arsenal conceded more goals in 2017/18 (51) than in any season since the formation of the Premier League and their new manager is evidently prioritising their backline as he shakes up the squad: goalkeeper Bernd Leno, along with Lichtsteiner, has also been recruited over the summer.
READ MORE: Bernd Leno – Scout Report
Sokratis has been priced up at £5.5m in Fantasy Premier League and costs as much as his new defensive colleagues, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin.
With Koscielny sidelined by an Achilles injury and possibly out until 2019, Sokratis seems certain to be one of Emery’s first-choice picks at centre-back.
Upon signing for the Gunners, the 30-year-old Greek international said:
I’m a normal defender who likes to defend. 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.
I think that a defender first has to defend, to protect the goal, and then after if he can help in front a little bit for the game, then it’s good. But first of all, he has to defend.
Defensive duties, then, are the priority for the stopper that former coach Thomas Tuchel says is “a little bit obsessed with defending”. Having played five seasons with Dortmund, however, Sokratis will be suited to the dynamic, free-flowing brand of football favoured by the Gunners and will indeed be reunited with former BVB team-mates Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Sokratis began his senior career in his native Greece with AEK Athens, scoring on his first-team debut in a 3-0 Greek Cup win over PAS Giannina in October 2005. Then aged just 17, Sokratis gained further experience with a loan spell at second-tier club Niki Volos, who he appeared for 11 times in the league at the back end of the 2005/06 season.
After returning to his parent club, Sokratis went on to make 38 league appearances for AEK over two seasons, scoring on one occasion. The young stopper also had his first experience of UEFA Champions League football and was part of the AEK side that beat Milan – who then had Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Filippo Inzaghi among their ranks – 1-0 in November 2006.
Two seasons and 51 Serie A appearances with Genoa followed before Milan snapped up Sokratis in 2010, although the-then 22-year-old centre-back watched most of the season from the bench as the Rossoneri won their 18th Serie A title.
Sokratis departed for Werder Bremen on a season-long loan deal after just five league appearances for the Italian giants and was to make his move to Germany permanent the following year after an impressive debut Bundesliga campaign.
Jurgen Klopp saw enough in those 59 league appearances for Bremen to persuade Sokratis to join Dortmund in May 2013 – the same summer that Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang signed for the German side.
Sokratis was to soon displace long-serving centre-back Neven Subotic in the Dortmund team and went on to make 130 Bundesliga appearances under Klopp, Tuchel, Peter Bosz and Peter Stoger across five seasons.
The Greek centre-back played either Champions League or Europa League football in each of his five years with the German club and won the DFB-Pokal (the German domestic cup) in 2016/17.
Capped 79 times by his country at the time of writing, Sokratis featured at Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup for Greece.
With Koscielny a long-term absentee, Per Mertesacker retiring and Monreal possibly reverting to left-back (given that Emery is fond of a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3), Arsenal looked short of experience at the heart of the defence.
Sokratis’ capture, therefore, looks a sage move by the Gunners, particular with Mustafi struggling for form towards the end of last season and Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos still somewhat green.
Arsenal conceded 70 big chances last season, by far the worst total of the “Big Six” clubs and indeed twice as many as Manchester City allowed. No Premier League team made more errors (15) that led to goals, either.
The Gunners also conceded more shots on target (146), headed chances (83) and attempts from set pieces (122) than any of last season’s top six sides and, while their underlying defensive statistics are by no means the worst in the league, require improvement if Fantasy managers are to invest a sizeable chunk of their defensive budget in a £5.5m-rated asset.
Arsenal’s rate of headed chances conceded was particularly poor – the eighth-worst in the division – but Sokratis could help address that weakness: the Greek centre-back’s aerial duel success rate of 67.5% was better than all of his new team-mates (Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal won 62.4%, 56.6% and 50% of their headers respectively).
Sokratis’ tackle success rate of 72.3% was also better than all other Arsenal centre-backs bar Koscielny (75.4%).
It should be noted that Sokratis’ statistics also came in a tumultuous season for Dortmund, who conceded more Bundesliga goals (47) than they have managed in a decade. Despite this, the German giants still recorded 12 clean sheets in their 34 league matches – just one fewer than Arsenal managed in 38 fixtures.
Sokratis’ strength in the air extends to attacking set plays, too. Though he hasn’t scored more than two goals in a single campaign in his career, Sokratis has scored at least one league goal in each of his seven seasons in the Bundesliga (the Greek international scored on two occasions in both 2016/17 and 2017/18). A total of 15 attempts on goal last season – seven of which, curiously, were from outside the box – was more than Mustafi (13) and Koscielny (nine) managed, but fewer than Monreal (22).
With no club scoring more goals from set plays than Arsenal last season (16), Fantasy managers can expert Sokratis to be in the thick of the action in 2018/19.
Should Arsenal improve their defensive record and up their clean sheet count, then Sokratis’ underlying passing statistics means he should fare well on the Bonus Points System. A repeat of his pass success rate of 86.9% for Dortmund last season, while inferior to the rates recorded by Monreal (89.5%) and Koscielny (89%), would give Sokratis an extra four BPS points per match.
One downside to the Greek defender’s game is his ability to accumulate cards: Sokratis amassed 45 cautions and three red cards in 189 Bundesliga appearances.
If Emery is to abandon the three-man defensive system favoured by Arsene Wenger towards the end of the latter’s tenure, then Arsenal’s wing-backs may not be as attractive a Fantasy proposition as before.
Sokratis could, therefore, be a viable candidate for our squads from Gameweek 3 onwards. After the Gunners open their season with fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea, they then face a run of matches (WHU, cdf, new, EVE, WAT, ful, LEI, cry) that would seem ideal for investment at both ends of the pitch. How steely Arsenal’s defence looks in those two tough opening tests in August could determine whether Sokratis plays a part in many Fantasy managers’ squads.
READ MORE: Our 2017/18 season analysis of Arsenal
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