Arsenal must invest big on defensive signing(s) this summer.
Arsenal’s best centre-back since Kolo Toure’s prime in the mid 2000s is reported injured for six months with a torn Achilles tendon.
Koscielny has coloured the Arsenal defence with maturity and fortitude (his eventual downfall) but without his and Mertesacker’s experience, Mustafi’s inconsistency and the inexperience of the last three centre-backs Chambers, Holding and Mavropanos, the Gunners are in trouble ahead of the next season.
I wrote a post about “The Alarming Centre-Back Situation” a while ago, and as a consequence of Koscielny’s recent long-term injury the issue has multiplied. It is now a desperate matter on Arsenal’s summer agenda.
Arsenal’s logistical predicament
The Gunners currently hold six centre-backs on their roster, which is more than any of the teams above them in the league:
Koscielny, Mertesacker, Mustafi, Holding, Chambers, Mavropanos.
Koscielny can’t be accounted for during the first 3-4 months of the next season (and, perhaps, never truly reliable again considering his persistent struggle with that Achilles and his age of 32).
The Frenchman’s situation and future at the club is one of the first topics the new manager will have to evaluate. Is Koscielny’s days as a starter at Arsenal over?
Mertesacker will become the new academy manager from next season, reducing the number of accountable centre-backs at the start of next season from six to four.
Four is the number of centre-backs the overwhelming league winners, Man City, used to champion the Premier League this season.
Although the quantity is identical, the quality is grossly mismatched.
City have Kompany, Otamendi, Stones and Laporte.
Arsenal have Mustafi, Chambers, Holding and Mavropanos.
Statistically, the Gunners’ main problems this season have been the away form and their defensive record. Arsenal have accumulated a mere 13 points away from home this Premier League campaign (with one away game left) and conceded more goals than in any other during Wenger’s reign.
A new manager with a fresh system will probably improve things, but, Arsenal’s situation is too dire to be fixed by this alone. Serious upgrades are essential.
The amount of goals conceded this season is a result of the sub-par quality of the defenders and the system in which they have been utilised. However, the bleeding away form and poor defensive record will be mostly stopped by new additions to the centre-back position.
The ideal solution
Arsenal need two new centre-backs to be the club’s starting defenders next season. Preferably two internationally experienced defenders who obtain a comprehensive list of qualities. Basically someone who are in their mid 20s, have enjoyed great exposure at the top level and have few obvious weaknesses (i.e. Mertesacker’s pace and Mustafi’s passing).
But, I can’t envisage the new manager spending £55m+ in his first season on two players in the same position when there are other pressing areas in the team, like a new goalkeeper, competition for Bellerin at right-back and an attacking midfielder.
An additional excuse is Koscielny’s potential contribution in the second half of the season.
Mustafi will have to do for at least another year, which puts more emphasis on the effectiveness of the new system Arsenal will adopt next season to stop the defensive bleeding.
That leaves the Gunners with one new centre-back, Mustafi, Chambers, Holding and Mavropanos at the back for the 18/19 campaign.
Taking into account if the new manager will use a formation that plays two or three centre-backs, one of Mavropanos, Chambers or Holding might go out on loan.
Two new starting centre-backs is ideal, but means Arsenal would have to neglect other positions, or find extra money through player sales, to facilitate the adequate number of new signings.
Read: “James McNicholas: The football writing/acting chameleon, and the backside of sports journalism.”