Arsenal FC: Thomas Vermaelen Creates a Great Defensive Problem for Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger has a problem.
It's not a problem like many of those he has had in recent years. There are no injury crises involved, no cries for players to be bought, and no calls for the manager's sacking.
No, this is a problem of an entirely different sort. A problem that is actually good for the manager to have. Incredible, I know.
But Wenger is nevertheless faced with it, and it is an issue which has no easy answer, yet threatens to shape Arsenal's entire season.
The question: who should start at centre-back?
On the surface, it's a relatively simple question and an especially odd one at that. After all, fans still have the painful memory of watching Sebastien Squillaci be forced to "play" in defence due to the dearth of options.
But now, Arsenal have an embarrassment of riches at the position with three extremely capable centre-halves, each with different strengths, vying for two spots in the starting XI.
Wenger must decide between Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, which will undoubtedly prove difficult and require analysis of each player.
Mertesacker adds an element to the squad that no other defender can provide. At a giant 6'6", there is no other member of the squad with his aerial prowess, which is as effective in attack as in defence.
He does lack the pace of his two competitors, but makes up for it with superb positioning instincts and an ability to read the game and put himself in good positions before the ball is even played.
Who should start at center-back for Arsenal?
Koscielny, meanwhile, is the man in form. His displays since Vermaelen was sidelined have been nothing short of superb, and he has saved Arsenal's pride on many occasions. Blessed with a good deal of pace and rapidly improving physicality, he has adapted well to the Premier League.
However, the reason why Wenger will find it difficult to drop his fellow Frenchman is Koscielny's unparalleled ability to anticipate and snuff out threats.
If you were to re-watch the Chelsea match, you would see that on multiple occasions Koscielny was making crucial interceptions and tackles before his teammates could even react. That is certainly tough to drop from the squad.
But the boss would not have a problem if it were not for the return of his Belgian vice captain Vermaelen from ankle surgery.
The Verminator bridges the gap between Koscielny and Mertesacker. He is a natural at anticipating threats and reading the game, but is also very physical in his play and will give anything he can to support the cause. These skills and the invaluable leadership he brings makes him undroppable.
Oddly enough, Wenger may not have to make a real decision on the matter for some time. Koscielny could slot into right back, a position he has played before, to relieve the pressure on youngster Carl Jenkinson until Bacary Sagna returns from injury.
But this is merely a band-aid solution. Sooner or later decision time will come, and despite Koscielny's superb displays and rapid development, expect to see a Thomas Vermaelen-Per Mertesacker partnership be chosen at the back.
The quiet German would do well to have a more vocal, technical partner beside him, allowing him to stay back and guard against anything that might get past Vermaelen.
But really, the aerial prowess that Arsenal have lacked for so long will probably be too much for Wenger to resist when he selects his starting XI.
Whoever is chosen, though, Arsenal are sure to have one of the best and most complete defences in the Premier League, at least in terms of the centre-back pairing and right back.
That is something that should be celebrated by the Arsenal faithful, as we have been painfully deprived of that necessity for far too long.
For me, I'm just happy to keep Squillaci off the pitch.
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