By Patrick Skilton (Guest Columnist for Red London)

We are approximately half way through our much spoken about ‘testing’ period of fixtures and we are 2 out of 3 so far. Not bad and most would have taken that back in October, though we can’t help but feel aggrieved after a disappointing and tired showing at Old Trafford.

The international break has come at a good time for us. Key players got a well needed rest and I think we’ll return fresh and raring to go against a strong Southampton side who boast some excellent attacking players and an attractive footballing style.

The talk this season has been about the influence of Ozil, a rejuvenated Rosicky, a returning Flamini and an out of this world Ramsey, but what about our defence. It has not been without its faults, but there is certainly a resilience and confidence there that we have missed for too long. Our wing backs are solid and providing good attacking options while the Boss and BFG’s relationship has picked up where it left off last season.

It is Per Mertesacker that has hit another level in the back four for me so far. He has the ability to read situations three or four passes ahead of the game which allows him to pop up in the right place at the right time and quell attacks. His positioning is no coincidence and his timing in the tackle has improved no end from his initial time at the club.

Per was often seen as a yard of the pace, clumsy and cumbersome which was a pretty accurate description. The pace of the Premier League did not seem suited to him and he struggled.

What makes a great player? Natural ability? Training? Well yes, both of these but what all the top top players (Excuse the Fergism), have in common is the constant desire to keep improving and the ability to adapt. Per has come to Arsenal and has worked on his game in order to adapt to the fast pace played in this country.

He reminds me of Rio Ferdinand in his prime. Neither have ever had great pace but their positioning is where they have come into their own. If Koscielny was to pick up an injury, I’d feel a lot more confident Vermaelen could provide the energetic, all action role than one of them having to step into the anchor position that Per operates in. It is for this reason that I feel Per could hold the key to our success this season.

Yes, we need bolstering up front, but I believe we will do some business in January and Giroud looks an almighty centre forward these days. Per’s defence will keep confidence throughout the team and give continued freedom in our attacking elements. If he can stay fit throughout the campaign, then a combination of our other five defenders around him can propel us towards the title.

That is not said to undermine the other five, but to stress his importance among them. Per is bossing it, both on and off the pitch, and is the in-form centre back in the league. Exactly what we require to go the distance.

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