Vermaelen and Mertesacker the ideal combination for O’Leary

Ahead of the Arsenal v Chelsea in the Premier League at The Emirates Stadium, we spoke to former Arsenal defender and ex-Leeds boss David O’Leary…

Despite having a proven and consistent record of success in management Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been criticised in some quarters. What are your thoughts?

Arsene Wenger is a fantastic manager. When I left Arsenal we were a big club but Arsene Wenger has moved them onto another level. They’ve even built a bigger stadium because they outgrew the old stadium. He has been amazing in that way. Everybody knows they play great football but they haven’t won anything in recent years which people keep referring to; they will know they need to put that right. They have started to leak more goals but I am sure they will be working to rectify that as well.

Why do you think Arsenal has conceded an uncharacteristically high number of goals this season?

First of all I’m an Arsenal fan so I have to put my loyalty to one side. They can play great football, but consistently they have conceded too many goals and shown frailties in defence. When they are one up, they might be dominating the game but you often feel the other team has got a great chance of equalising. . Bringing Mertesacker in will give them a bit more height which will help when they concede free-kicks and corners. I think other teams know when they play Arsenal that they are vulnerable in that position, and that gives them great heart.

You were a world class defender; who do you view as Arsenal’s ideal central defensive partnership if everybody is fit; who impresses you?

The main two are Vermaelen and Mertesacker. The others are lads that can fill in, really. Koscielny does ok but I don’t feel that he’s going to get into the best teams that Arsenal are playing against at the moment.

Mertesacker is a good reader of the game, but pace wise I sometimes fear for him a little bit. Once Vermaelen comes back from injury they’ll form a stronger partnership together. They look like probably the strongest pair they have had at Arsenal for a few years.

Upfront you can see Arsenal’s reliance on Van Persie. He is an amazing player, and if they were to lose him it would be a big blow. You see what he does when he’s on the field, and what he does when he comes off the bench. I hope we’re proved wrong, but his injury record of staying fit over the whole season unfortunately hasn’t been great.

The contract issue with Van Persie is potentially a difficult one. Arsenal are a great club and they’ll be able to offer him a fantastic deal. But he may be thinking to himself: “Are Arsenal going to win anything, can I go to a club that has a chance of winning the Champions League and could maybe offer me an even more amazing contract than the one I’ll be offered at Arsenal?” I hope that he stays at Arsenal for many seasons to come.

For more insight from David O’Leary and other leading managers plus exclusive Barclays Premier League highlights go to