Arsenal: Losing Mertesacker Or Koscielny Would Be Disastrous For Our Season
Despite Arsenal being in their eighth season at the Emirates Stadium, there is still a sense of the ground not feeling like home yet. Arsenalisation projects round the stadium and some big one-off results like wins over Barcelona and Tottenham have helped, however it won’t truly feel like home until there is a trophy to put on the mantel piece. In all of the eight seasons at the Emirates, Arsenal’s home form has been ok, but the stadium hasn’t been regarded as a fortress. There hasn’t been a fear factor for the opposition.
However that’s changing this season. Since the defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day, Arsenal haven’t lost a league game at the Emirates. The Gunners aren’t blowing teams away in manner that Manchester City have done in home games, but Arsenal are ruthlessly efficient, racking up 2-0 wins. The frantic panic that often swept round fans in the stadium has gone as Arsene Wenger has constructed a defence that means visiting teams aren’t breaking through at the Emirates. In the last 11 homes games in all competitions, Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu is the only man to find the Arsenal net.
The bedrock of this excellent defensive record has been the centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. They built a good partnership at the end of last season, but they are now getting more recognition as their unbeaten record playing together has passed 30 games.
The BFG has become a fans’ favourite, and is regarded by many to be captain material. Thomas Vermaelen is always praised by team-mates for how he’s been the club captain this season, but if rumours are true and the Belgian leaves at the end of the season, Mertesacker should be the prime candidate for the captaincy. He understands what it means to play for the club and has the respect of every player. If the BFG talks, they listen. He might not be the quickest defender, but he has the perfect pacey foil in Koscielny.
The whole back four has been strong with Bacary Sagna having one of his best seasons at the club on the right, and Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal pushing each other and competing on the left. In recent seasons Arsenal have plenty of full-back injury crises as centre-backs filled in, or Andre Santos played. The Gunners now have some of the best in the Premier League in those positions. They’ve also been in front of a much improved goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny. After being dropped last season, Szczesny has knuckled down and is now making saves that are winning the Gunners points.
Having a disciplined holding midfielder has also added to the defensive solidarity of the Gunners. Against Southampton last week, the combination of Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta didn’t work for Arsenal, however when one has been playing in the holding role on their own, both have been superb at keeping the team ticking over and not leaving Mertesacker and Koscielny exposed. Seeing the shift that Olivier Giroud puts in every game as well, it shows that Arsenal’s defensive focus is a team effort.
All the talk in January was of Arsenal needing a striker and how Arsene Wenger might live to regret only signing an injured midfielder on loan. However seeing the attacking talent in Arsenal’s midfield, finding goals shouldn’t be a problem during the run-in. Goals are shared round the team, and whilst Olivier Giroud is crucial to way Arsene Wenger’s team have played this season, the Gunners aren’t reliant on him as the main source of finding the net.
Instead of an injury to Giroud, the bigger issue would be if Arsenal suffered significant injuries at the back. With Thomas Vermaelen struggling for fitness in the last few weeks, losing one of Mertesacker or Koscielny would have much larger consequences for the Gunners.
The Gunners will always score goals. Even if Giroud is out, it’ll be difficult for a team with Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, amongst others, to not create chances and score. Should Arsenal win a trophy this season, it will be because of the defence, particularly at the Emirates. The Gunners might not batter teams at home, but the fear factor for visitors has returned know they it will be extremely difficult to breach the barricades at fortress Emirates. Even with Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich due to visit North London in the next two weeks, Arsenal fans should be confident that the defence will stand strong.