Since Sol Campbell left Arsenal our central defense has been our Achilles heel. We have conceded too many goals from set-pieces and own-goals due to poor positioning and a lack of defensive organization.
This season we have had different solutions for our central defense. In the opening matches of the season Mertesacker and Vermaelen looked very solid conceding only one goal in the opening four matches. Koscielny jumped instead of an ill Vermaelen against City and we conceded a goal from a set-piece with Koscielny’s mistake that almost brought us defeat. Koscielny and Vermaelen have been a horrible combination and they weren’t lucky for us against the Chavs in our first defeat of the season. Mertesacker and Vermaelen have generally been our regular pairing but they failed to restore their form from the start of the season.
During Gibbs’ absence Koscielny returned to the starting line-up while Vermaelen was played at left full-back. The absence of Vermaelen and Koscielny against Sunderland made Arsene Wenger play with Bacary Sagna as a central defender and he did surprisingly well producing a man-of-the-match performance.
After the defensive mistakes cost us a painful defeat to the Spuds in the North London Derby, Wenger decided to change something and dropped captain Vermaelen to the bench with Mertesacker and Koscielny starting in the heart of the defense. Our formation also included a deeper approach from defensive midfielders Arteta and Ramsey which – despite neither of them being natural defensive midfielders – has worked fine in matches against Bayern, Swansea and Reading.
What we can expect in the summer? We have only three senior central defenders in rotation and with Djourou unlikely to make a come-back to the Arsenal squad despite a signing new contract last season and Squillaci leaving when his contract expires in the summer, it is very likely that Wenger will make some changes. There are three possible ways to do it: a) to move 30-year-old Bacary Sagna from the right full-back position to a central position as Wenger said after Sagna’s brilliant performance against Sunderland that he always knew Bacary will eventually play as a central defender; b) to give more playing time to Ignasi Miquel or someone else from our youth team, especially given that our they have made a streak of decent performances in the NextGen competition where they reached the Semifinals (Hajrović, perhaps?); c) to sign at least one central defender.
When Thomas Vermaelen was appointed as captain after Robin Van Persie left for FAnchester United, I was among those Gooners who thought that was a good thing. Unfortunately, it turned out that it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Vermaelen’s performances have deteriorated ever since he got the flu before the first match against Manchester Oilers. His positioning hasn’t been the best, he has given away too many fouls and his biggest quality – ability to find the net – has been hidden this season as he has failed to score in the Premiership this campaign. He hasn’t played well as a left full-back either.
The Belgian defender has been dropped to the bench for the last three matches and there are rumours that have connected him with Barcelona. If he leaves, he will join the club of Arsenal captains that left the Gunners (Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Henry, Gallas, Fabregas, Van Persie) in the last eight trophy-less years. He is 29 and has qualities (tackling, pace, jumping, attacking abilities) that hide his natural lack of height and strength. He has abilities to shine again so this bench therapy might work just fine for him.
However, if he fails to return to his best form, we might see him head out the exit door. His ball-playing qualities might indeed fit into Barcelona’s line-up but he should ask two Alex’s (Hleb and Song) whether the Barcelona pastures are really that green.
Our lanky defender has already earned a nickname that is usually mentioned through the recognizable abbreviation BFG where „F“ doesn’t stand for „foolish“, „fatal“ or „feminine“. His performances haven’t been consistent as his softness and some of his short passes in our area have got us in trouble in more than a few matches. He has scored two goals for us, both against the Spuds, but otherwise failed to provide enough aerial domination despite being 1.98 m tall. Mertesacker rubished rumours that connected him with a possible return to the Bundesliga.
He is a fine collector in our team and Wenger told once after Mertesacker joined Arsenal: „When German commands, everybody listen.“ Mertesacker seems to be the best organizer in our defense and despite a lack of pace he has shown that he should have a safe place in the starting 11, at least with his current team-mates.
He will probably stay with Arsenal for next season but he will have to add consistency to his game.
I have to admit that Koscielny’s recent performances made me eat a bit of humble-pie as he has been very solid and managed to find himself on the score-sheet against Bayern as well. His pace and fierce tackling seem to fulfill its best with Mertesacker. His positioning has to improve as his mistakes, especially with set-pieces, have cost us too much.
Koscielny signed a new contract last season as well as Vermaelen and it is highly unlikely that he is going to leave Arsenal this summer.
The Swiss defender had had a very promising 2010-11 season while he was paired with Koscielny but it seems everything changed after his fatal injury against Newcastle. He got injured while the we were up 4:0 before Squillaci entered the pitch in the match that probably destroyed our whole season.
Djourou’s 2011-12 wasn’t exactly the best as he got injured against United when we lost 8:2. He was mostly used as a right full-back during the bizarre absence of all full-backs we had and didn’t do well – he didn’t close down Giggs before he crossed that led to United’s goal and against Fulham he earned two yellow cards which was the turning point of the game.
