By Patrick Skilton
Just eight months ago, Arsenal fans were entering each match praying for a solid defensive performance, after frequently observing a combination of school boy errors and frailties that are not historically associated with Arsenal Football Club. Koscielny and Vermaelen’s partnership had suffered, with positioning and awareness for one another seemingly non-existent.
This was making life difficult for our wing backs, dragging them out of position and hindering their attacking impact. Injuries and circumstances brought Mertesacker further into the frame whereupon the big German took his chance to steady the ship. The central defensive bond that has grown with Koscielny since then has proven to be formidable.
Per has overcome doubters about his ability, size and speed by conquering them with his positioning and reading of the game. Per is the linchpin of our defence.His calm and precise take on the game, infusing composure in his colleagues. It is a beautiful thing to see him appear from nowhere when an attacking midfielder has broken from ranks and nick the ball away without any sense of panic. Koscielny is still very much an intelligent footballer, but has the freedom to attack threats more directly.
With the centre of defence more stable, it has eased the pressure on both left and right backs. Gibbs and Jenkinson have been able to develop both their defensive and attacking aspects of their games and it is only the return to form by Sagna that keeps Carl out of the right back position. Nacho Monreal will have found the beginning of the season tough as Gibbs has had an impressive start to the campaign, but Wenger has shown how he values the player with some midfield substitute appearances.
We have seen many combinations of our back four over the past year (Sagna at centre back!), which serves us well as the bonds that have grown are now imbedded in the players providing a flexibility required to endure a lengthy season. Vermaelen will return to the side in due course, and how he fits in could be the final piece of the puzzle with regards to complete depth at the back. Wojciech Szczesny has for the most part silenced critics with some very solid performances for club and country.
He has a big personality (which a goalkeeper needs of course) and perhaps was getting ahead of himself a bit, but the introduction of competition in the Italian Viviano may have played some part in focusing him back on his game. With fierce competition and increased depth across our defence, there is a forgotten confidence and belief that has been resurrected within the club. Our league position doesn’t lie, and our renewed counter attacking style is proving fruitful, but in order to fill those recently dusty shelves in the cabinet we will need to tighten up that bit more.
The start of the season has seen four from eleven clean sheets, a good start and something to build on, but with the reintegration of Flamini and the return of Arteta to the squad, I believe we have the makings of one of the best defensive units in Europe.