Arsenal Debate – Should Paulista replace the BFG immediately?

BFG, Kos, Chambers and Paulista – Arsenal centre back conundrum by JS

I believe Wenger took a big risk today in mixing up his back five again in trying to give Ospina, Bellerin and Mertesacker a rest. After yesterday’s results and the fact we have a full week before the next game, I wanted to see us pick up where we left off last weekend with maybe a few gentle reintroductions if we managed to get in to a comfortable position in the match. Whilst I love the fact that we are through, we missed the chance to have made a bigger statement with a comfortable 3-0 win. If Wenger was certain that Mertesacker needed a rest then we would have looked much stronger defensively with Bellerin at right back and Chambers in at right centre back and Koscielny in his normal position at left centre back. Anyway, I digress slightly.

I would like to highlight a more basic point regarding centre backs that I believe has been vividly demonstrated in this match and several others at the weekend. Per Mertesacker has been getting a particularly hard time on this site in the past month or so even to the point that it has been causally asserted that the relative success of the Mertesacker/Koscielny partnership over the past season and a half is due almost entirely to the efforts of Koscielny. I believe this is absolute nonsense and driven more by personal emotional narratives rather than analysis.

Consider this for a moment. Until today, Mertesacker has been the single constant in our back five to date this season, due primarily to the fact that he is obviously more robust and less prone to injury then the rest of our defence. During that time he has played with four different CB partners (three makeshift/rookie ones), three different GKs, three different RBs (two of them rookies), two different LBs and three different CDMs in front of him! Quite staggering really and perhaps it should not be surprising that he has struggled at times. Him being the only omnipresent defender also perhaps explains why he would attract the majority of the flak when defensively things have not gone to plan. I asked the question in another thread as to how Koscielny (playing solo in a patched up defence) would fare in similar circumstances and today I believe we caught a glimpse of the answer. He is a great defender but he ain’t no superman. He was mediocre by his standards, not blameless in either goal, and the whole back 5 reverted at times to the shaky, ‘look away now’ antics we are so familiar with. In short he struggled without familiar surroundings and his individual ability could not carry the whole defensive unit alone.

I would also point to Cahill (a massive favourite on here as to what might have been if Wenger had bought him) whose Bradford performance without Terry and Courtois and a rookie RB was shockingly bad. He bore no resemblance whatsoever to the player Chelsea are accustomed to seeing. Coincidence or just a bad day at the office? And poor old Vincent Kompany is handed the relative novice Boyata and turns instantaneously in to a pretty agricultural CB. I know his very high standards have dropped recently but whilst we are fretting on here about Koscielny having to “put up” with Mertesacker, Kompany has a rota of Demichelis, Mangala and Boyata to contend with! Anyway enough about Chelsea and Manchester City’s true lack of depth.

My point being, let us cut the BFG a tiny bit of slack here. Let us also judge our CBs as a unit and whilst doing so have one eye on who is behind them in goal, who is protecting their flanks and who is sitting in front of them. It is a composite picture that needs assessing – the sum of the parts if you like. Koscielny is the better footballer/defender but they both do slightly different jobs. In my opinion, to be at his most effective, Koscielny needs Mertesacker, but admittedly perhaps not quite as much as Mertesacker needs Koscielny.

Which brings us neatly on to Gabriel Paulista. I know his arrival instinctively signals for many of the BFG detractors that PM will be handing over his armband and be shown the door and an immediate GP/LK partnership put in place. In my opinion there is close to zero chance of Wenger wantonly breaking up the PM/LK partnership in the near future – ie: this season. (I can hear the groans from the BFG bashers). I do not know enough about the intricacies of CB pairings or the symbiosis required for a successful pairing but on the face of it GP and LK are very similar in many ways. Most renowned CB partnerships display contrast with the different individual attributes acting as foils to each other. I am sure they could play together but it would need to be worked on and phased in – I do not think it would work as an instant fix. However, GB will hopefully be the Arsenal insurance for the rest of the season to ensure we have seen the last of our makeshift CB pairings should either PM or LK get injured/suspended. He is young and relatively inexperienced, so give him to the end of the season to find his way around, get adjusted, get some game time etc and any major decision Wenger has to make on his best CB pairing for 2015-16 can be better done during the summer. Unless of course events overtake all his best laid plans.

Calum will be 4th choice CB for the forseeable future – I think he needs at least another year developing in the squad.

When Wenger benches Mertesacker and puts Koscielny and Paulista in against Villa I will be the first to come on here to apologise for my error of judgement.


Tags Chambers Koscielny Mertesacker Paulista


  1. Very curious abaout Gabriel.. if he turns to be a good signing, (i trust Wenger he is) then we’ll have a VERY strong SQUAD. not a strong first eleven like we used to. and Wenger said he”ll might add more… buzzing about the FA cup too. hope we’ll beat manure in the finals! COYG



    can’t Let this Legend die

    1. It’s like Tomas is the Czech Benjamin Button………When he hits 40 he will probably have the footballing ability of a 21 year old.

  3. Will he? No
    But by the time next season comes around I expect him to.
    If we play the 4141 system that seems to be most dynamic, Gabriel will be of importance equally with Kos…simply because of needing to be compact and breaking with pace. If the break on pace doesn’t work and players are out of shape…we have pace in our new centre back pairing.
    My concern is Özil and Walcott who couldn’t of played against City the other day because they don’t have the defensive side to there game. So in order to have them in the team we need a solid CDM and someone with Gabriel credentials in defence

    1. People underestimate Walcott. Before he injured himself last season he was a revelation like how Cazorla has owned out this season in his all round game. Walcott was tracking back, assisting and scoring.

