The Curious Case of the Mertesacker – Koscielny Defensive Partnership

Solid as a rock: Per Mertesacker (right) and Laurent Koscielny (left) have not lost a league match for almost two years when they have both started and finished a game for title-challenging Arsenal

Rock solid!

As we head into game week 22 in the Premier League, the Gunners are still surpassing everybody’s expectations as they have shown resilience to remain at the top of the table, despite the fact that all teams in the top seven recorded victories over the weekend.

In the wake of the recent victory over Aston Villa, Arsenal’s captain of the night, Per Mertesacker, believes that his team change take any challenge,

“Nobody dropped any points so there was a bit of pressure. The team could feel that but we responded. I think everyone was expecting that we would drop points but we kept going.

“In the first half we did extremely well and put a lot of pressure on them. We took the lead by two goals and that was decisive.

“It was very important to respond and for the other teams to see that Arsenal is alive and that we can respond to anything. We just look at ourselves and think we are good enough to respond to any challenge they give us.

“It is really tight at the top. At the moment, there is no chance to drop any points. We have to show the other teams that when we feel the pressure we can respond. That is vital so I’m really happy with the fighting performance in the second half and how resilient we were.”

Despite the fact that Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud would take the plaudits for the goals they scored on the other hand, kudos must go to the unsung heroes, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny for the great jobs they are doing at the back. For those that don’t know, the Gunners have undefeated in every league match in which Koscielny and Mertesacker have completed 90 minutes, since a 2-1 home defeat against Manchester United on January 22, 2012. That period has included 28 games, 20 of which have resulted in victories.

Both players complement each other in a ‘stopper and cover’ type of defensive partnership and their understanding is telepathic to say the least. In the past, Arsenal has always had issues with their central defensive pairings but this is the foundation the Gunners could use to surge for the Premier League title this season.

The last time the Gunners had a rock solid defensive pairing after the Tony Adams – Steve Bould / Martin Keown era was the Sol Campbell – Kolo Toure defensive partnership that saw the Gunners go unbeaten in the entire 2003/04 Premier League campaign. As the years went by, players like Phillippe Senderos, William Gallas and the shambolic French combination of  Mikael Silvestre and Sebastien Squillaci graced the Emirates but they out up poor showings.

When Thomas Vermaelen arrived from Ajax in 2009, he seemed like the real deal with his aggressive style of defending that was reminiscent of the Nemanja Vidic of old, but when the responsibility of being Arsenal’s captain was bestowed on him, he started over complicating things, and it affected his form. Let’s not forget that his fitness has been a major concern as well since his lengthy Achilles tendon injury in his second season with the club.

Missing out: Arsenal's club captain Thomas Vermaelen has had to make do with a place on the bench

Despite his poor form last season, Vermaelen’s captaincy acted like a shield around him and he continued to make more glaring errors but after another putrid showing at White Hart Lane in March 2013, Arsene Wenger decided he had seen enough and he axed his captain and first-choice goalie for the good of the team. An injury to Lukasz Fabianski paved the way for Wojciech Szczesny to return to the team but the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo hasn’t looked back since that famous win at the Allianz Arena.

EPL central defensive partnerships and their records. (Culled from the Daily Mail)

Since both players featured consistently, Arsenal has conceded fewer goals and they currently have the best defensive record in the Premier League. The hallmark of their combination this season was showcased in the month of November, when the club conceded only one goal in seven matches.

Per Mertesacker uses his height to great effect and his experience has been key for the Gunners since his arrival as a “panic signing” from Werder Bremen in 2011. He made the most interceptions (57) last season at the club and it’s amazing to know that he only made one defensive error in his 3,028 minutes of playing time last season. Mertesacker’s weakness remains his pace, but he has made up for it with his ability to read the game and anticipate situations superbly.

Laurent Koscielny on the other hand is one of the quickest defenders you’d ever see and his recovery ability ranks him among the best in the Premier League. He’s also a very good tackler of the ball and his intelligence allows him to anticipate situations with consummate ease. He scores the odd own goal and makes some erratic decisions at times, more he has done more good than damage in his time at the club.

To wrap things up, here are the stats of both players in the Premier League this season, with some assistance from WhoScored,

 

 

Per Mertesacker

Laurent Koscielny

Appearances (subs)

19 (0)

18

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

In 21 Premier League games played thus far, Koscielny and Mertesacker have been mainstays in the team. While Mertesacker averages at least 1.5 tackles per game, Koscielny closes in on at least two tackles and their clearances in every game is at least seven. Their passing stats are also very impressive as they are close to 93% accuracy.

It’s time to compare the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo with the leading Premier League defenders in other clubs, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, Phil Jagielka and Martin Skrtel.

Now it’s time to compare Mathieu Flamini’s stats (league only) with the rest of the holding midfielders Arsenal were linked with this summer.

 

Mertesacker

Koscielny

Kompany

Terry

Jagielka

Skrtel

Appearances (subs)

19

18

12 (2)

21

19

19

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

28 (2.3)

18 (0.9)

28(1.5)

21 (1.1)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

23 (1.9)

24 (1.1)

35 (1.8)

31 (1.6)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

8 (0.7)

8(0.4)

7 (0.4)

16 (0.8)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

77 (6.4)

148 (7)

174 (9.2)

201 (10.6)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

5 (0.4)

14 (0.7)

8 (0.4)

21 (1.1)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

469 (407)

1092 (975)

1020 (889)

850 (780)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

86.8%

86.7%

87.2%

91.8%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

(3/0)

(2/0)

-

(1/0)

These are leading defenders in their various Premier League sides and you can see the closeness in these stats. Koscielny remains the best tacklers (1.8) among the six and he has also made more interceptions than any other player on this list. However, he and Martin Skrtel commit more fouls than the defenders on this list.

Skrtel leads with clearances and is followed closely by Jagielka.

With Koscielny and Mertesacker, Gunners can rest assured that they have a solid base to work with, but we can only hope that they remain fit, because when one of the them is missing, the effects are usually disastrous. Arsenal’s loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford this season is a testament of that.

Sayonara.

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About enigma106

An Arsenal fan with a good sense of humor

Posted on January 15, 2014, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “and their understanding is telepathic to say the least. ”
    I know what you are trying to say here, but read it again. What could be more than telepathic? multidimensional?

    Like

  2. The so called slow Per and the so called rash Kos compliment one another because of their variance, this is why they say centre backs hunt in pairs and we do have a classic pair of contrasts.

    Like

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