Written by @KingKosser

In a game of football, or any other team game, you need all your players performing to the best of their abilities for the team to win. An occasional moment of brilliance from a certain player – a mind blowing run and a goal at the end of it, a last ditch tackle, a point blank save – could very well win you games, but more often than not, it requires a team to perform. 11 players form a group, but amongst those 11 are quite important pairings that take place which are critical for the team to shut up shop at the back or to score goals going forward.

I remember my coach telling me that there are partnerships that are formed everywhere on the pitch and as those partnerships develop, it is the team that benefits from them. This season, amongst other seasons that I’ve been following Arsenal Football Club, has made me think about my coach and his take on partnerships. ‘If your spine is strong, you can stand out tall’, he said. ‘The team benefits if the same players are played week in week out and partnerships are formed.’ Much like Arsene Wenger talking about maintaining the pairing, especially in the midfield, when he has so many players to choose from, when fit.

Arsene has always spoken about defensive stability and this season, for the first time probably in the last ten seasons, we have experienced a new found solidity at the back. Arsene has been able to play the same back 4 in almost all the games this season and the results have shown. Full backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal have been constants but more importantly it has been the pairing in the central defense – Mustafi – Koscielny –  that has been vital.

Never in my life as a fan have I felt this assured at the back. Koscielny is probably the most under-rated defender in Europe; he has been the most consistent performer for Arsenal over the last 3 or 4 seasons. He has always lacked a suitable partner though. The Mertesacker – Koscielny pair seemed to do the trick, but the former had some flaws which were exposed and his injury in the pre-season meant Arsenal had to reinforce at the back. Let’s just say, Arsenal have done so brilliantly. Arsenal signed Shkodran Mustafi who seemed to hit the chord straight away with Laurent Koscielny. Arsenal have not lost a game when Shkodran Mustafi has started at the back alongside Koscielny. That is 17 matches unbeaten with these two playing as a pair. The understanding seems to be growing and that showed specially in the game against Chelsea at home when Diego Costa wasn’t allowed to breathe anytime during the 90 minutes. They seem to be thriving off each other and their individual stats show the same. Either Mustafi or Koscielny lead the way in comparison to defenders like John Stones, Gary Cahill and David Luiz who have been the main stay of Man City and Chelsea respectively. We seem to suffer when Mustafi doesn’t play and that happened again, against Everton on Tuesday. No Kostafi, no three points seems to be the order.

Another partnership that has developed has been in the midfield. Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin had tremendous understanding but with injury to the former keeping him out for three months, it was Granit Xhaka who had his chance. He may not have Santi’s quick feet, but his strength and his passing range have been that to cherish. Him alongside Coquelin or Ramsey seem formidable. Personally, I’d love to see more of the Xhaka-Ramsey pairing but the latter has been missing because of injuries. When those two played together in the Champions League against Basel, Xhaka seemed to allow Ramsey to go venture forward and he did the sitting job; somewhat opposite to when is plays alongside Coquelin – though, Coquelin joins in the attack and has been in and around the final third this season. Arsene Wenger’s teams have always flown forward from the midfield. Vieira, Fabregas, Wilshere for a season or two, Ramsey, Cazorla, and now it seems as though Xhaka has taken up that responsibility. Still a very young partnership, Xhaka-Coquelin/Ramsey could be the midfield pair for the future.

Alexis and Özil is probably the most beautiful looking pair on the pitch, maybe because they combine so often leading to so many wonderful moves and even goals. Alexis, especially, has been very vocal in saying that he loves playing with Mesut Özil. Though, Özil has been scoring goals rather than assisting them, some of the link up play between Alexis and Özil has been a joy to watch. There is some sort of chemistry between the two and they seem to find each other of the field with more regularity this season. They may not have contributed to each other’s goals directly, but have played a major part in opening up defenses and creating opportunities for others. Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all benefited because of this; Theo having secured his coffee machine after scoring his 10th goal before Christmas against Stoke. The full backs, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs have made a lot of runs in behind the opposition defense this season. They are also thriving off the chemistry between Alexis and Özil. Most teams in the world would thrive if they had Alexis and Özil playing for them. Thankfully, it has been for Arsenal.

The spine for Arsenal this season seems very strong and the results are showing so far. But this is the period where we have lost ground in the title race in the past and the absence of Mustafi against Everton showed that. No more injuries and the players digging in and grinding out results if necessary, would show the world that the team is ready. The partnerships are in place, Arsenal just need to maintain them and go for glory.


Gooner Ramble


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