In 2012-13 he found himself far away from the starting line-up and when he got the chance, we conceded four goals in one half (against Reading in the Capital One Cup). He has been on loan at Hannover since January and there are rumours that say Djourou is close to a permanent switch to either Hannover or somewhere else. He is still young but it seems he will never be more than a fringe player with Arsenal so it is the best thing for both parties that he leaves the Emirates.
It would be understatement of the century to say that the man who is paid 3.2 million pounds per year for watching Arsenal games from the front row hasn’t performed well. His contract is going to expire in the summer and that would both take the burden off our wage budget and open one spot for a central defender with actual quality to play in the Premiership.
The young Spanish defender has been given a chance on a couple of occasions and he has shown that he has the talent but is also far from the finished article. Perhaps going somewhere on loan would make him a better player.
I was disappointed when Samba left relegated Blackburn for the Russian nouveau riche-side Anzhi instead of Arsenal. The strong Congolese defender has been one of the best central defenders in Premiership during his time with Rovers and would bring us a touch of quality in a way Sol Campbell did in 2001 when he realized there is only one big club in North London.
Another disappointment hit me when Samba signed for Queen’s Park Rangers this January and it was magnified by Arsene Wenger’s words: „I didn’t know that Samba was available.“ Still, it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise as QPR – despite all those expensive signings and quality players like Cesar, Samba and Remy in their squad – don’t look like a team that is capable of saving themselves as 17th-placed Aston Villa have a seven point advantage with only nine games to go. It is hard to expect that any of those players would stay to play in the Championship next season.
Samba would add steel to the defense and his aerial qualities could be used in front of an opponents’ goal as well. The biggest problem with Samba’s transfer to Arsenal would be our wage structure. Unless Samba is willing to take a pay-cut, I have doubts that Wenger is ready to sign him as his current wage is around 100.000 pounds per week.
If you have ever watched any of the Miss World competitions, than you probably thought that Miss Venezuela is the most beautiful. Venezuela also have some interesting players and Fernando Amorebieta seems to be the most interesting one. He plays for Athletic Bilbao (he has been eligible to play for Athletic thanks to the fact his parents are of Basque-origin). Here is an interesting trivia regarding him: he has managed to play for three national teams. He was a member of the Spanish U21 side that won the 2004 European championship and deserved a call-up for the senior Spanish squad but never made a debut. After he was left out in the cold for the 2006 World Cup, he decided to play for Venezuela and he was given permission by FIFA in 2011. He also played for the Basque Country national team against Venezuela.
His nickname „Butcher of Bilbao“ implies he is a tough defender and perhaps the type of defender we have needed for a long time.
His contract will expire in the summer which means he would be the cheapest possible option and given that we have been biased to the Spanish market lately, it seems that he would be a decent addition.
The Slovakian defender has been one of those underperforming players in the Liverpool team. The Merseysiders had had the best defense in the league not long ago but this season their defending – especially against set-pieces – has been appaling. Škrtel has been dropped to the bench in favour of veteran Jamie Carragher which implies that his current form wouldn’t recommend him for a transfer to a more ambitious club.
More or less like his team-mates Jose Reina and Stuart Downing, I wouldn’t like to see Škrtel in an Arsenal shirt next season.
There are reports that Real Madrid are planning to offload a huge number of players and the Spanish defender is apparently one of them. Albiol can play in three different positions – right full-back, centre back and as a defensive midfielder. Given that each of those positions in our team needs at least one addition this summer, Albiol could be the perfect signing. He has experience of playing at the highest level and he could be used in three different roles.
However, it should be said that he was given a new contract in August 2012 that ties him with Real Madrid until 2017 which makes reports regarding his departure from Madrid highly unrealistic.
One of the best central defenders in the world has been brilliant in Borussia Dortmund’s domination in the Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012. The 24-year-old defender came out of the Bayern Muenchen youth team but established himself as one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga for rivals Borussia Dortmund paired with Neven Subotić. His ability to join the attack and provide an extra man during counts attacks makes him useful at both ends of the pitch and probably an option that Arsene Wenger would like as Hummels’ qualities are an important ingredient of Klopp’s vision of fast and attacking football.
He would be a really expensive player and it is highly unlikely that Borussia Dortmund would sell him for less than 25 million pounds.
Jagielka hasn’t been connected with Arsenal for a while but…why not? He is an English defender that has had a very decent season at Everton and would add both steel and organizing qualities to our defense.
Conclusion: it is obvious that we are probably going to need at least one central defender this summer and we should go for a strong defender that could both adapt to our game and add steel to our defense, especially during set-pieces.
Wenger’s decision regarding our central defense will probably be connected with our right full-back issue as there is a realistic option Sagna would be used as a central defender as Wenger pointed out after the Sunderland game that he always knew Sagna would end up playing central defender one day.