The big German and the talented Frenchman both starred as Arsenal secured a famous and professional 1-0 win away at Borussia Dortmund last night, to continue Arsenal’s impressive recent record against German opposition.
The pair are the primary defensive partnership at Arsenal right now, which is great news for the club but terrible news if you’re name is Thomas Vermaelen.
So what exactly makes them so good together?
Firstly, they have been able to play together for a long time and in big games, which gives them a natural understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
That partnership and understanding allows them to cover for each other. For example, Mertesacker knows he can step out of defence to try and intercept the ball, make a high tackle up the field, with the pace of Koscielny able to cover for him if he gets it wrong.
It’s also important to note that they are both very aggressive centre backs, with a combined average of 2.9 tackles per game. That allows them to announce their presence which can ruin a game plan in the opposition.
Secondly, their physical traits compliment each other well.
Mertesacker is a taller, more imposing player than Koscielny which allows the German to latch onto big, bustling centre forwards of the Romelu Lukaku mould.
That frees up Koscielny to keep an eye on the more slipper, quicker forwards because he has the pace to be able to cope with their movement. It also enables him to concentrate on the midfield runners when Arsenal play against teams with one man up front.
If Mertesacker nullifies the threat of the big front man, Koscielny can scope the midfield like a quarterback looking down the pitch in an NFL game and that allows the Frenchman to spot where the danger is coming from.
It’s also interesting that Mertesacker is winning more offsides this season, which suggests he’s willing to take more of a risk in that area because he knows Koscielny has the pace to recover if he gets it wrong.
If that danger is one Mertesacker’s side of defence, that’s where the next point comes in, communication.
One of the problems for a defensive back four can be picking up players and passing them on.
What allows Mertesacker and Koscielny to play so well together is how vocal they are. Passing on players to each other’s side of the defence, who could threaten to pull either of them out of position, creating a gap in the Arsenal defence.
Watch any Arsenal game and you’ll see them both pointing and shouting at each other as though they’re playing their first game as a partnership in Arsenal’s back four.
They really are a great combination and it will be fascinating to see if they can maintain their momentum for the rest of the season.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald