Arsenal FC: Per Mertesacker and 4 Gunners Who Must Step Up on Defence
After five games, Arsenal’s back four has the worst defensive record in the Premier League.
It is a startling statistic that has not gone without criticism, yet none of Arsene Wenger’s defensive options are emerging as a match-saving rock in the Gunners' defensive line.
It is a crisis that has prompted Wenger’s predecessor George Graham to declare: “It should be better, I don't think it could get much worse,'
“I think they left it a bit late to bring in all these players. He's [Wenger] not had time to work with the players he's brought in, especially among the defence.
“He's been there for 15 years, this is probably going to be the toughest period. Now the jury's out.”
This slideshow will assess some of Arsenal’s most important defenders and explain why they need to step up if the Gunners are to recover from their woeful start to the season.
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For a player with so much experience, it is surprising to think that Per Mertesacker is yet to come up for a solution to his lack of pace.
The 6'6" German undoubtedly adds a much needed physical presence to the Gunners' back four, but his lack of pace has thus far made him look a little clumsy this season.
The centre-back has admitted that he has found it a little difficult to adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League, despite his physical stature. However, he believes he is now ready to step up in his first derby match against Tottenham this weekend.
The Daily Mail reports that Mertesacker said “I was told the Premier League is more intense, quicker and very physical. I have had to get used to it very quickly. Hopefully I will in the next few weeks.”
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There is no doubt in the Belgian centre-back's ability. When he is fit, the six-foot defender is Arsenal’s most influential presence in the back four.
Big question marks, however, surround his match fitness.
Having recently been crowned the Gunners' vice-captain, it is imperative that Vermaelen’s presence is consistently felt on the pitch. The Belgian’s leadership qualities will help mentor a team that is oozing with inexperience.
After a stunning debut season, the 25-year-old spent much of last year’s campaign on the treatment table after suffering an Achilles injury whilst representing his country. Vermaelen suffered a similar setback early in September which has ruled him out until mid-October.
Following his return, he will have to stay off the injury table. If not, then Wenger has to ask himself, is it worth having the Belgian in the team?
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The Frenchman has been a mixed success since his arrival at the Emirates in last year’s summer transfer window.
He seems more adept to being a squad player than a first-team starter for a team of Arsenal’s calibre, which is shown by him occasionally appearing a little out of his depth when he has been forced to deputise in the first team.
The fact of the matter, however, is that he is one of Arsenal’s most experienced centre-backs, especially with Thomas Vermaelen out of the team for the next few weeks. With so much youth around him, he needs to eradicate mistakes from his game.
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When Johan Djourou came on for Bacary Sagna for the second half of Arsenal’s encounter against Blackburn, he was faced with the burden of playing out of position.
That being said, the Swiss centre-back is now an experienced Premier League player who should not have been caught unaware as many times as he did.
It was a mistake by the Swiss that led to Blackburn’s winner and highlights the very reason why Wenger is reluctant to use him as a first-choice centre-back.
A New Defensive Coach
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The idea to add a defensive coach to Arsenal’s coaching staff was first mooted in the summer transfer window. However, Arsene Wenger rejected the proposal out of loyalty to his current backroom staff.
However, after a calamitous start to the season, reports have emerged once more that the Arsenal board would be willing to employ another defensive coach.
The Daily Mail suggests that Wenger himself will make the appointment, should he opt to add to his current coaching team. Given the Frenchman’s tendency to dogmatically stick to his personal methods, it is likely that he will recruit from within. Steve Bould and Martin Keown have both been linked to the job.
With the transfer window shut, and problems omnipresent in the Gunners' back four, this is perhaps the best solution to Arsenal’s defensive woes. The defence has looked lifeless and has been leaking goals since the opening day of the season.
Given that Wenger is stuck with his defensive options, for now, a new lease of life is needed to inject some more discipline into the backline. A new defensive coach can offer just that.