Yesterday just confirmed the fact that without either Koscielny or Mertesacker at the back Arsenal are going to concede goals. This is due to a variety of reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is the understanding that Koscielny and Mertesacker had formed on the pitch. Mertesacker is the slow one who knows how to position himself on the pitch and use his big frame to make it difficult for strikers to pass while Koscielny mops up whatever gets past with his pace. On the surface it looks quite simple but it has taken a long time to get this understanding, time that neither Vermaelen or Sagna have to form as we come to the business end of the season.
Mertesacker and Koscielny are also both excellent readers of the game and both tackle cleanly without causing any unnecessary fouls that can lead to dangerous free kicks. Sagna and Vermaelen often get caught out of position and while they have the pace to recover, they tend to tackle rashly. This has led to very many penalties and free kicks against us.
One thing Arsenal had learnt to do was defend set pieces. Before, it was almost accepted that the team would concede from a set piece but Mertesacker and Koscielny have been quite exceptional in the air of late. This season we have kept very many clean sheets and have looked solid defensively, the ‘accidents’ against the big teams not withstanding. However watching Bony score for Swansea City yesterday with a header that should have been defended much better, signs look ominous that we will concede a lot more. Teams like Manchester City and Everton will punish us if we do not learn to deal with aerial attacks.
The last and most unfortunate reason is Sagna and Vermaelen are simply not good enough to replace Koscielny. Vermaelen looks like a liability every time he steps on the pitch, a mistake waiting to happen. He is simply not up to the standard required to play for a team like Arsenal. Of course I could be wrong. He could just be rusty from been on the bench for such a long time and go on to play for a big team and even become their talisman. Sagna, on the other hand, has never quite looked like the same player since his contract wrangles. He looks disinterested when he is on the pitch and it is almost inevitable that he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season.
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Arsenal are now six points behind league leaders Chelsea which is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination but they have to win Manchester City to cling on to their slim hopes of winning the league. To do that, they need to score a lot of goals because if they are relying on their defence, they can kiss the title goodbye.