Martin Keown is one of the best defenders that Arsenal and England have ever had and although he only made 10 Premier League appearances in his final season as a Gunner, that was enough to earn him a winners medal in our invincible season.
But Keown was an integral part of the first team for most of his Arsenal career, including the double winning sides of 1998 and 2002. He also works with the club still on part time basis as a scout and a coach so he is the ideal man to give an educated opinion on the current debate among Arsenal fans about Per Mertesacker and Gabriel and which of them should partner Laurent Koscielny in our strongest possible back four.
The 49-year old was asked about it in his weekly question and answer column for the Daily Mail and he had some really good things to say about the World Cup winning German, especially his qualities as a leader.
Keown said, “I think Mertesacker is becoming one of the main leaders at the club, particularly in the absence of Arteta – whose body has started letting him down.
“He’s a leader on the pitch, and though he’s not the most mobile, he does very well with what he has. I’d like to see him become more of a threat from set-pieces, though, and sometimes he can switch off during matches.”
Having said that, he also suggested that the German´s position in the first team was under serious threat from his Brazilian team mate. In fact it sounds to me as if Keown expects Gabriel to be playing alongside Koscielny a lot more in the future and the very near future at that.
He continued, “I keep saying – and no one seems to be listening – that Gabriel is a fantastic player. I have no doubt he will be first choice along side Koscielny at some point.
“He made a couple of unbelievable challenges against Bournemouth, as well scoring an important goal – all this after being sat on the bench for so long. For me, that’s highly impressive.
“What he needs to do is bring the same sense of calmness and confidence as Mertesacker does. Wenger really likes this, but Gabriel is definitely putting pressure on the German – and you only get the love from Wenger for so long.”
So is Mertesacker’s time as first choice defender coming to an end?