To borrow a phrase from Brendan Rodgers’ past, Arsenal showed great character at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
The Gunners equalised twice to take a point off Chelsea despite playing two thirds of the game with ten men.
While the performances of Hector Bellerin and Gabriel Martinelli will have given Mikel Arteta reasons to be hopeful, the fixture highlighted a fatal flaw that has hindered the club for over a decade.
Shkodran Mustafi’s latest individual howler led to David Luiz conceding (another) penalty before heading down the tunnel of his former club for an early bath.
It begs the question: why have a club of Arsenal’s stature persisted with comically inept centre-backs for so long?
Rather than answering the question, we’ve decided to underline it in bold by ranking every Arsenal centre-back of the last ten years on their comedy value.
12 ROB HOLDING
There’s nothing funny about a young player, who has shown glimpses of competency, struggling with injuries.
Deserves a run in the current side if he is filly recovered.
11 KONSTANTINOS MAVROPANOS
We can’t be too harsh on a 22-year-old who has hardly played but is it not rather odd that he’s been loaned out to Nurnberg this month considering the state of the defence?
Mavropanos isn’t even the best Greek centre-back at the club right now… although that may change in due course.
10 THOMAS VERMAELEN
The Belgian is an inherently serious character but there was more than a hint of tragicomedy about his exit.
Vermaelen refused to sign a new contract at the Emirates and effectively forced through a move to Barcelona after falling out of favour with Arsene Wenger, leaving on a sour note.
As it happened, this proved to be the first chapter of a two-parter about the unceremonious exit of decent defenders…
9 CALUM CHAMBERS
The man they call ‘Chambo‘ has made a conscious decision to be less amusing in recent times — in fact, he’s been rather good since a loan to Fulham reinvigorated his career.
However, he has been at the fringes of the collective mess of defending that has plagued the Emirates too often to be completely separated from his more overtly humours team-mates.
Many of his individual slip-ups of the past can be put down to inexperience and the lightweight frame he struggled to bulk up.
8 GABRIEL PAULISTA
Wenger provided the set-up for Gabriel’s warm-up gags by warning the fans and media to expect errors because of the Brazilian’s inability to speak English.
His mobility and athleticism set him aside from some of the other lumbering defenders on this list but he was cursed with a penchant for rash decisions.
Ultimately, individual errors were too common and his lapses in concentration undermined his good work elsewhere — a typically modern Arsenal defender.
7 SOKRATIS PAPASTATHOPOULOS
Sokratis perfectly plays the role of the straight man in the ludicrous scenario.
He’s a no-nonsense, old-fashioned defender who relishes the physical battle and proves his worth when it comes to heading the ball clear and putting his body on the line.
Unfortunately, he is also forced to participate in the Gunners’ ponderous playing out from the back, something he simply wasn’t built for at inception.
Unai Emery occasionally made a figure of ridicule by instructing him to hold a high line in defence, exposing the Greek international’s snail-like acceleration.
It’s the contrast between Sokratis’ serious demeanour and the cruelly slack-stick nature of his surroundings that put him in the middle of this list.
6 LAURENT KOSCIELNY
Koscielny is unquestionably the best Arsenal centre-back of the last ten years.
In a great team, he could have been Premier League legend.
So why does he appear so high in this list?
Succinctly, because of the way he submitted to the distinctly Arsenal way of life; the way he found other means of besmirching what should have been a respectable legacy.
Repeated injury setbacks brewed frustration among the fans who were desperate for Koscielny to lead by example.
Gary Neville famously questioned the Frenchman’s desire live on Sky Sports when Wenger was forced into a substitution halfway through the first half when his side were under the cosh.
Koscielny’s clanger in the 2011 League Cup final for Obafemi Martins’ winner cost Arsenal a trophy and added an unwelcome footnote to his profile.
And then, in a sequel to the Vermaelen saga, he left in a manner that was nothing short of disgraceful for a man who was club captain at the time.
After going on strike – refusing to train or join a pre-season tour – he got a move to Bordeaux, only to then participate in an announcement video in which he took off an Arsenal shirt and tossed it to the ground — hardly a dignified way to say goodbye to his employers of nine seasons.
5 PER MERTESACKER
The Big F**king German™ is one of the better centre-backs to have pulled on the famous red shirt since 2010.
But there’s no doubting he had a fundamentally comedic alter ego.
Similar to Sokratis in that he was happy heading crosses away but extremely uncomfortable running towards his own goal, Mertesacker’s sluggish pace became a joke for Prem fans to repackage on a weekly basis.
His gangly appearance also provided an element of physical comedy when Arsenal imploded at times.
4 JOHAN DJOUROU
The Swiss defender’s most shaky years pre-date the start time of the arbitrary judging period we’ve chosen but that doesn’t make him totally exempt.
Consistently inconsistent, he teased fans with spells of reassuring normalness before dropping a clanger in a key fixture — in comedy, timing is everything.
Ultimately, he just wasn’t good enough for Arsenal, although it took the club NINE seasons to realise.
3 DAVID LUIZ
Having only been an Arsenal player since the summer of 2019, it’s quite an effort from Luiz to make the top three.
A lifelong student of football’s light-hearted arts, the Brazilian has already conceded more penalties as a north London resident than he did in seven seasons as a Chelsea player.
His signing was a truly remarkable bit of recruitment; Luiz was perhaps the only trophy-laden centre-back with considerable Premier League experience (and 50+ international caps) who could have made Arsenal’s back four more erratic.
Utterly dominant one moment, then at the centre of a horror-show the next, the 32-year-old has embraced the Gunners’ new heritage of defending with open arms.
2 SEBASTIEN SQUILLACI
At 30 years old he should have been an experienced head who had a calming effect on a team mounting a title challenge.
Instead, he radiated panic wherever he ambled and his uncertainty spread through the rest of the defence like a malevolent virus.
The Frenchman is still a reference point for Gunners fans when the inevitable topic of abysmal centre-backs crops up.
1 SHKODRAN MUSTAFI
We considered whether it would be too reactionary to place Mustafi at the top of this list, but after much deliberation, we feel he’s more than worthy.
The secret to any good joke is the deftness of the set-up and in this case, paying £35million for the German in 2016 was as skilled as anything Stewart Lee could have written.
At the time, it was the third-highest fee ever paid for a centre-back.
Upon welcoming the World Cup winner, Wenger said: “He is a very focused player who can play with the ball as well. We have taken a great player but have prepared well for the future.”
Since then, Mustafi has been directly at fault for numerous goals that have cost Arsenal points.
Often, the brain fade comes after 75 minutes of capable defending… which only makes the punchline funnier.
Even the most recent blunder, that resulted in Luiz’s dismissal at Stamford Bridge, was followed by an impressive shift alongside makeshift partner Granit Xhaka.
Mustafi’s shtick is well established: play like a worthy World Cup winner for a portion of the game, offset it with a headline-grabbing mistake that’s easily shareable on social media.
At this stage, the routine is so well polished we had no choice but to recognise him for his comedic genius.