By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsene Wenger has axed Per Mertesacker due to his lack of pace and because he wants to develop Gabriel as Laurent Koscielny’s regular defensive partner.
The Arsenal manager has given some insight into his selections at the back ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash against Crystal Palace.
The north Londoners are third in the Premier League going into the weekend, six points adrift of second-placed Tottenham and a huge 13 behind leaders Leicester.
One of the quandaries for Wenger over the course of the campaign has been who to partner first-choice centre-back Koscielny.
Of the trio, Koscielny has started 38 of Arsenal’s 48 matches this season, while Gabriel has started 23 games and Mertesacker 32.
Koscielny, 30, and Gabriel, 25, have been the preferred duo for the last four matches, starting with the Champions League defeat to Barcelona last month.
Wenger has explained that combating the strengths of an opposition striker is often the key factor in deciding which centre-back pairing he plays.
“It’s a very tight choice,” the manager said, as quoted by the Arsenal website. “One has more pace, one has more experience and leadership qualities. It depends sometimes against who we play.
“For example last Saturday we expected to play against Sakho who has more pace and not especially against Carroll who is better in the air.
“We bought Gabriel and we have to give him a chance to develop as a player. In training he has shown signs of developing well so I gave him a chance and the team functioned well at Everton, at Barcelona and against Watford. There is not always an obvious reason to change.
“Ideally I want a stability there. But in some exceptional cases, when a team plays against you only on counter-attack, you can consider [change]. But normally I like to play every week with the same central defenders.”
Arsenal could be 16 points behind Leicester City when they kick off against Crystal Palace on Sunday although they have the chance to close the gap on Spurs over the weekend.
The last time Tottenham, who play at Stoke on Monday, finished above their north London rivals was in 1995, when the teams finished seventh and 12th respectively.
In other Arsenal news, a key player could return to the team for the Palace clash.