The Greek defender feels changes to the game have made his job more difficult, but he still enjoys it and wants to hit the levels of the Dutchman
Sokratis Papastathopoulos is eager to point out that defenders are “not robots” as his form at Arsenal casts doubt over his future at Emirates Stadium.
It has been suggested that the Greece international could be among those deemed surplus to requirements by Mikel Arteta.
He is still seeing game time at present and lined up in an unfamiliar right-back berth for an FA Cup third-round clash with Leeds.
Sokratis is aware of the questions facing him and an inconsistent Arsenal side in 2019-20, but believes both will come good once greater confidence is returned to the ranks.
The 31-year-old told the Gunners’ official website: “Football has changed a lot in the past 10 or 12 years. When I started football, I was in Italy. I was in Greece first, but afterwards I made the step to Italy.
“It was not so necessary to play out from the back and because of this, you also didn’t concede a lot of chances or a lot of goals.
“Now, every team, or most, has to start from the back and exchange a lot of passes to arrive in the opposite area and to score. The more passes and more things you do, you also have more risk inside. For this, it’s more beautiful football, but also the teams concede more goals because the players are not robots. Everybody makes mistakes.
“That’s why being a defender these days is very difficult. I think it is one of the most difficult positions. Maybe you don’t have to run like a midfielder, but every mistake that you do is a very hard mistake for the team, so you pay very expensively.
“But I still love being a defender. And for me, the part I enjoy most is when you can defend well like a team, to control the game, to fight for every ball and every duel.
“Every day is the one you have to show to everybody that you have a strong mentality and also your qualities in the game and mentality, especially to win. We have had some difficult moments this season and we know we need to improve, but we have the quality to do it. We just need the confidence.”
Sokratis added on his role in a bigger picture at Emirates Stadium: “To be one of the best defenders, you need to have everything to be complete. It’s about focusing on the game very well, pace, power, technique also, to control the game from behind.
“It’s also important to be a winner and to be a winner, your mentality has to be at a high level every day. In every game, every training session, every duel, you have to win it.
“If that means we keep the zero in the defence, then I’ve done my job.”
Sokratis has plenty of players to look to for inspiration, having grown up idolising the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini.
He considers Liverpool rival Virgil van Dijk to set the standard in the modern era, with the Dutch centre-half having landed the UEFA Player of the Year award in 2019 and finished as runner-up to Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or vote.
“What Virgil van Dijk did last year was something very difficult for every defender to do. Last year for him was perfect, especially for all the people close to him who helped him a lot,” said Sokratis.
“He was very good and it was a good year for him. With the way football is going in front, especially when everybody thinks about offensive players and how they can score more, I think the defenders need to start getting more credit.”
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