Pitchside

Is this the best centre-back partnership in the Premier League?

Pitchside

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Arsenal are not considered title contenders by many, but the fact they have arguably the best defensive partnership in the Premier League gives them a chance, say Squawka.

At the start of this season, Arsenal were in a bit of a strange place. They had secured fourth spot ahead of their arch rivals but it still remained to be seen whether they could push on.

The arrival of Mesut Ozil, alongside some incredible early season performances, suggested that perhaps the ultimate prize could once more to be returning to North London. However, inconsistencies recently prompted many to forecast an impending, and “typical”, Arsenal collapse during March.

Yet, one thing that has remained consistent throughout this season is the central defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.

The pair top Arsenal’s performance scores - based on positive on-the-ball actions - so far this season with both players having achieved over 900 points while, to underline the distribution of responsibility, just six points separate the two.

Without wishing to make a rash comparison the little and large combination seems to work well, although pretty much any player is going to be described as little when you put them next to Mertesacker.

So far this season, the German has won 73 headed duels whilst Koscielny has won 42.

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However, the Frenchman has won 41 tackles in comparison to his team-mate’s 26. Koscielny is obviously the quicker of the pair and although he has given away a couple of penalties this season, his pace is a useful asset alongside Mertesacker.

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Both can boast an impressive 93% pass accuracy this season and on Sunday against Tottenham, both gave exceptional performances. Their backs were against the wall as Spurs pushed from the moment Arsenal scored but Koscielny and Mertesacker dealt with everything that was thrown at them.

The pair are contrasting figures both on and off the pitch but no-one can deny their importance to Arsenal. Everyone is aware of their astonishing record when they play together. Accordingly, captain Thomas Vermaelen’s fall from grace has been incredibly rapid. Although his own form is somewhat to blame it also comes down to the form of the men ahead of him.

Ironically, when the pair started at Arsenal Mertesacker was seen as a panic buy, nothing more than a liability whilst the main thing preventing Koscielny from being considered a total flop was the acts of compatriot Sébastien Squillaci. Now, however, there is probably only one partnership that can hold a candle to them, and that is the men that they will face on Saturday, John Terry and Gary Cahill.

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The problem with that partnership is that Terry may not be able to keep this level of performance up next season. Arsenal will hope that problem will now afflict them. Think of great title winning sides of recent years and they have been founded upon brilliant central partnerships; Terry and Carvalho and Vidic and Ferdinand are the two obvious pairs.

Arsenal are by no means favourites for the title. In fact, most would probably rank them as fourth amongst the contenders but their defence is arguably the best.

Liverpool and Manchester City win plenty of plaudits for their attacking brilliance but, as Jose Mourinho has proved more than once, a solid defence is more than just a handy asset. Arsenal have an excellent chance of ending the infamous trophy drought this season with the FA Cup and if that happens, Arsenal fans will be greatly indebted to their central defensive pairing.

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