Per Mertesacker’s dismissal in Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday afternoon was the latest indication that the German international could scupper the club’s chances of winning the Premier League title.
The 31-year-old, who was signed by manager Arsene Wenger from Bundesliga side Werder Bremen in 2011, saw red for a challenge on Diego Costa with just 17 minutes on the clock.
His lack of pace and occasional lapse of composure makes him a liability at the back, and the club may miss out on the country’s biggest prize if they continue to trust him in the season’s biggest games.
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Costa was at his snarling, sensational best and Mertesacker’s red card came when the Spaniard looked every bit likely to deliver the killer blow.
His winner served to rub salt into the club’s wounds and means Claudio Ranieri’s high-flying Leicester City boast a comfortable, if not unassailable, three point gap at the summit.
Gabriel was introduced for striker Olivier Giroud to help steady the ship but despite failing to prevent Costa from stealing the headlines, delivered yet another mature and solid performance.
The youngster has rarely let the club down since joining from La Liga side Villarreal last January, and will no doubt desire a starting berth on a more regular basis after Mertesacker’s disappointing dismissal.
Though big names rarely change clubs in the January transfer window, Wenger has a chance to bolster his squad this month and should begin to plan for life without Mertesacker in his starting line-up.
His lack of pace is an obvious weakness and led to his early exit from the field, and with Barcelona waiting in the Champions League next month, it hardly suggests he would be able to cope with the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
There is a lack of speedy defenders at the moment – just ask Manchester United – but Everton’s John Stones, Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Schalke’s Benedikt Howedes are all faster than Arsenal’s big German defender.
All three would be unlikely to move to the Emirates Stadium at present, but the club should start launching enquiries ahead of many potential move in the summer.
Mertesacker is still worth keeping as a squad player, and will no doubt be a key part of the Germany side at the upcoming European Championships, but the 31-year-old is ill-equipped to cope with the world’s paciest starlets.
Arsenal need to eradicate every weakness if they are to continue their quest to win the title and sticking with a slow defender could be their undoing.
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