In the two season’s prior to this season, the Arsenal defence was hammered (and rightly so) as being one of the worst defences in the EPL. Mertesacker was criticised for his poor positioning, reading of the game, unforced errors and lack of pace, while Koscielny was said to be reckless into the challenge and prone to give away free-kicks in dangerous positions and un-necessary penalties.
By the end of January in the season 2011/12, the Arsenal defence had leaked 33 goals and 29 goals by the end of January in the season 2012/13. This season has totally different, with Arsenal currently joint lowest goals conceded with Everton and Chelsea on 19 and 6 of those coming in the disastrous game against Man City.
So what has changed this season from previous seasons? A lot of it can be attributed to stability in defence. Bacarcy Sagna has been playing out of his skin and is now getting an extended run of games, having suffered successive leg breaks which kept him out for vast chunks of the previous seasons and restricted his match fitness. The same applies to Kieran Gibbs, who suffered his own injury nightmares in past seasons. But even when Gibbs has been out this season, the emergence of Nacho Monreal as a more than able deputy is a real bonus. Monreal has really settled in well and is showing what a good player he really is this season.
But for me it’s the partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker that has been the key to Arsenals good fortunes and they are finely getting the recognition they deserve from fans and pundits alike, after no less than 28 matches unbeaten when Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have started at the heart of the Gunners’ defence. It has taken time for them to gel and I suspect that a lot of time was spent on the training pitch with Steve Bould and Arsene Wenger forging this combination.
Like all good partnerships, the duo are very different players. Mertesacker relies on his aerial skills, huge physique and reading of the game, while Koscielny uses his speed and ferocious tackling skills. Both players are comfortable with the ball at their feet and rarely, if ever, play a loose pass.
Kos recently spoke on Arsenal.com and had this to say about how he feels his partnership with Mertesacker has developed during the past year or so:
I always anticipate. I have to take risks because that’s the way I play. When I intercept the ball it’s a risk I took to get it. That’s what I do best but it can lead to mistakes too. When I’m on the pitch I need to go for it. I need to battle.
Per is more assured. We are complementing each other. We have different qualities and when you add them together it makes a very good partnership. I cover him because he knows I have the pace. I know that everything that comes facing us is for him. He knows that I go for the interception, on crosses he goes for the marking because he knows that I am going to anticipate.
All we can say is, whatever you’re doing guys – keep it up. Hopefully at the end of the season you’ll get the reward you deserved for all your hard word and lift the Premiership Trophy. COYG.