Per Mertesacker has hopefully already had his moment of madness for this season, messing up against Monaco in the Champions League, and he should now deliver commanding performances for the remainder of the season. Last term his blunder against Liverpool cost us the game during January’s defeat, and eventually the Premier League.
I believe every good/great defender or goalkeeper is allowed a moment of madness, however…
Mertesacker has an unbelievable sense of positioning that allows him to cut out attacks, and his height allows him to defend set-pieces and be a physical presence in the box. However, his lack of mobility and pace leaves him exposed to counter attacks and makes him vulnerable to quick attackers, so he requires a defender with good pace to cover him.
Laurent Koscielny provides this, due to his physicality and pace. However, he is prone to errors, too. Remember, it was Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny who cost us the League cup final in 2011 after they were involved in a mix up that resulted in Obafemi Martins getting an unlikely win for Birmingham, and it was the same two players who comically gifted Southampton their second goal earlier this season.
Koscielny likes playing with the BFG, but the signing of Gabriel Paulista introduces selection difficulties.
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The Brazilian joined the mix this season, and what a valuable addition he has been… making last ditch tackles on a number of occasions. He has the same aggression as Koscielny and is blessed with the same pace, and so far justified his price-tag.
So which partnership works best for Arsenal? With both Gabriel and Koscielny, Arsenal can play a high line but two similar defenders means they could get in each other’s space, causing confusion. Mertesacker has proved he can play with either Koscielny or Gabriel very effectively – although that means they can’t afford to play with a high line. Judging on recent form though, this hasn’t been a problem.
For this reason, the German needs to play – with one of the faster defenders alongside him – until the end of the season at least.