      In that FA CUP game at the emirates he was up and down that RW, remember how that injury if his came about? He tackled in the Spuds half but failed to get the ball so he trackee back deep into our RB area and tackled then injured himself out of that tackle..

      I think Walcott has worked on his defensive side..

      1. I think you’re right goonster but the only thing I would say is that walcott’s almost like a second striker, his main strengths lie in running behind the opposition defence. Noone in our team can beat the offside trap consistently throughout a match like walcott and therefore he will generally be found higher up than other players on the right like chamberlain for example. Against better opposition a commanding cdm alongside coquelin will give him greater license to play further up without as much focus on his defensive game which has definitely improved but is not where his strengths lie.

  4. Still think Kos and Mertesacker is a brilliant CB pairing, especially now that we have Coq in front of them. People will point to his pace but he makes up for that with his positioning and understanding with Kos. Paulista will need time to get up to speed in the PL anyway and he isn’t known or his passing so will have to get used to Arsenal as well.

  5. People bash Mert a lot on this website because most on this website don’t actually seem to understand how to play the game, or seem to know much of anything about the game at all. Mert hasn’t been as good this year and you hit the nail on the head, he was missing Kos. A partnership is crucial in the back. When Per is dealt a revolving door to his side, often filled with those being out of pisition, his performance surely will drop. You can’t defend everyone. When you’re notoriously slow teams will just throw everyone at you knowing the other guy won’t be able to properly cover………

    Per is fine. He dropped a bit, but he is still quality. Now that we have Gabriel we can actually ROTATE with players who play that actual position haha. This will prove to be incredibly valuable

    1. I don’t get why there were lot of dislikes..!! I agree with u that Per and Koscielny need each other to play and perform well.. However anyone who thinks Kosc is solely responsible for BHA’s 2 goals must watch the match again.. It was down to Flamini’s inability as a DM to guard the ball cost us severely as seen before..
      And my boy..!! how well Moreal has developed as a CB..!! showed no signs of being naive when put out of position.. With Gabriel coming in we would have 3 CB cum FB (Callum too).. I actually love this set up tbh.. And on Gabriel, i think he will take his time to get acclimatized to PL.. He looks a bit thin like Ozil when he joined us.. But his skills are good from what i have seen of him.. Yeah he is a lot like Koscielny.. Good in every aspect apart from the decision making…

  6. Different defenders have different attributes and playing style. Gabriel style is so similar to Kos – reminding me of when we pair Kos and Vermaelen together. And given Gabriel is not known for his ariel ability it should not happen. Chamber is the heir of Merte while Gabriel is to take over from Kos.

  7. szczesny has been a major problem so far, so has been balls from corner and free kick. as we record one of the highest amount of goals conceded from set pieces(corners included).

  8. Firstly,is he better than BFG? If not then I think he’s a useless signing.

    If he is then start him immediately.

  9. For this reason, I hoped that we signed top defender who won’t accept sitting on the bench … I rate this guy Paulista and I hope he is what we want …

  10. For me Paulista should be used as a sub for the Prem for the rest of the season barring Injury and a starter in Cups…..and then gradually phase Mertesacker out. Mertesacker has had some very strong performances over the last two seasons and its not like Wenger to disregard that. Although i do see Paulista being Koscielny’s partner eventually should he prove himself to be a great CB in the Prem. Overall a fantastic signing as the lad seems Fast, Combative, and Diverse in the positions he can play.

  11. Mertesacker is and has been a great defender. That said, he has lost even more of his very limited pace and has the turning circle of a small battleship. Against better opponents this does limit our play style to one of being compact and defensive whereby we have to drop deep. His lack of urgency and ability on the ball also leads to a slow and obvious build up from the back that often lets teams reassemble even when the aim is to shift them side to side. The worst situations are when he is moved by a striker though – as soon as Mertesacker loses his positioning he finds it impossible to get back into position.

    Now, that said, it doesn’t mean replacing him instantly solves every problem. As the OP pointed out, the PM/LK combo has alot of merits, not least in the fact they act as a foil for one another. BFG has height, power and a reading of the game. LK is more athletic, dynamic and better at reading a player. Together they compliment and create a strong defense if and when the other elements of the back four and our midfield work in cohesion. Why fix a CB partnership that isn’t broken?

    This is where the crux of the problem is – are the flaws of BFG hampering our play style? And to me, I say sometimes yes. Against smaller teams, especially those lacking huge aerial threats, Mertesacker is often to the detriment of the team. We can’t push as high, we can’t move the ball through the back as fast and our midfield/wings need to be wary of allowing Merts to be drawn out of position. Should we switch him out? In the long term, definitely, BUT only if Paulista is going to offer a considerable improvement to the team. If it doesn’t fix the issues – if it does not make us more dynamic, fluid and reactive, then it is not necessary and we should retain a solid partnership until the other players have had time to gel.

    Can we as an audience know the answer? No. Only Wenger will know and I’m betting he’ll stick with Merts.

  12. AW needs to ship 10 players out for good. Look at it like this would the fringe players Get in the arsenal team of ten years ago? NO
    Buy some great players then look for talent to bring in

  13. Buying a striker or DM would be icing on the cake for this transfer window.

    Come summer we’d only really need one big signing.

  14. Great article JS. Well done. I think a lot of us underestimate Mertesacker’s contribution to the partnership. You said it well – Koscielny needs the BFG, just maybe not as much as Mertesacker needs him.

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