Apologies for there being nothing from me for some time but just occasionally something occurs that I feel worth writing on. In truth there are so many Arsenal blogs and bloggers these days and the subject matter is limited and so new material is scarce. However something has been playing on my mind since Sunday’s win over Everton and it would be fair to say that one man has provided the inspiration. The number on his shirt is 5, his name is Gabriel and in 2 matches I feel already we are looking at a player that can carry our defence for years to come.
Barring 2 nervous mistakes on Sunday he was truly fabulous. His reading of the game is superb and as such areas of potential danger are anticipated. He obviously is already developing in a short space of time an understanding with Koscielny and he spoke of this after his debut in the cup. However what I really like is that despite being a ball playing defender as you would expect that from a Wenger purchase, he has the inclinations of traditional British centre back. What I mean there is that if a header is there to be cleared it will be headed into touch and if a clearance beckons it will be launched either into the opposition half or row Z!
Why is this important to me and to Arsenal? Well simply because in recent years, particularly with Mertesacker defensive clearances do not have the distance or don’t go out of play when they should and as such we are continually inviting pressure back on ourselves when we do not need to do so.
I imagined as I saw Martin Keown being interviewed at half time pitch side that he would have genuinely appreciated what he saw from Arsenal’s new addition. Indeed when I googled Keown’s view on Gabriel I discovered I was right and that he had gone as far as to describe the Brazilian’s selection over Mertesacker as potentially ‘Season defining moment!’
He said: “I don’t [think] you can point the finger at one player after the Monaco game. It’s a big chance for Gabriel now, though.
“I think it could be a defining moment in changing Arsenal’s back four now, for sure.
“Mertesacker, with the experience he has in the game, should have been calling these young players back the other night, the two full-backs were just drifting up the pitch and not coming back.
“When he’s been left isolated one-on-one he struggles due to his lack of pace too. Gabriel is keen to defend so he’ll be relishing this opportunity to stamp a claim for a first-team spot.”
The full article from ESPN can be found here.
It is no secret that I have never been totally convinced about Per Mertesacker in the Arsenal team but I was mostly won over last season as his partnership with Koscielny proved solid. As will all Gunners it was hard not to admire and enjoy his leadership qualities and his admonishment of Ozil will live long in the memory. In short Per, the BFG has become something of a ‘Folk Hero’ and his popularity is undoubted, in the same way as his love of the cannon is evident. The question however for me has always been is he actually good enough as a central defender ON HIS OWN?
Of course I am aware that the best defensive units have a partnership at the centre but should a team like Arsenal be in a situation where only our first choice works? Per and Kos is fine and as we saw Per with Vermaelen was not. From my perspective Mertesacker’s lack of pace has cost Arsenal on too many occasions and many of these have been when he is not playing with Koscielny who compliments him and understands his frailties/limitations. He has certainly not reached the consistency of performance level he attained in 13/14.
In 1997/98, one of our finest seasons and Wenger’s first double we had 5 central defenders in Grimandi. Upson, Adams, Bould and Keown. The last 3 were still the main men but interestingly the combinations were fluid and the team not weakened despite this. Keown and Adams started 14 matches that season together, Bould and Keown 8 and Bould and Adams 14. The skipper and Keown were undoubtedly, as the season progressed, the first choice but no Gunner was ever concerned at seeing Bouldie on the tam sheet with either partner. Only Man United who we pipped for the title conceded fewer goals.
In 2001/2 his second double winning campaign Sol Campbell was the new lynch pin but I have no recollection of being concerned or worried by who partnered him. Sol began 17 matches that season with Keown but also 7 with Tony Adams and 8 with Matthew Upson.Only Liverpool who finished runners up had a better defensive record that season despite our fluid and changeable combinations.
My point is that I would like us to be in a position for the remainder of this campaign where it will not weaken us necessarily whichever combination of our centre backs is used. As such I would be quite keen to see the combination we have not seen yet tonight which is Mertesacker and Gabriel. I suspect our new start will be able to adapt to playing on the left of the partnership and a battle against Austin and Zamora will be a stern test.
Long term I firmly hope that Koscileny and Gabriel will be the go to combination but I will have a follow up or ‘Part 2 to this subject to follow later this week. The question however in the short term is without Arteta can Wenger risk not recalling Mertesacker for his leadership qualities? It has been commented by our own fans and by the media that the Arsenal of 14/15 or indeed in recent season lack on the field leaders and this was no more evident than against Monaco. Interestingly Per was founded hugely lacking in that, our worst performance of the season, as a leader. As Keown observed it was he who should have been hauling the rampaging fullbacks back and being the General on the pitch. In reality the opposite occurred and he was part of the problem, not controlling his fullbacks from both advancing simultaneously but worse still joining them.
Having been at the Monaco debacle and then a few days later be back to the Emirates for Everton one of the very obvious differences was the captaincy and I am not sure this has been commented on sufficiently. Being close to the pitch in Block 31 I was exceedingly impressed by Cazorla as skipper. He was continually communicating, encouraging and issuing instruction. This was very noticeable when it came to his on field coaching of Coquelin and particularly Gibbs. I am certainly not saying Santi is the long term solution as Arsenal captain but what is absolutely certain is that there is no one better at present if we are looking for a man in form to lead by example. In the deeper role he has flourished and this has allowed Ozil to play in his preferred position.
In summary I want to explore the subject of the Arsenal defence and the options we now have with Gabriel in the next article but the decision facing Wenger is, as Keown described potentially ‘season defining.’ However I think the decision is not straight forward as with the huge match at Old Trafford looming Wenger will no doubt wish to bring Ramsey back in. If he resists that urge and continues with Coquelin and Carzorla in tandem I would be totally relaxed with Gabriel and Koscielny staying together and Santi retaining the arm band. If however he recalls Ramsey and pushes Santi back to a more advanced position I think the recall of Per as skipper more likely.
Interesting times and more thoughts on this later in the week……………….To be continued
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