Arsenal need a new defender after Mertesacker injury

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Per Mertesacker has been forced to sit out of the Arsenal’s tour of the United States after suffering a knee injury that will keep him out “for a few months”. The German defender played in last Friday’s 1-1 with Lens and was named in the provisional squad to travel across the Atlantic this week before being forced to withdraw.

The injury to Mertesacker means that of the 23 players who have travelled as part of the squad, 21-year-old Calum Chambers remains the most established centre-half available with Gabriel still ruled out through illness and Laurent Koscielny enjoying a well-deserved holiday after his exploits with France at the European Championships.

Rob Holding, who joined from Bolton Wanderers in a £2.5m deal in the week, has travelled with the Gunners on tour and there is some excitement to see how he fares alongside Chambers in what could be the future of the heart of our defence.

Arsenal fans will nonetheless be worried about the news that Mertesacker could be ruled out for as long as five months, confirmed today by manager Arsene Wenger, which could potentially leave Chambers and Holding as the only two available outright central defenders available for the club’s opening Premier League game against Liverpool. Gabriel might well have overcome his short-term illness by then but his performances last season rose questions about his ability whilst Koscielny will not be available until the second game against Leicester at the earliest.

Whilst Holding and Chambers are the likely pairing fans will see deployed in the States, full-backs Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy both have some experience playing centrally whilst the Poland U18 international Krystian Bielik might also be called upon. Whilst the club will be sweating over the injury to Mertesacker, however, they do have the option of looking for alternatives in the transfer market before the new season gets underway.

Prior to the arrival of Holding, Arsenal were said to be interested in bringing in Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly to the Emirates Stadium from Napoli this summer. Koulibaly would be a welcome addition for the Arsenal faithful with many believing that he would be an upgrade on the club’s current crop of defenders and that he would be a natural partner for Koscielny too.

Koulibaly was one of established himself as one of Europe’s brightest defenders last season and certainly as one of the best in Italy. The 25-year-old consistently shows great composure on the ball whilst his unmatched physicality enables him to sit down most strikers he comes up against. His average of 2.15 tackles won per 90 minutes in Serie A last season shows his dominance in this aspect whilst the 2.52 aerial duels won points to his strong aerial prowess, a necessity if a centre-back is going to succeed in the Premier League.

As a ball-playing defender Koulibaly seems like a natural replacement for Mertesacker who would have no issues adapting to Arsenal’s style of play, although with the player and his agent publicly stating that his ambition is to leave Naples this summer, the Gunners will likely have to beat off competition from Chelsea and Everton if they wish to acquire his services.

Is Koulibaly the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems?

Whilst my personal preference would be Koulibaly, there are alternatives to the in-demand defender, with Kostas Manolas of Roma being one of the most high-profile examples. As a significant upgrade on the ageing Mertesacker, the 25-year-old Greek international would thrive in the physical nature of the Premier League as he frequently made use of his 6’1 frame in Serie A last season, winning 76% of the aerial duels his contested.

Manolas’ 87% pass completion rate also suggests he would be a good fit for the Gunners, with the efficient recycling of possession being something that manager Arsene Wenger demands from his defenders, whilst his average of 40 forward passes per 90 minutes also shows that he’s not afraid to seek to help start an attack by making more adventurous passes into the midfield and the attack.

There is some concern over the fact that Manolas does suffer from bouts of inconsistency from game to game, a worry for any club looking to sign a defender, but at just 25 years of age he still has the propensity to improve and his best years should still be ahead of him.

Both Koulibaly and Manolas would go straight into the Arsenal defence as starters should they arrive, but with the inflated prices in today’s transfer market both selling clubs could easily demand huge fees for each player. For all Arsenal fans this worryingly means that neither player are likely to be sought after, such is the club’s history with not spending large lump sums. The arrival of Rob Holding also gives the club a case for not signing another defender.

Arsenal could look internally to solve their defensive problems, with Bielik a possible option for the central defensive position. I have been quite impressed with the Pole whenever I have watched him, and whilst he played pretty well against Lens it is important to remember that his is still learning the position as he was brought in as a defensive midfielder.

Nacho Monreal can also play at centre-back, opening up the left-back slot for Kieran Gibbs, and whilst I don’t agree with this solution long-term, it could potentially work on the odd occasion.

All things considered, whilst Arsenal certainly need to sign a striker and a winger this season as the club’s depleted attacking options were exposed last season, the club should not forget about signing an established central defender either, which would provide the team with great solidity at the back alongside Laurent Koscielny.

One Response to “Arsenal need a new defender after Mertesacker injury

  • There are several options at CB replacement/upgrade for Per and shouldn’t have an excuse for not getting one of – Koulibaly, Manolas, Ezequiel Garay, Mustafi, or Toprak

    I also think we should have got either Gilk or Benatia when they were available before their moves on to new clubs

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