The final whistle blows and Per Mertesacker sinks to his knees, slamming his fist against the White Hart Lane turf.
It’s early October, 2011 and Arsenal have just slumped to a fourth Premier League defeat against bitter rivals Tottenham in a campaign that had barely broken free of the starting blocks.
Recording a miserly seven points from a possible 21, conceding 16 goals in the process, the North-Londoners were in a state of defensive disarray, with many starting to seriously question Arsene Wenger’s position as manager.
Fast forward 12 months and despite only being two points better off, the Gunners’ vast defensive improvement is being celebrated vociferously across the land.
Six games down, with only four in the goals-against column, assistant manager Steve Bould has rightfully been receiving most of the plaudits. However, it’s no surreal twist of fate that Arsenal’s new look solidarity has coincided with Mertesacker’s return to full fitness.
The 82-times capped German has been in imperious form, starting the opening five Premier League fixtures at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, including a man-of-the-match performance away at Man City at the end of September.
Therefore, eyebrows were raised when the 28-year old was dropped from the starting line-up against Chelsea on Saturday, with Wenger favouring a Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny partnership.
The pair endured a torrid afternoon, with Arsenal’s infamous defensive problems once again resurfacing. Koscielny, in particular, looked decidedly suspect and was at fault for both Chelsea’s goals.
Mertesacker cut a frustrated figure on the bench and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the towering defender.
There’s no debating his calming, steadying influence was sorely missed and whilst both Vermaelen and Koscielny are quality defenders, there’s no escaping the fact they don’t look compatible playing together.
The duo looked equally unconvincing throughout last night’s 3-1 Champions League victory over Olympiakos and Goal.com’s Greg Stobbart raised a valid point in his post-match analysis when he suggested the pair are too similar in their style of play.
Both players are aggressive by their very nature and look to win the ball at every opportunity. This cavalier approach can lead to gaps being created, leaving the defence cruelly exposed and vulnerable.
Mertesacker, on the other hand, adopts a more measured approach, relying heavily on his positional sense and adept skill at reading the game. This allows him to dovetail well with either of his potential partners and gives the defence far more balance and stability.
Arsenal travel to Upton Park to face West Ham on Saturday and with the imposing aerial threat of Andy Carroll looming, it’s impossible to contemplate Wenger will not restore Mertesacker to the side.