With the Premier League heading into a frantic March where teams are running up score lines like it is their job, we often lose sight of an important statistic, clean sheets. There is reason to believe in Arsenal this season, because of their ability to keep clean sheets. The likes of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny anchoring a defensive unit, the man betwixt the sticks, Wojciech Szczesny, as well as two seasoned holding midfielders. Without the combination of these players, Arsenal could be where they were at this point last season, middle of the table praying for a miracle.
After skipper Thomas Vermaelen feel ill to some poor performances at the end of the last campaign, Arsene Wenger decided to pair Mertesacker and Koscielny together, what he received was a string of remarkable performances. This pairing has only one loss since the game against Bayern Munich in last years Champions League game. With such a formidable pairing, it should not come as a surprise that Arsenal are only 1 point adrift from the League leaders at this point. Mertesacker has shown such a commanding presence in games that Arsene Wenger has given him the captain’s armband whenever Mikel Arteta is not on the pitch. This a sign of the great faith Arsene Wenger has in Mertesacker and his abilities to command the pitch and organize his teammates.
Now, even with the importance of Mertesacker and Koscielny pairing together Arsenal would not be where they are without the confident keeping of Wojciech Szczesny. Szczesny, like Vermaelen, was dropped last season because of a stretch of inadequate performances and a loss of confidence. After allowing other keepers to come in and attempt to take the number 1 jersey away from the Pole, Szczesny returned to games with a renewed vigor. In watching Szczesny this season, you can see a notable difference in the way he goes about his game. He grabs the game by the scruff of the neck and punishes attackers by coming out of his box to threaten shots, through balls, or crosses. With his lanky figure, it appears simple for him to take the ball away from opponents even in one on one situations. Without his return to form this season Arsenal’s ability to keep clean sheets would be in detrimental shape.
Manager Arsene Wenger has been often criticized for the way he goes about the transfer window; however, bringing bad boy Mathieu Flamini back to the Emirates on a free transfer, was purely a stroke of genius. With all the talk of a defensive partnership between Mertesacker and Koscielny, one partnership has been left out of conversation, the partnership of Flamini and Mikel Arteta. These two holding midfielders have transformed the way Arsenal is able to play. These two have allowed more flow out on the flanks by settling in right about the half way line creating space for overlap to happen by both fullbacks. With these two sitting await counter attacks it has clearly slowed down the opponents ability to break at pace and outman Arsenal’s back end.
The collaboration between all the players mentioned above has given Arsenal something they have lacked in recent years, a formidable defense capable of holding onto leads even late on into games.