Per Mertesacker was one of the most unique defenders of his generation.
The man they called ‘BGF’ regularly looked like he was running through sludge, but counteracted that with a sharp reading for the game.
Unfortunately Mertesacker’s glaring lack of pace still left him exposed as he became, unfairly at times, a figure of ridicule at Arsenal before his retirement last season.
Have you signed up to play Dream Team Weekender?
- Pick 7 players – no limit to the number of players you can choose from one club
- No transfer budget – any player is available to pick
- Only Saturday and Sunday fixtures
- Sign up to play Dream Team Weekender now
So you’d think the German centre-back’s decision to call time on his career would signal an end to the slow coaches in the Gunners’ defence.
Well according to the season so far, you’d be wrong.
Despite Mertesacker’s exit stage left from the field, Arsenal’s backline somehow looks even slower and more susceptible.
Shkodran Mustafi has continued where he left off at the end of last season when Arsenal picked up just one away league win after 2017 became 2018.
The German was often the fall guy among dismayed Gunners fans but it was regularly justified, with his tendency to dive in a reckless attribute.
Mustafi’s centre-back partner against Man City and Chelsea has been new signing Sokratis Papastathopoulos who Borussia Dortmund, it’s safe to say, weren’t too reluctant to lose.
Some of his first words upon arrival at the Emirates this summer were “things at the back will be much better.”
Fast forward a month or so and the cold hard truth is they may have even got worse.
Granted the Gunners’ fixture list hasn’t been kind, but Mustafi and Sokratis, coupled with Unai Emery’s high defensive line, have looked horribly exposed at times during both defeats.
Against Chelsea, the north Londoners were undone by two fairly simple through balls – one around the side and one over the top.
Neither Mustafi nor Sokratis were within 10 yards of Pedro before the Spaniard tapped home the opener whilst Alvaro Morata embarrassed the former to make it 2-0.
With Laurent Koscielny – the natural remedy to their pace problems – sidelined until at least the new year alarm bells will be ringing.
Arsenal may have removed the snail from their defence, but the sluggishness remains clear for all to see.