German Gunner explains the simple cause for Arsenal's strength at the two centre back positions.
The faith of Arsene Wenger in well-positioned German, Per Mertesacker and his centre back partner Laurent Koscielny, an athletic Frenchman, combined with the introduction of Steve Bould to the N5 coaching staff, has played a considerable influence in the development of a formidable defensive duo at the Emirates Stadium and beyond.
The red-and-white pairing, who are undefeated when both have completed 90 minutes, where Arsenal are unbeaten for well over two years when they have been fielded, is a remarkable feat and puts to rest the assertion that Wenger has never really replaced the exquisite rearguard he inherited (Bould, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon) when he began his tenure in North London.
Mertesacker is in disbelief over the run he and Koscielny have enjoyed: 'It does not sound real for me,' he said, as quoted by the club's official website.
When the pair first arrived at the club they were subject to criticism - Mertesacker for his lack of pace and Koscielny for lacking positional nous, yet their individual flaws are compensated by their defensive partner.
'When I first heard it, it sounded very weird. It's a good statistic but we have to build on that. I think we have shown a lot of people who criticised us a lot over the last two-and-a-half years that we know each other much better now and that we complement each other well, so it looks like that's a good partnership [with Koscielny]. But I wouldn't say that's only us or the two of us.'
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'I think when I speak about our centre backs I want to include always Thomas Vermaelen because he's our captain and he's always vital for everyone. He's aware of situations, he gives us a boost, he came back from a heavy injury,' noted Mertesacker.
While Mertesacker and Koscielny are the preferred two, Vermaelen - statistically speaking - still has great worth and makes comparable contributions when he is selected, enjoying a touch on the ball with as much regularity as Koscielny (once every 1.53 minutes), completes an interception every 37 minutes, a clearance every 9 minutes (more frequently than Laurent and Per), makes a tackle every 56 minutes and wins a duel every 14 minutes.
Over the coming weeks and months, Arsenal match-up against a number of elite-level opponents, including Liverpool (on Saturday), Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Rotation, Mertesacker believes, will be key in preserving their defensive strength.
'The boss will rotate in the next couple of months and it's really important that we are all in good fitness and all in a good shape so we can continue our good form and good partnerships with the three of us.
'In this case I would say we have different qualities. One is more mobile, one has more height. It fits absolutely well together because [these] days the centre backs are not just tall and just have to [deal with] long balls and to head these balls.
'I've played with many good centre backs with different qualities. But Laurent, he's one of the quickest players I've ever played with, one of the most mobile players, and he anticipates well a lot of balls so he has real strengths to be a good partner. For me it's easy to play alongside him.
'Hopefully he's going to say that to you as well when he speaks about me! We both take advantages from each other so that is the main key [to our success] I think.'
image: © Ronnie Macdonald