Centre back pairings / Chances for youth
In our recent league matches we have seen a dramatic return to form which has full circle, firstly came an edgy dug out performance against Sunderland, then two late clinchers to beat Stoke before a fluent and explosive display as we put five past Chelsea. The win at home last week against West Bromwich Albion was one of routine, without playing at their best Arsenal got the job done without ever being under any threat of either dropping points or conceding a goal. In comparison to last season's form Arsenal are 3 points ahead by comparative opponents played, and 1 point behind by fixtures played.
Considering that the team had to contend with: Poor momentum of the previous season, a difficult opening round of fixtures (including those european qualifiers), a mass transition of playing staff and the integration of several new players with 3 matches having already been played we find ourselves in an encouraging position even if our problems were somewhat self inflicted.
The difficulty for Arsenal will be to avoid the end of season slump that has plauged recent seasons, and to keep pace to the leaders but catching Man City who hold a 12 point advantage looks well beyond us at the moment. The battle for Champions League qualification will no doubt be a bigger challenge too, Liverpool should achieve a bigger points haul, Spurs look on track to do just that and Newcastle have been a surprise package and currently sit 6 points above us as well.
In our favour this term is competition for places, a team ethic, more competence / seniority and less reliance on a few top players carrying the team. We have lost players of high calibre but we have also finally ditched a few clowns too, we saw how Manuel Almunia allowed 3 goals to seemingly pass through his body in the corresponding fixture vs West Brom this time last season and with the likes of Eboue, Denilson and Squillaci out of the picture I am very hopeful that from here on in there will be less points dropped by the manner of shooting ourselves in the foot.
The poll - Strongest centre back pairing
In this week's poll we asked which centre pairing was our strongest line up, at time of writing the 77% of the voters feel that Mertesacker & Vermaelen are the strongest combination, with 19% and 4% opting for Mertesacker & Koscielny and Vermaelen & Koscielny respectively. Those figures suggest that fans favour the balance of Mertesacker alongside a more mobile partner. Thomas Vermaelen would be the obvious first choice centre back and I would expect it to be a case more often than not of Vermaelen plus one of the other two, however I think it is certainly less cut and dry than the 77% vs 4% results would suggest in terms of his partner. I would expect Arsene Wenger to opt for Vermaelen and Koscielny more often in Europe against more mobile opposition and for Per Mertesacker to be favoured by teams playing a more aerial approach.
There has been performances against top opposition that also add weight to Koscielny's case including a man of the match performance against Chelsea and a masterful display against Barcelona at the Nou Camp last season. We have yet to see Vermaelen and Koscielny on more than a couple of occasions so far but a clean sheet against West Brom from that pairing was a good start, although in truth far sterner tests will lie ahead.
Coquelin & Frimpong
Francis Coquelin has been in the headlines this week, initially telling French media of his frustration at the lack of playing time that he had come accustom to whilst on loan at Lorient last term which was swiftly followed up by an immediate reply on Arsenal.com that suggested a more patient attitude from a player that has already featured in away ties against Manchester United and Tottenhem.
Francis Coquelin: “I got back from Lorient where I was playing a lot so I think it's crucial that I can settle in the dressing room now, I will try to fight for a first team place. I have to keep focused, keep training hard and give 100 per cent every chance I can get. Then I have to grab it and show that I can play. It's one of the biggest clubs in the world so to be part of it is just crazy. It's unbelievable. Every day I wake up I am happy because I come from a small town and now I am at Arsenal. It's great for me and sometimes I just don't realise it. I just enjoy every day.”
Arteta, Song and Ramsey have played the majority of games recently. It has been crucial to put out our strongest line up out as the team look to get back towards some kind of form. Continuity has been a key element in regaining our confidence and finding our fluency but it does leave Frimpong and Coquelin, whom were rather thrown in at the deep end earlier in the season, wondering where their next opportunities will come. It is a situation that will only become that much more difficult when Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby return from injury. If Arsenal do look to the likes of Gotze and M'Vila in the January transfer window then a loan deal may well be on the cards with Frimpong the more likely candidate.
Chamberlain & Miyaichi
In contrast to Coquelin and Frimpong the youthful attacking new signings of Chamberlain and in particular Miyaichi have yet to feature. Certainly in the league but with options wide right limited and Arshavin seemingly a fading force the pair have a less complicated and less competitive route towards the first team. In their favour is pace and directness, both players love to pick the ball up and run. It is that similarity to Arsenal's first choice players of Gervinho and Walcott that gives the pair an advantage over more experienced alternatives, however with Gervinho heading to the African Cup Nations in the new year I would expect Wenger to make a move for another wide attacking player especially if Arshavin were to be moved on.