Arsene Wenger has seen a number of solid combinations at the heart of this defense, including Keown and Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure and now, according to Keown, Mertesacker and Koscielny now deserve to be on that particular pedestal after an outstanding season.
Arsenal have conceded just 19 goals in the league this season, tied with Chelsea and Everton for the fewest goals conceded in the entire division. But maybe the most telling stat is that, when they start and finish the game as the central defensive partnership over the last two years, Arsenal have never lost. Their record stands at played 27, won 19 and drawn 8, conceding an average of just 0.5 goals per game, as well as keeping 16 clean sheets in that time.
Of course, it hasn't always been this way. Mertesacker was long mocked for appearing slow and clumsy, whilst French international Koscielny seemingly always had a mistake in him somewhere. But the affect of breaking up their partnership was shown at the Etihad Stadium, as Koscielny was taken off injured after 42 minutes, with the score 2-1 to Manchester City. The game finished 6-3 as Manuel Pellegrini's side tore through the Arsenal backline at will once Thomas Vermaelen came on.
And ex-England and Gunners great Keown believes that the two are establishing themselves as a top partnership. “Arsenal have had some excellent defensive partnerships over the years but there’s no doubt that Koscielny and Mertesacker are now right up there with the best of them,” Keown said. “The great thing about the pair is how well they complement each other. Mertesacker is strong and excellent in the air, then you have the agility and anticipation of Koscielny.”
Keown also praised 29-year-old Mertesacker for being the leader of the Arsenal defence; “Mertesacker seems to be a natural leader. He’s the one dictating where the line is and how deep they drop.” With 95 German caps to his name, the towering defender is an experienced head in the Arsenal backline, a valued quality since the departures of Toure, Campbell, Adams and Keown.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald