Arsenal's solid start to life after Alex Song and Robin van Persie, can be defined by a new-found defensive solidity. The key to it has been the play of Per Mertesacker, who is now the steady rock in the middle of the Gunners' back line.

That's the type of player Arsenal have been searching for ever since they parted ways with Sol Campbell. Yet too often they have gone for flashy defenders, stoppers more concerned with using pace and athleticism to steal the ball and rampage forwards, leading from the back.

Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, all exemplify these traits. Both of those partnerships lacked the balance that comes from the presence of a dependable, stabilizing force.

Mertesacker is that force, as the polar opposite to the gung-ho style of defending which has characterized Arsenal's back four throughout their lengthy trophy-drought. The former Werder Bremen skipper arrived in North London last summer to little fanfare, amid concerns about his lack of agility and pace.

That initial skepticism soon made Mertesacker an unjust scapegoat for many of Arsenal's defensive woes during the 2011/12 campaign. The period of transition needed to adapt to the speed and intensity of the English Premier League, wasn't allowed to excuse Mertesacker's preliminary struggles.

Yet as slowly as his detractors claim he moves across the pitch, the Germany international begin to reveal his quality. That quality is marked by the attributes every defense needs.

Mertesacker gives Arsenal height, sound positioning, disciplined tackling technique and an intelligent calmness. However, just as he was making the grade at Arsenal, injury ended Mertesacker's season, during a mid-February clash away to Sunderland.

With Koscielny performing solidly and Vermaelen groomed as van Persie's obvious replacement as captain, Mertesacker's odds of justifying his move from the Bundesliga, seemed as long as his 6'6" frame. It's ironic then that injury presented the opportunity for the returning Mertesacker.

It is an opportunity he has seized and does not look likely to relinquish. Koscielny's injury in preseason thrust Mertesacker back into the starting line-up. Alongside Vermaelen's enthusiastic determination, Mertesacker's quiet assurance finally gives Arsenal the right blend at the heart of their defense.

The results have been obvious as Arsenal began the season with three consecutive clean sheets. Mertesacker' was the noteworthy performer with his aerial command and faultless anticipation, consistently averting trouble at the back.

Problems in the air have been the bane of the Arsenal defense in recent years and Mertesacker soon gained popularity amongst the fans for the way he handled perennial Gunners tormentor Peter Crouch against Stoke City. He repeated the trick against Andy Carroll during Arsenal's recent 3-1 away success against West Ham.

His best performance might have come in the 1-1 draw at Manchester City. Against fleet-footed attackers like Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, the often arkward-moving Mertesacker was expected to struggle. Yet he was Arsenal's best player, using his knack for deciphering the flow of play to make a series of vital interceptions.

The biggest endorsment of Mertesacker's impact has come from effects of his absence. Mistakenly left out the home clash with Chelsea, Mertesacker's omission was felt, as the too similar Koscielny and Vermaelen contrived to surrender two goals.

His comeback against the Hammers, coincided with the return of the defensive stability Arsenal can now rely on. That's no coincedence as Mertesacker is now the bedrock of a stable back four that is giving Arsenal a chance in every game.

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