How Arsenal are benefitting from two promising partnerships

Shirts with numbers but no names, muddy pitches that were more brown than green, and the concept of subs getting actual splinters from sitting on a wooden bench. These are just three nostalgic examples of phenomena that have fallen by the wayside in football.

You could argue that we should throw the concept of great partnership in there too. Those of a certain age will remember Shearer and Sutton, Bruce and Pallister, Rush and Dalglish, Bould and Adams, Ratcliffe and Mountfield, Batty and McCallister. These were special combinations in which the sum was stronger than the individual parts. Working together every week and bouncing off each other’s strengths, they developed into extremely powerful duos. All won league titles.

These days things are different. Footballers appear more self-centred and individualistic. Prolonged spells at the same club are not the norm. Lone strikers and three-man midfields are prevalent. Squads are so deep you wonder if they all know each other’s names, and of course the art of rest and rotation has become widespread too.

If the football partnership isn't dead, it certainly feels less important than it once did.

Yet a partnership that’s allowed the space to breathe and evolve - without the constant threat of rotation or revamp - can still be worth its weight in gold. Combinations that click will almost always outshine a collection of more talented individuals over the course of a season.

One team that has proven this over the last few months is Arsenal, who have benefitting from two promising pairings to get a grip on a season that seemed to be slipping away. The first is made up of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, who have been outstanding together in the heart of the Gunners' defence; the second is formed by midfielders Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

Sometimes certain players are made to play together, and Koscielny and Mertesacker are a case in point. The giant German’s aerial prowess, positional nous and cool-headedness provide the ideal foil for the Frenchman, who more noted for being aggressive, quick and spirited.

Learning from each other’s strengths, and covering weaknesses when something goes awry, Mertesacker and Koscielny have fitted perfectly. They seem to enjoy playing together, and while neither is necessarily a better player than the deposed captain Thomas Vermaelen, they complement each other well.
The stats also prove it. In 13 Premier League outings this term, Mertesacker and Koscielny have won eight and drawn five, conceding just 0.77 goals a game. They need to be judged over a longer period, of course. But with this kind of record should ensure they get the chance to prove their quality next season.

In midfield, Arsene Wenger has stumbled upon another pairing that just works. Again, Arteta and Ramsey may not be the two most gifted players in the Premier League, but in unison they are very effective.
If injuries to Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere hadn’t forced the manager's hand, the Welshman may have still been frustrating fans in an unfamiliar auxiliary wide-man berth, but instead he’s wowed them with a string of high-energy, all-action displays. Those who questioned if he was good enough to ply his trade at Emirates Stadium must now concede they were wrong.

Arteta has remoulded himself into an intelligent holding player this term, intercepting the ball more than most players in the top flight, and passing it more accurately too. With the exuberant energy of Ramsey around him he’s looked even better in recent weeks.

While I wouldn’t accuse Diaby or Wilshere of slacking in their defensive duties, Ramsey is more equipped to cover any physical deficiencies that the Spaniard has. He’s a partner that can chip in defensively, while also providing an outet going forward. The result? Arteta has more time to focus on what he's good at. That's the mark of a good partnership.

This summer, new arrivals may threaten to break up these two excellent couples, and that’s OK. You have to keep up with the Joneses, after all. But I hope Wenger noticed that these two sets of players are bringing the best out of one another. He should stick with them next season too. The old maxim applies: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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