PICTURE: Arsenal star returns to training (but why he shouldn't play)

Arsene Wenger is beginning to enjoy a near full complement of senior Gunners.

One of the modern successes of Arsene Wenger's coaching nous has been the development of the flourishing partnership Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have forged.

When Wenger's rearguard had once been criticised as porous, the club now rarely concede let alone lose when the German and the Frenchman are fielded in the same selection.

What is their gain, however, is ultimately the club captain's loss as Thomas Vermaelen has largely been restricted to a bit-part role in the Premier League. However, his presence alone provides Wenger with a great option not only on the bench, but also in genera.

The data table below proves Wenger is correct to prefer Koscielny and Mertesacker over Vermaelen as the latter does not even commit to one challenge per game on average, is not as prolific a clearer of the football as the aforementioned pair, while they also overshadow Vermaelen when it comes to intercepting and dueling. Vermaelen also attempts the fewest passes out of all Arsenal defenders, regardless of position at the back and has the least touches of the football per game.

 Gibbs 2.67 4.50 2.06 5.28 42.50 67.06 18 1,461
 Koscielny 1.89 7.00 2.95 3.89 38.47 54.21 19 1,639
 Mertesacker 1.50 6.25 1.55 4.70 47.80 60.15 20 1,800
 Sagna 1.32 4.21 1.37 5.95 53.21 77.00 19 1,620
Nacho Monreal 1.14 1.57 0.86 2.71 24.43 35.86 14 529
Carl Jenkinson 1.10 2.30 0.50 2.80 31.50 47.30 10 618
Thomas Vermaelen 0.86 5.14 1.29 3.29 21.71 31.86 7 341

The Belgium international posted a picture earlier on his official Twitter account confirming Wenger's earlier assertion that he would welcome three established first-teamers back to the fold, including Mikel Arterta and Aaron Ramsey.

Considering Yaya Sanogo also faces an imminent return to full health, that leaves only two long-term absentees from the senior squad - Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott, who both suffered anterior cruciate ligament injuries in their respective knees.

Arsenal travel to the South Coast to take on Southampton on Tuesday, January 28 as they continue their push for division honours this season.

FIFA World Cup 2018FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia - click here for all of our coverage...

Register for ARSENAL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch