Unless there is a fitness problem with one of them, the Arsenal centre back pairing to face Liverpool this evening is almost certain to consist of the usual suspects Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Whether you agree with him or not, it is clear that Arsene Wenger is happy with them and would probably play them in every game if he could.
Both the German and the Frenchman have been talking in the build up to the game about what they think will be required of them id the Gunners are to record a vital win and it appears that both are expecting a bruising encounter.
Mertesacker knows that the Gunners need to be a lot more on the ball than we were in the first home game against West Ham, when all the positive energy built up over six months went out of the stadium like a deflating balloon. But also because it is an early test of title credentials for us an our opponents.
He told The Guardian, “It’s the first test against a title contender, so it’s a chance to see how good we are. We need to turn up, especially at home, with the right intensity and a kind of aggressive nature we maybe lacked in the first home game.”
Koscielny was a bit more specific in a report on the Arsenal website, pointing out the power, stature and aerial threat of Liverpool’s new front man Christian Benteke as one of the things he most needs to be in control of. The France international admits that he has not always stood up to the physical nature of the game in England but he has improved massively and now feels confident of coping with anything thrown at him.
He said, “I’ve improved my technique, my physical strength, my position on the pitch and my duels with the striker. I feel I’ve improved every year, each season I’m better, so I hope it will continue like this each year.
“My biggest development has been in aerial duels. For a centre back that is very important when you are playing against a lot of long balls. We need to win these duels, find our feet to win the ball back and play, so maybe this is my most important quality. But everything is important.
“Psychologically you have to be prepared as there is a lot of pressure every game because we always want to win. All the games are important so you need to be ready in your body and in your head – so the two parts are important.
“We had a good game against Aston Villa in the FA Cup final but the other games against Benteke will be harder. I know him and every game is hard against him. He’s a big professional who gives his all for the team and to score.
“He loves the duels and he loves the goal so it will be harder this time. Just because we won by three or four against a team last season doesn’t mean you will again. We can do it again, but each game you need to improve yourself so you are ready to win.”
So they know what is needed, but will Arsenal’s centre backs be celebrating a job well done at the final whistle tonight?