Arsenal's Mertesacker and Koscielny the best of a bad bunch ?

Per Mertesacker

Arsenal fans have been bigging up their first choice defenders this season, but they're not a patch on the likes of the old Ferdinand and Vidic or Baresi and Maldini.

Neither of Arsenal's main defenders Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny are world class. Both have too many individual weaknesses for clever attackers to exploit. And therein lies the problem -  that was never the case with the truly great defending partnerships of the past.

It's probably fair to say that together the German and Frenchman are the best of a bad bunch in the Premier League at present. Chelsea's odds-and-sods mix of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and an aged John Terry isn't up to scratch. Manchester City still haven't found a decent partner for Vincent Kompany, who can be a bit reckless at the best of times. And Liverpool are in a similar boat to Arsenal with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.

Even in Europe, it's a case of slim pickings. Paris Saint-Germain's Thiago Silva and Borussia Dormund's Mats Hummels are the only players who look anything like the sort of players remembered for being legendary defensive heroes of the past. True, Raphael Varane has looked good for Real Madrid this season, but he isn't getting the games his talent deserves and may have to move on in order to further develop.

But who else can come close to the Arsenal pair ? Real Madrid's Pepe and Sergio Ramos are found out whenever a team decides to get at them, and Barcelona's Gerard Pique is vastly overrated. We're truly living through an era of poverty when it comes to class central defenders.

And Arsenal's Mertesacker and Koscielny don't even stack up against the past greats of their own club. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is infamous for his hands off approach, putting total faith in his players to figure games out for themselves rather than trying to clue them up on a match-by-match basis depending on the opposition. While that's fine for creative attackers who are used to thinking on their feet, defences often have to rely on organisation, drills and discipline - which is fine when you're relying on the likes of Tony Adams and Martin Keown.

Less so, however, their modern equivalents, who often get found out by quick forwards and direct balls that leave Arsenal outnumbered and on the back foot in defence. Without truly great defenders, managers have to step in to make up the difference on the training field. Yet Mertesacker and Koscielny sometimes look like they could do with more instruction and preparation, even if Arsenal assistant manager Steve Bould's presence has made them a better pairing at the back this year.

The Arsenal duo not world class, however - not when compared to players like Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Gaetano Scirea, Bobby Moore and Daniel Passarella. In fact, almost every supposedly great central defender in action today jars when spoken of within this company.

Compare that to attackers, midfielders, goalkeepers and full-backs. We're living through golden ages in almost all these positions with the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo, Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillias, Dani Alves, Philipp Lahm all plying their trade within the same era.

But defending appears to have become a lost art, with most of even the best teams conspicuously poor at the back.

 

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