It’s been a busy time for Arsenal’s three centre-halves this week.
Having bounced back from their UEFA Champions League elimination with an impressive 2-0 win at Swansea City last weekend, the Gunners bid for another top-four finish has well and truly been reignited. Arsene Wenger’s side are now just four points behind Tottenham Hotspur for such a standing, and also have a game in hand over their rivals.
What has been impressive about their triumph in Munich, which was to prove ultimately fruitless as Bayern progressed to the last eight on the away goal rule, and their win at the Liberty Stadium, is that they have achieved both without conceding a goal. And there was a fresh look about their rearguard in both; Lukas Fabianski replaced Wojciech Szczesny between the posts, whilst Laurent Koscielny has partnered Per Mertesacker in the heart of the back four in place of club captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgian international, when fit, has been a mainstay of the defence since his £10million arrival from Ajax in the summer of 2009. The fact that he is now, for the first time, fighting for a place in the starting eleven is sure to result in speculation surrounding his future, but the 27-year-old, under contract until 2015, is determined to win back his place in the team.
“Of course I want to play every game,” he told Sky Sports. “You play for a big club so you know that can happen and I have played a lot of games, and I am not out of the rhythm at the moment and I am not worried. I am working hard every day on the pitch to do well.”
His route into the team next season would be less congested if reports linking Mertesacker with a return to Germany have any substance. Earlier this week, the 28-year-old was said to be a target for Wolfsburg general manager Klaus Allofs, who worked with the big defender when they were both at Werder Bremen.
Like Vermaelen, Mertesacker has another two years remaining on his contract at the Emirates Stadium, and when asked of the possibility of a return to the Bundesliga, he told Sport-Bild: “No, I don’t consider a return to Germany. I am under contract with Arsenal and I am planning to stay on at Arsenal for more years from now.”
Maybe this was a week for Arsenal’s defenders to voice their determination to remain at the club and get them back on track following what has been a turbulent few years. It’s an often repeated fact that their trophy cabinet has been locked since they won the FA Cup in 2005, with a team which included the likes of Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas. And if they fail to qualify for the Champions League this season, it would surely mark the lowest point of Wenger’s 17-year reign.
To complete the comments of all three central defenders, Koscielny has revealed the determination of the current crop of players not to let this happen. And just for good measure, the 27-year-old France international has joined Vermaelen and Mertesacker in insisting that he too plans to remain at the club for some time to come.
“My contract at Arsenal lasts for another four years,” he is quoted in The Sun, before adding: “I have no wish to be elsewhere. Arsenal will fight until the end to be in the Champions League. It will be difficult, but we will give everything to be there.”