By Austin Williams
Defense, at least that’s what they always say in American football. As the NFL playoffs rage on over here in the States, it is almost certain that the last teams remaining always have some of the best defenses in the league. Sure enough, the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers are poised for yet another body-busting battle in the NFC championship game this weekend. The winner will punch their ticket to the greatest event in American sport, The Super Bowl, where they will play either the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos of the AFC.
Now, I don’t want to bore all you Gooners with American football talk, but my point is that Arsenal have had a championship mentality this season. An absolutely incredible statistic came out during the Villa game about how strong the pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker has been over the past two years. When the two of them are able to complete a 90 minute match together (which has happened 28 times during that span), they are unbeaten. That fact in and of itself is nothing short of phenomenal. The two have combined for 20 wins and 8 draws, but the fact that they also have 16 clean sheets, allowing an average of 0.5 goals per game is phenomenal. That information was astonishing when I first saw it, I knew we had a great defensive record this season, but I had no idea how fantastic the two of them have become together. One does feel for a player like Thomas Vermaelen, who can’t even get into the side because of the pair.
Speaking about the game at Villa Park on Monday, Mertesacker has to be my man of the match. I know many of you might say “What about Jack Wilshere and his brilliant play?” Yes, it’s true neither one of the goals would have happened if it wasn’t for Jack, but what the highlights won’t show you is the header away by Mertesacker in the 82min to keep it from Christian Benteke’s head, saved the game from being tied at two goals a piece. Not to mention the goal that Arsenal conceded was mainly because Santi Cazorla had a momentary lapse in concentration and gave the ball away cheaply in our own third, allowing for the stunning cross into the box for Benteke to finish easily. Immediately after the ball goes in the net, you can see Mertesacker make a visibly frustrated gesture towards Santi letting him know that that sort of thing cannot happen. It’s little moments like this that give me the utmost confidence and pride in our squad. It shows that we have leadership, and players that aren’t afraid to call each other out and demand perfection from one another. Santi is a fantastic player and invaluable to our success in the league, it’s easy to forgive him this mistake, especially since we went on to claim all three points in the end.
Honestly, I could go on and on about each and every player at the club right now and how they exemplify excellence and the right mentality, but in truth, that is all just talk. Nothing can take the place of the players taking to the training ground day after day as they do, and lining up on match day and giving it a good go. I think no one knows that better than the players and Mr. Arsene Wenger himself. When asked by a reporter after the game Monday, about how the top three clubs might continue to change position throughout the course of the season, he said in his own words, we must take it one game at a time. Which as a fan, is exactly what I want to hear, let me, the media, and everyone else talk about how we think the next few fixtures will go, and how the table will shape up at the end of the season. You, as the manager, them, as the players, keep your heads down, pay no mind to us, keep focus, play your game, hold course, and maybe, just maybe they’ll be something shiny at the end…
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In Wenger I trust.