Arsenal are blessed with three fine CBs and long may it continue. Koz and the BFG are still Arsene’s first choice CB couple but Gabriel Paulista is pushing hard to get in there. I love all three of them and am increasingly unsure what the best CB pairing is for us.
Koz is the most complete CB and his tenacity and excellent reading of the game are second to none in the PL imo. The BFG is a great organiser, reads the game supremely well and always plays with the right attitude. Unfortunately, Per turns like an oil tanker and is not particularly fast; he has managed very well to reach the very top of football despite these disadvantages. Paulista we know less well: he resembles more Koz than the BFG and he adds a healthy aggression much needed in our team. He is also pretty complete as a CB and a beast at tackling all over the pitch.
These Whoscored? stats show us how well all our CBs do (based on this season’s PL games – all stats are average per game):
There is not that much between them. Per is the absolute champion in clearing the ball, but Laurent still does well in this discipline too. Gabriel is our tackling beast and is pretty good in the air but is behind Per and Laurent in terms of blocks and clearances. Koz is the king of interceptions and blocks and is as strong in the air as Per, but he also makes more fouls than the other two: making those blocks and interceptions comes with a (small) price.
In terms of CB pairing, I favour the combination of two types of defenders.
One needs to be a calm but brutal organiser of the game, who can read the game well and is master in the air. Ideally, they are also great at tackling and fast as a tiger, but the ability to organise and lead the defence and to remain calm under pressure is key. Tony Adams and, especially, Sol Campbell were great specimen of this kind of CB. Per is not that far behind but I reckon Koz, and possibly Gabriel, are less suited for this.
The other one needs to be fast, aggressive and excellent at interceptions and blocks, a great reader of the game and the first soldier in the team. Martin Keown and Toure are good examples of this type of CB, and with Koz we probably have the very best of them all right now. I have no doubt that Gabriel can do this too and he could possibly become as good as Laurent.
But, going forward, what is the best pairing?
I guess it depends on what sort of game we are playing and which team. Our current preference to sit a bit deeper and kill teams with a combination of quick turnovers and possession football in the opponent’s half, seems to suit our best (statistical) pairing: Per and Laurent. However, when we play teams that park the bus and we play predominantly ‘possession and strike’ football in their halve, we could do with two very fast and aggressive CBs who are very good at blocks and interceptions and are quick to recover the ball when being threatened by a counter-attack. In these sort of games, the Koz-Paulista CB pairing looks the strongest.
And then there are the games against fellow PL title and CL trophy contenders: how should we pair up against them in central defence? Well, I guess we will get the answer tomorrow when we play Bayern away. I reckon it will be Per and Koz, but Wenger might go for the Koz-Gab – the Vault of KoGa – combination. The BFG played full games on Tuesday and Saturday and I am not sure Wenger will play the 31-year-old for a third time in eight days. We will need Per’s organisation skills, calm and experience, but, on the other hand, the power and energy of the Vault of KoGa might be more effective in stopping the intricate passing game in and around our box by Bayern, and instigate the better turnovers….. All exciting stuff if you ask me and I cannot wait to see the CBs in action again tomorrow.
I am still not sure what our best pairing is but Paulista’s arrival on the scene is giving us options and healthy competition. With three such great CBs we have options to vary our game in accordance with the strengths and style of play of our opponents, which is great news.