After being dismantled by Manchester City and an appalling first half against Brighton, opinions on formation, tactics and personnel are rife. Most of the criticism has been directed at our defence (even though we have surrendered possession easily and failed to create chances), I am therefore proposing the most important change is to start playing Mertesacker. The rationale being:
At present we lack the necessary defensive balance. We have ample recovery pace, reading of the game and technical ability but in contrast we lack aerial dominance, aggression and organisation. The best defensive partnerships such as Ferdinand and Vidic, Terry and Carvalho and Toure and Campbell were built on complimentary skill-sets, Mertesacker has flaws but brings organisation and aerial control which we sorely lack. Let’s also remember Koscielny played the best football of his career when he focused totally on sweeping up behind Per and a big part of this argument is about bringing Laurent back to his best. Mertesacker means a change in strategy given the need to drop deep (as not to expose his lack of pace) but it’s a much needed compromise to bring some stability.
Of the many goals conceded last week, Man City’s cup final opener will be the most remembered. Whilst the accountability sits with Mustafi for poor positioning, what was more alarming was the positioning of the entire defensive line. Mertesacker has won numerous trophies and knows how to organise a defence which is why Arsenal in recent years have undoubtedly performed at our best defensively when Mertesacker was the spearhead of a back four that defended with a clear strategy.
Big Game Player:
Last year’s FA Cup Final showed Mertesacker copes with pressure on big occasions and more importantly brings a level of leadership when things don’t go our way, games need to be managed and/or leads need to be protected.
I am not proposing Mertesacker is the long term solution, in fact our priority in the summer transfer window should be an aggressive, dominant and organised centre back (who compliments our other sweeper-type defenders) but to see us through to May I would play Per. It’s about being comfortable going to places like the San Siro with a defence built on complimentary skill-sets, a clear approach to defending and experience of game management. Apart from playing Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right-back (who has shown excellent defensive ability one vs. one), I fail to see any other option to address our current defensive vulnerability.