KosMus: The Arsenal CB Pairing that Rule Time and Space

Until recently, I have always believed that a good defence consists of a centre back pairing of an organiser type and a wild ‘kuitenbijter’, a carve biter, type. One has the overview and organises their defence and the other one operates as the first soldier of the defence, with ferocious energy and an unrelenting desire to win balls in the air and on the ground, and defend the box area with whatever it takes. The former is usually calm and tall and physically very strong and the latter is simply an energetic, fast, beast of a defender.

We all know the Arsenal pairings we have come to love over the years. For me the dream couple was probably Campbell-Toure from the INVINCIBLES (see below) but Adams-Keown were also brilliant of course. I am sure those who go back a lot longer than me will come up with some other fine Arsenal CB pairings. 🙂

Arsenal "The Invincibles" XI

In recent years, we have struggled to get the CB pairing totally right. The BFG-Kos combo did come close to a King’s couple of CBs, as they fitted the above mentioned short role descriptions to a large extent. Especially if and when we played in a more compact formation and game plan, Koz and BFG made us look solid and in control for many a game. Unfortunately, the BFG’s extraordinary ability to read the game and organise his defence was occasionally undermined by his Achilles’ heel: his slowness in turning around his own axis and lack of recovery speed. And Arsenal are not the sort of team to sit back a lot and absorb pressure: we love a high line and hemming the opponent into their own half.

The downside of this style is of course the space left behind the highline which makes us prone to deadly counterattacks/balls over the top; and boy have we suffered from this at times in the past. Last season, I regret to say, the BFG was our weakest defender in for example the key seasonal games against Chelsea and Barcelona at home. This is what Wenger, who will never directly name and shame a player, had to say after the Barcelona game: “Barcelona is a great team, we knew that. Nothing new. We put a lot of energy in the game. Technically we were very average. Once we look like we dominated the game in the last 20 minutes we gave the goal away, similar to Monaco. Very naive. Two goals makes it realistically very difficult if not impossible. We will have to go out there and fight. There was room to score but we didn’t. And they are lethal. One thing we could not afford – and we knew before the game – was to let them counterattack”.

I had a feeling back in February that Per’s time as first choice CB would be up in the new season. We don’t really know what Wenger’s plans were regarding the first choice CB pairing for this season, but the bad injuries to first the BFG and then Gabriel, before the season even had started, forced his hands in the transfer market anyway. He had already bought Holding – ‘one for the future’ – in the summer, and the young Englishman impressed us all with some fine performances. He also gave Chambers a few  games to show him that he could be ready for regular PL starts, but Calum was not up for the task unfortunately.

Wenger then bought Mustafi from Valencia and rushed back Koz to make them his first choice CB pairing. And what a difference they have made. They have played five times together now, two CL games and three PL games, and conceded just two goals in total. Of course, it is still early days and we have to give it at least 20 games before we can say that KosMus are the perfect rulers of space and time, but the first signs are very promising.

And this is not just reflected in our fine, post-Liverpool, defensive record – to which Holding has contributed as well – but also in the style of play it has allowed us to play as a team.

Neither Koz nor Mustafi are the embodiment of Campbell or Adams; it is more like playing two perfect Koscielnys, or two beastly Toures, with both players happy to push up high and having enough confidence in their recovery speed and ability to intercept and deal with any counterattacks coming their way. Together they organise their defence very well, lead the team all over the pitch, and give away very few chances: they have been in control, sometimes in total control, in almost all games, except the PSG game perhaps.

It is fair to say they also get great help from the full backs and the deeper laying DM (Coq or Xhaka) for which they deserve massive credit.

There are promising signs that KosMus is the CB pairing for the future: the rulers of space and time Arsenal have been needing for so many years.

By TotalArsenal

Koz, Gabriel, BFG: Three Great CBs, but what is the best pairing?

The BFG: Passion and Brains - you got to love him! :)
The BFG: Passion and Brains – you got to love him! 🙂

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):

Name Tack-les Inter-cep-tions Fouls Clear-ances Blocks Aer-ials won  
Per 1.7 2 0.3 6.3 0.5 2.8
Gabriel 2.2 2.2 0.3 4.8 0.2 2.5
Laurent 1.7 4.3 0.7 5.9 0.8 2.8

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.

By TotalArsenal.