The Arsenal Centreback Shuffle
The 2021 summer transfer window is a time Arsenal fans have been looking forward to, pretty much since the first minute of this season.
For some, it will be a chance to further accelerate our rebuilding process under Mikel Arteta, hopefully strengthening our squad with the missing ingredients to get back to where we belong. While for others, the pure excitement & borderline relief that the next summer window will bring, is down to the players who leave the Club. Specifically at Centre back (CB)
Before we dive in to our CB options & potential outgoings, I think we should all admire the work that Edu/the board have done to clear out our overwhelming deadwood, easing the financial burden the club currently faces despite pay cuts & redundancies.
Admittedly, loaning out Kolasinac & terminating Sokratis/Özil’s contracts (2 players who were gone in 6 months anyway) should not be praised as if we recouped £50m for a player that cost us £10m, but it absolutely needed to happen.
Mikel himself said the squad was unmanageable at the bloated size of 31 players that we started the season with so hopefully the morale & competitiveness amongst the squad improves.
I thought I’d talk about CB’s specifically, as a position that has cost us so many points in the past, we now find our self blessed for both quality & quantity in this position.
A player, who as it stands is out of contract in the summer, is Arsenal’s number 23. I’m not sure I’ve seen an Arsenal CB spoken about as much as Luiz, both positively & negatively.
From those within the club, all you hear about is his positive influence in the dressing room & the experiencing his trophy littered career provides for our young players.
On the other hand, a large portion of Arsenal fans believe he is a Chelsea spy who has been sent to destroy us from within by Roman Abramovich & Kia Joorabchian.
I personally was against the signing of Luiz in the first place, as well as the extension that he signed during last season to keep him here until this coming summer, but I must say I have been happily proven wrong by the signing. There have been more good performances than bad & in multiple games he has even been our best source of creativity.
That being said, I think the time is right for Luiz to move on this summer. He is wages are too high to be our 4th/5th choice option next season & from a personal point of view I think he himself will be looking for a return to sunnier shores for his final few seasons.
The Calum Chambers case is in an interesting one for me. When Mikel first took over last season, Chambers was playing alongside David Luiz & looked very good before his injury against Chelsea.
Look at previous seasons & performances that I can remember (its been a while), I’d say Calum has more to his game than Rob Holding for example, but maybe has more games or moments where he misses a header or gets spun (Ostersuunds). Where as Rob Holding won’t play a 40 yard pass but leads our team in clearances this season & loves a good header.
From a squad & homegrown quota point of view, Chambers is great, versatile cover to have in the squad for the 21/22 season. Yet thinking from a business point of view only, he has 1 year left on his deal this summer & given how much we invested in him back in 2015, I think we should try to recoup what we can while he has value & is not injured.
We have lost Welbeck, Ramsey, Cazorla & Wilshere among many others in recent years for a total of £0, this cannot be a continuing trend which is also why I would shift Lacazette & Nketiah this summer to avoid this risk.
Now that we’ve discussed the sales & free transfers, there won’t be much to say on the next 3 names, seeing as they have either joined the club or signed a new contract recently.
Deservedly signed a new contract recently & has been a mainstay in our backline this season. I think Rob gets unfairly criticised because our fans thought ‘Don Raul’ was going to bring us Upamecano, but I think he’s quietly up there for one of our players of the season.
He does all the basics right almost every time & leads our team for stats in clearances. 5 of his last 6 performances have also lead to clean sheets in the league, so I am more than happy with Rob being our 3rd CB for the future & refuse to criticise a player who at worst gives 100% & puts his body on the line every game.
Much like fellow ‘Kia purchase’ Cedric, Pablo Mari was written off before he had even kicked a ball for us. Like Holding, Mari doesn’t have the athleticism or Fifa stats of an Upamecano/Konate, but for £8m I think we have a great centre back on our hands.
Mikel clearly wanted a left footed CB in his team from day 1, which is why Kolasinac/Tierney frequently played that position in Pablo’s absence last season. Particularly since he was given a run from the Chelsea game onwards, I think he has played very well.
He has a Mertesacker vibe about him & seems to do all the basic things well, making up for a lack of pace with good positioning & reading. While there has been the odd mistake or shaky moment in his games, this is his 1st full season at the club & I don’t think we can ask for a better backup left footed CB.
Gabriel for me was a banker for our player of the season earlier this year, but I think a certain number 7 has steamed ahead in that race in recent months.
Gabriel has been exactly what we have missed for so long, a no nonsense defender, who is strong, fast & plays a very nice pass. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our first league win at Old Trafford since 2006 arrives the season we sign Gabriel.
Despite getting sent off, possibly struggling to recover from Covid & being rested/out of favour right now, I don’t think 1 Arsenal fan can make a case for him not being our best CB & 1 of the first names on the team sheet.
With Tierney & Gabriel, our left side of defence is the best it has looked since Cole & Campbell for me (sorry Monreal & Koscielny). Our priority next season is finding the most compatible & suitable partner for Gabriel, which leads me on to my next 2 players who are currently on loan, William Saliba & Dinos Mavropanos.
The forgotten prodigies?
A lot of fans have already discarded Mavropanos from their iPhones when typing our their Arsenal squads/transfers on Notes, but I don’t think the club have written him off just yet.
He signed a new contract before going on loan to Germany this season, which is usually a sign of the club expecting the player’s value to rise or at least wanting to protect it should interest generate from other clubs. I actually think Mavropanos would be a great option to have around next season. He is physically blessed, good in the air & has played enough games now to hit the ground running if required to play.
Depending on the William Saliba situation, I think Gabriel, Holding, Mari & Mavropanos are very solid options to go in to a season with, but we would still need 1 more.. Have we saved the best until last? I could not tell you how happy I was when we secured Saliba’s signature last Summer.
Saliba is a giant of a young man who already looked like a season pro when playing for St Ettiene & in any highlight reel you watch of him. He was already being touted as a future captain & the man who would carry our defence for the next decade. So why has it gone wrong so far? Why did we refuse to let him play in the French cup final or go on loan if he was going to sit in our reserves all season?
Unfortunately these require answers that no one outside of the club have. Edu recently stated that Saliba arrived following a stop start season due to injuries & lockdown restrictions. Saliba also suffered personal losses that we don’t need to discuss but are all aware of by now. My personal take purely from on the pitch matters, is that he cannot possibly be worse than Mustafi, so why did he not feature in the Europa League & Carabao cup games instead of the clearly unfavored German? Surely even 10 appearances would have allowed us to assess his level better & also help him to adapt.
Arteta has repeatedly mentioned this season being a transition season for William & that he was supposed to go on loan. But surely if he went on loan to another club this season, he would still need to adjust to our club next season anyway? Mikel knows the player, his ability & his situation in far more detail than any of us. That is why I will wait to see what happens next season but the signs haven’t been positive when you hear how Saliba himself has spoken since his loan to Nice earlier in January.
I’m not one to question Arteta because I really think he’s done great since he took over, such as securing Saka, Martinelli & Aubameyang’s futures at the club & luring Odegaard, Partey & Gabriel from fierce competition. I just cannot help but feel that this is one situation that has gone horribly wrong so far & I really hope it does not lead to one of the top CB prospects in world football wanting to leave without being given a chance. I am really hoping, like almost every other Gooner, that William comes back after a busy & beneficial loan in France to take the place we all hoped he would. At the right side of our central defence.