The two title rivals will line up against one another on the December 23rd and one of them will surely have something to celebrate over the festive period. The Gunners have an opportunity to put more distance between themselves and the chasing pack this month but with tough tests against Everton, Manchester City and then Chelsea, they may find themselves with a daunting task on their hands.
However, Arsenal’s defensive record this season has been nothing short of exemplary – the North Londoners have not conceded a goal in 470 minutes of Premier League football. They’ve kept 5 clean sheets in 13 games and have conceded fewer goals than any other team (level with Southampton).
The stability of their backline has been a huge factor in their success so far this term but it’s also a consistency that has stood for quite some time unnoticed. Arsenal’s current back five have never lost a game in the Premier League – ever.
Wojceich Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have never been defeated as a unit, which is quite extraordinary. However, what’s also been an improvement is not just their organization as a back four or five but also their reading of the game.
In seasons past Koscielny or captain Thomas Vermaelen, amongst unmentionable others, have been considered calamitous for their individual errors – rushing out to make challenges or flying in for mistimed or misjudges tackles.
Per Mertesacker’s pace had been pointed to as a downfall but what’s most interesting is that we’ve seen this term, what the German may lack in physical speed he makes up for in mental processing speed – his anticipation and reading of the game is second to none in my view.
Moreover, with him bringing a calm and relaxed, almost contemplative manner to the back line, it gives Koscielny a foundation and a solidity to his game – he and Vermaelen as a partnership often looked on the verge of kamikaze but the Frenchman seems so composed and confident with Mertesacker – there’s no drama and no panic.
Of course, mention must also go to the fantastic work that goes on ahead of them via Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini but Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey has actually make the most tackles so far this season. The Welshman has been in fine form wherever and whoever he’s played but I would suggest its his composure that has been the difference – not just in front of goal but, like Mertesacker his reading of the game and his anticipation of danger.
In fact, as Arsenal prepare to face the likes of Chelsea and City they should consider their advancements and progress this term – Mertesacker, Koscielny and Ramsey combined have made more interceptions this season than the entire Chelsea team.
Chelsea have made a total of 106 interceptions – Ramsey has made 58, Koscielny 33 and Mertesacker 17, totalling 108. It may seem trivial but looking behind the numbers this tells a story of an Arsenal trio that recognizes and anticipates danger more effectively and efficiently than an entire Chelsea team.
Arsenal as a team have made 178 interceptions but it's interesting to see that this trio of the two centre backs and Ramsey have accounted for 60% of that total which is quite remarkable. In tandem they make Arsenal 60% more defensively solid and almost twice as impenetrable than the other eight players on the pitch at any given time.
The mistimed tackles, the poor decision making and the kamikaze challenges have been replaced at the Emirates with cool, calm, anticipation of potential danger which is defused before it has the chance to develop into danger at all.
images: © Ronnie Macdonald