Why Arsenal need a new centre-back pairing and change of captain
28th December 2015

The trouble with having a column on a set day is that it gives you no flexibility and when writing the day after a depressing Arsenal defeat I can’t sadly just ignore it. That said, what is there to say that has not been said already?

Yes, Arsenal without Coquelin do not deal at all well with a team set up to press them quickly and incessantly, high up the pitch. The Gunners don’t deal with it well at the best of times but having Ramsey on the right, effectively as a third central midfielder when required, does enable them to cope better.

Yes, against teams who play this way against the Arsenal they miss the better ball retention of a Santi Cazorla or even an Arteta of two seasons back.

Yes, with a more experienced bench or even without it, Wenger might have moved Walcott up top on his own and matched Southampton’s set up and used Theo’s running behind as the Saints used Long’s.

Yes, Arsenal certainly did not get the rub of the green with some of the decisions from the referee on the day, but you have to be more concerned about what the team failed to do rather than what the officials failed to do.

26 Devember 2015 - Premier League Football - Southampton v Arsenal : Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker after the 4-0 defeat. Photo: Mark Leech

Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker leaves the pitch after the 4-0 defeat to Southampton.

Yes, it has again highlighted how badly we missed out in the summer not buying a player to vie with Coquelin for the  defensive midfield role, intercepting and enforcer duties. Flamini has stepped up manfully, was superb against City man-marking Silva, but this was not his night.

All of the above have been discussed and will continue to be discussed, but let me get back to my personal hobby horse on which I was once in the minority, but I suspect may now be in the majority.

I know Per Mertesacker is a good player; he may even have been great once. I know he can display gritty, fist-pumping passion, but then so can Flamini. I know he reads the game superbly and often is in the right position because of this talent, but I also know when he is not in the correct position his lack of mobility and pace leaves Arsenal vulnerable. I know he has great headed clearance stats, but I also know from my own eyes that those clearances too often lack in height and distance and put the team back under immediate pressure. I know he wore an Arsenal shirt as a kid and plays for the badge and I know Gus Caesar did too. I know the centre of a good defence is all about the partnership but I also know great Arsenal teams have changed partnerships mid-season and game to game based on the opposition, and won trophies doing so.

Per Mertesacker is 32 at the start of next season and Laurent Koscielny will be 31. Gabriel, however, is not 26 until next November and needs to be playing regularly as he approaches his peak years as a professional. Certainly this observer would like to see Gabriel playing against Bournemouth and in the next two home fixtures against Newcastle and Sunderland, alongside Koscielny. Wenger has often spoken of how highly he rates the Brazilian, so perhaps it is time to put his faith in him.

I wonder if the fact that Wenger has lost the two other available on-field captains – Arteta and Cazorla – has anything to do with his reluctance to rest or, dare I say, drop the Club Vice-Captain? One could sympathise when you consider the alternative outfield alternatives, given the lack of experience and vocal nature of the candidates. However I do not sympathise as the most vocal player in the team is also the most experienced; he speaks six languages to his colleagues and is guaranteed to start every league game barring injury for the next four years minimum. He has been there seen it and done it and has more winners medals than probably any player in Arsenal’s history.

So come on Wenger, makes Petr Cech the skipper now and give Gabriel a proper chance and let’s see if he if he and Koscielny can form a partnership that can takes us forward in the next few years.

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