Originally posted on Goonersphere.
The 3-3 draw against the Hammers was the latest in defensive shows of frailty which have cost our club dearly. In our malaise in February and March, the shortcomings of our midfield and attack kindly camouflaged our backline’s aptitude for capitulation, but it has been evident for a while.
The high scoring draw also served to highlight a mistake a lot of us Gooners made – calling for Gabriel to replace Mertesacker.
It would be remiss for this article to single out just one player – our defensive collective has been culpable for a slew of our conceded goals – but Gabriel has shown that he lacks the sage decision making that Mertesacker provides.
Our resident Brazilian should have been off the field when he lashed out at the robust Andy Carroll after the Hammers striker shrugged the South American off the ball. Luckily it wasn’t spotted by referee Craig Pawson but what was easy to highlight was Gabriel’s lack of positional awareness when crosses are pumped in, and his distinctly average aerial ability – both of these areas are also sectors of play that our giant German excels in.
Of course, the zonal marking that we continue to pursue haplessly is the deepest buried of all thorns in our side – but even if we switch to man marking – Gabriel does not track runners well at all currently. Is this an inherent weakness in his game, or is it a lack of concentration? After all, there was a reason why a lot of Gooners were screaming for him to be put into the side. He has shown what he can do, but a worrying combination of rash choices, a lack of composure under duress, and a positional awareness that sometimes borders on incompetent – has left Gabriel wanting.
With centre-back partner Laurent Koscielny still reliant on his recovery pace and reaction time, our gallant Frenchman requires a man alongside him that can arrange battlelines, direct play into certain avenues and also position themselves aptly to stem attacks. With Koscielny putting out fires, a sentry-type defender to steady a ship constantly on the move is a must. Mertesacker is that defender.
The long term option is of course Gabriel. Mertesacker is already thirty one years old and will get no better. He will also get no slower than he already is. What is of the utmost importance though, is that Mertesacker – and to a lesser degree Koscielny – hand down their wealth of knowledge and experience to their understudies – Gabriel and Chambers.
In the summer, when this season has thankfully passed us by, Wenger and Dick Law must prioritise a centre back who already has the experience necessary to contend with the whirlwind pace of the Premier League. With Calum Chambers another year older, as well as a back up of Mertesacker – this would be ample cover for an intensive season which always takes its toll on our team. There are a host of men who would fit the bill for a Gunners team crying out for a spot of leadership qualities that a potential recruit could bring.
Mertesacker is Vice-Captain and collector of training ground fines for good reason. He commands respect and if you step out of line from his carefully crafted offside trap – you will feel his wrath. The tall German may be as slow as a Donald Trump entourage, but his defensive acumen is the best at the club.
For the last games of the season, Mertesacker must be given the starting spot. Gabriel is proving to be a hazardous choice who is not quite ready for the heat of battle. With Manchester City breathing down our necks in the league and our neighbours stretching their advantage over us – we cannot afford any more mistakes that Gabriel continues to make.