There is a divide in the camp on Gabriel. Strong & quick defender but distribution unconvincing.Who v Vardy & Co?
— Gunners Town (@GunnersTown) February 8, 2016
The Gooners have spoken: Arsène Wenger should drop our Big Friendly German and trust Gabriel to partner Laurent Koscielny – the best defender currently at the Club by a distance, and one of the finest centre-backs to have graced Highbury or the Emirates Stadium.
The Twitter poll launched by this wonderful website is pretty clear: three out of four Gooners out there believe that a partnership between Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny would be the perfect choice to defuse the explosive Leicester City frontline (no disrespect but it still sounds strange to say so…)
I am a huge fan of the Mertescielny hybrid – and I am still convinced they form the best partnership currently at our disposal: Per Mertesacker’s calmness, positioning and intelligence is the ultimate platform for Laurent Koscielny’s aggressive and quick approach – while the Frenchman’s outstanding athletic skills compensate for the German’s lack of mobility against sharp forwards.
Laurent Koscielny still looks a bit impetuous but he is so good that he can turn events around with his strength or speed, getting out of dangerous situations with a twist, while Per Mertesacker’s flaws can be seen from Mars and are horribly, horribly exposed each time things go wrong, but he’s excellent at not getting into dangerous areas; when they play together the former enhances the latter’s strong points and hides his weaknesses – and the other way around.
I believe we are all a bit too quick in forgetting how good Per Mertesacker can be and how good Laurent Koscielny is when he plays next to the German; the Frenchman’s strong tackling and surging runs from the back are often accompanied by a roar from the Emirates Stadium (kind of…) but wouldn’t be as good if there wasn’t Per Mertesacker behind him, to cover; each sliding tackle, each adventurous run with the ball is a potential threat that Gabriel is unable to anticipate or contain.
The former Villarreal man has the potential to be a great defender but looks like Laurent Koscielny in his early days: raw, hasty and damn dangerous.
Unfortunately for him, Laurent Koscielny is not the kind of complementary partner that Per Mertesacker has been for the Frenchman and the Brazilian struggles to adapt – maybe more than expected; Arsène Wenger earlier this year said that Gabriel would play a lot of games this season, but he seems reluctant to play him regularly, which suggests that the manager is not convinced.
That said, I’m curious to see if Arsène Wenger confirms the new partnership at the back and if Gabriel can prove me wrong, for good.
More mobile, more pacey and more athletic: Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel have all the required ingredients to fortify the area next to Petr Čech and would cope better with the sharp approach of Vardy & Mahrez, compared to the slow Per Mertesacker, whose lack of acceleration – sorry for the euphemism – could be targeted by our rivals; relegation-battlers Chelsea and Diego Costa created the footprint for opponents to exploit our weaknesses, why would we offer such a good chance to the league leaders?
Twenty-five league games and the historical win at Manchester City proved that Leicester City are a great team, able to play some very intricate football, and whose individuals – Kanté, Albrighton, Mahrez and Vardy – know how to hurt opponents, no matter what their pedigree; our obligation is to make sure we don’t give them any advantage and Per Mertesacker’s presence at the back could be perceived as a weakness for the home team, in this context.
Although I see the point here, there is a more interesting one in fielding Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny: having such a quick partnership would allow the team to play higher on the pitch, trying to win the ball back in dangerous positions and hit Leicester on the counter while in bad shape; it would be important against our next opponents but could be hugely beneficial during the rest of this campaign, to give impetus to our play and add unpredictability to a side that often looked out of ideas, recently.
This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of this new defensive partnership, because it would enable players like Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck to release their speed and provide Mesut Özil with more runners to pick with his through-balls; it is a risky approach, of course, but with Gabriel’s and Laurent Koscielny’s speed and ability to recover – plus Nacho Monreal’s and Hector Bellerín’s, of course – we might decide to take the gamble and play a more aggressive football, forcing errors in our opponents’ football.
It sounds like a no-brainer, put like this: more dynamic back-line, more aggressive football, more speed in our game.
It could work, it did when we beat Manchester United with Per Mertesacker at the back so would surely work with a more athletic duo – wouldn’t it?
Please add your thoughts in the comments below.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.