This Arsenal centre back partnership is one for the long-term
Sol Campbell, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown are a few to mention of the iconic central defenders to play for Arsenal football club. The Gunners used to ooze class and defensive steel with these top players forming the last line of defence at Highbury’s Clock End or North Bank however, in more recent years, these attributes have been hard to come by.
Arsenal leaking goals.
Arsenal had been heavily criticised for their “Leaky defence” towards the end of the Arsene Wenger reign and since the departure of their longest serving manager, the Gunners have never quite found the perfect combination along the back line.
When Shkodran Mustafi arrived in N7 and partnered Frenchman Laurent Koscielny, fans of the north London club thought they had found their man however, after a positive start, Arsene Wenger’s side only managed to salvage a 6th place finish that season.
Solid additions over the years.
Some sound central defenders have been added to the ranks of Arsenal in recent years with the likes of Rob Holding signing from Bolton for a reported £2m. The now 25 Y/O has gained the support of the Arsenal faithful over his time at the club winning two FA cup trophies, two Community shields and putting in some show stopping performances in big games along the way.
Despite Holding’s success story, he hasn’t been able to show consistency throughout his time in north London to be the answer to the Gunners defensive woes. The hot and cold David Luiz who joined Arsenal for a reported £8m also played a crucial role in Mikel Arteta’s FA cup triumph in the 2020/21 campaign. The Brazilian displayed just how vital he was to Arteta’s side towards the end of that campaign and into the new one, leading in the dressing room and on the pitch.
Different managers have played with and tested different systems at Arsenal over the years with the Gunner’s previous two trophies coming from playing a system that includes three central defenders and two wing backs in a back five style formation. This formation has come from Arsenal’s lack of Defensive ability at times and, if an extra defender is added into the side at the expense of an attacking midfielder, then opposition sides find it a tougher task to break down. This was put to good use in last season’s FA cup success as Mikel Arteta’s side kept clean sheet vs Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and came out on top in the final against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
Since Arsenal won their record 14th world cup in the summer of 2020, Arsenal’s Spanish manager has opted to play a back four formation which gives his side an extra man in midfield. This extra position in the number ten role which this season has been taken up by Hale End graduate Emile Smith-Rowe who has flourished since his introduction to regular first team football on Boxing day of 2019.
Saliba & Gabriel pairing.
Arsenal have signed two young Centre backs that are very much seen as the future of the club and defence. Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba were the two high profile names purchased for a combined fee of around £50m.
Saliba was purchased from Ligue 1 side St Etienne in the summer of 2019 and spent the following season on loan at the French club that is situated just outside of Lyon. After his loan spell at St Etienne, the Frenchman was expected to join up with Mikel Arteta’s squad and play an important part in the 2020/21 campaign however, Arteta decided that the now 20 Y/O was not ready and in January 2021, Saliba was sent out on loan to Nice.
This loan spell had proven to be very successful with the Frenchman being included in the shortlist for the fans Ligue 1 team of the season. Saliba is set to be assessed this preseason by Mikel Arteta as he will decide if the young Frenchman fits the long-term mould of the club.
“After a Loan spell with Nice, the Frenchman is scheduled to join up with the Arsenal squad for training this summer. It is only after being watched closely at hand that Arteta will decide whether he will form part of his squad next season.”
Gabriel Magalhaes was one of Mikel Arteta’s first signings of the summer transfer window in 2020 with Edu Gaspar and the board bolstering their defensive ranks as the Brazilian joined from Ligue 1 side Lille. Gabriel came straight into the Arsenal XI for the first game of the season away at Craven cottage putting in an excellent performance, scoring on his debut and keeping a clean sheet.
Gabriel took the Premier League by storm in his opening three months at Arsenal winning the Player of the month awards three times and establishing himself and as one of the first names on the team sheet. Despite some injuries in the middle of the season and catching Coronavirus, the 23Y/O ended the season on a strong note, putting in some excellent performances to close the campaign.
The future of Arsenal’s Central defence?
This coming season could be the first opportunity Arsenal fans get to see Gabriel and Saliba as a pairing and, if successful, could make up the centre back duo for the 21/22 and years to come. With both players aged 20 and 23 respectively, their prime playing years are well ahead of them and, Gunners fans can hope that these years include lifting lots of silverware in the famous Red and White.