Arsenal have struggled defensively this season, not only conceding goals but in forming a formidable centre back partnership. At the start of the season Arsenal desperately needed defensive cover, so after a humiliating 8-2 crushing defeat at the hands of Man United, Arsenal shipped in the Big German Per Mertesacker. Per Mertesacker had been criticised a lot in Germany and across world football for being too slow and clumsy. We have seen glimpses of this so far in his short time at Arsenal. Mertesacker and Koscielny have played together the most times this season, due to injuries to Vermaelen and when Vermaelen was eventually fit he has had to fill in at full back due to even more injuries. It has been a tough adjustment period for Mertesacker, he has put in some good shifts but I personally still have my doubts.
Starts – 22 Conceded – 25 Clean Sheets – 6 Win % – 59%
Koscielny last season was criticised a lot, but I am a big Koscielny fan, this season he has proved he can deal with the pace of any Premier League striker and he has bulked up a lot since last season. I personally believe the future of Arsenal Centre Back pairings lie with Koscielny and Vermaelen at the heart of the defence. With the extremely high line Arsenal play, the pace and tenacity of Koscielny and Vermaelen is something that Arsenal need and something Mertesacker can’t give. Koscielny has already shown me this season that he can defend against the best, his epic defensive showing against Man City in the league cup depicted that. Koscielny kept Aguero and Dzeko at bay reasonably comfortably whilst partnering the suspect Squillaci at the back.
Starts – 21 Conceded – 28 Clean Sheets – 8 Win % – 57%
Koscielny and Mertesacker have played together in 15 out of Arsenal’s 33 games so far, they are one of 10 centre back pairings Arsenal have had already this season. Out of those games Arsenal have come out victorious on 9 occasions, however they have shipped 19 goals and have only kept 4 clean sheets. It seems as though however Wenger’s number defensive pairing is Vermaelen and Mertesacker who have only partnered each other 5 times this season. Those 5 games have seen Arsenal concede only 3 goals and are unbeaten with 2 clean sheets.
Mertesacker & Koscielny
Starts – 15 Conceded – 19 Clean Sheets – 4 Win % – 60%
Its understandable why Vermaelen is such a pivotal part of the Arsenal defence, they look so much more assured with the Belgian at the back. Vermaelen has played 12 games at Centre Back this season, with Arsenal being on the losing side on only 2 occasions, keeping 5 clean sheets and most importantly only conceding the 10 goals. With Vermaelen starting, Arsenal have only conceded more than one goal on two occasions which was against Liverpool, where Arsenal were down to 10 men when Liverpool scored their goals and against Olympiakos, where Arsenal fielded a relatively weak team in Greece.
Starts – 12 Conceded – 10 Clean Sheets – 5 Win % – 58%
The stats do not lie, when Vermaelen plays Centre Back Arsenal are much more resilient defensively. The stats point towards Koscielny as being Vermaelen’s best partner. This season they have started 3 games together, remaining unbeaten and have kept 3 clean sheets, not conceding a single goal in those 3 games. Wenger seems to have a belief and confidence in the pairing of Vermaelen and Mertesacker who also have an unbeaten record, but I just feel more at ease with Koscielny playing at back. Mertesacker whilst being 6’6 still doesn’t seem to be that dominant in the air.
Vermaelen & Mertesacker
Starts – 5 Conceded – 3 Clean Sheets – 2 Win % – 60%
Vermaelen & Koscielny
Starts – 3 Conceded – 0 Clean Sheets – 3 Win % – 67%
Arsenal at home have the second best defensive record in the Premier League, only conceding 6 goals at home. However its away from home where Arsenal have struggled. Arsenal have conceded the most goals away from home in the whole of the Premier League (25). Interestingly enough Vermaelen has not played at Centre Back away from home in the Premier League so far this season. When you take the 8 goals conceded away to Man United where Koscielny & Djourou played Centre Back, Arsenal would have only conceded 13 goals away from home, which can be bettered only by 4 teams. The introduction of Mertesacker has made a substantial difference to the Arsenal team, which has improved defensively. However yesterday’s defeat against Swansea still shows weaknesses not only at the back, but as a whole defensive unit.
The key to this season being successful for Arsenal will be to keep Vermaelen fit and with Koscielny or Mertesacker partnering him, Arsenal can focus on going forward and scoring goals, knowing defensively they are resilient.
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