It wouldn’t be an Arsenal season without an injury crisis, would it? Last season it was midfielders, this season defenders. With Per Mertesacker out until Christmas, and Arsène Wenger confirming Gabriel has suffered an extremely “bad ankle sprain” (which left the 25 year old Brazilian in tears as he was stretchered off the pitch), Arsenal’s season is being jeopardised before it has even begun. So what are the solutions? Does the Arsenal boss confirm what he has being telling the press and add another defender to the squad, or will the 66 year old opt for one of his famous “internal solutions”?
Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Krystian Bielik are the only recognised centre backs available at Wenger’s disposal for the season opener vs Liverpool, with the oldest of these three being 21 year old Chambers (who is yet to decide which position he wants to make his own). The 21 year old started life perfectly at Arsenal, arguably outshining Frenchman Laurent Koscielny for a large portion of the early stages of the 2014/15 season. However, after Swansea’s Jefferson Montero twisted him inside out, tormenting him (and Oxlade Chamberlain), the £16 million man lost confidence, and since then has been unable to reestablish himself in the Arsenal XI. Sometimes Calum would play in the under 21’s just to get minutes. A summer which consisted of a win in the Toulon tournament may have done wonders to Chambers’ confidence. That said, from what the Englishman has shown so far in pre-season (including a mistake leading to the Lens’ goal in the 1-1 draw), to start him against Liverpool would be a risk to say the least.
Rob Holding is likely to be a guaranteed starter against Liverpool. The 2015/16 Bolton player of the year has looked calm and composed in the games in which he has featured so far for the Gunners, also managing to score his first Arsenal goal vs Chivas de Guadalajara. Like Chambers, he featured in England’s feature at the Toulon tournament this summer, playing alongside Chambers in the minutes he spent on the pitch. Having only made his senior debut a year ago, the 20-year-old’s rise has been rapid, however, like Icarus could the rise be too much too quickly for the youngster? With a game of such magnitude only 6 days away, will Holding succumb to the pressure or thrive off it? So far, all signs point to thriving for the ball playing centre back.
Krystian Bielik, unlike the two Englishman, is unable to boast a senior record that would fill Arsenal fans with comfort. That said, the 18-year-old Pole has not looked out of place in the slightest during Arsenal’s global adventure. Similarly to Holding and Chambers, Bielik is very confident on the ball, but what has become apparent during Arsenal’s travels is his perceived overconfidence on the ball. An excellent example of this being when he carelessly played the ball straight into MLS All Star player Sacha Kljestan, with the consequent counter attack resulting in a Didier Drogba goal (a sentence many writers before me have written). This tendency to be careless can easily be ironed out of the Pole’s game, especially considering his age. However, when you consider Arsenal will be playing against Jurgen Klopp’s famous ‘gegenpress’ on Sunday, it would be an ill-advised decision to start the young man.
So who in world football can Arsenal realistically buy at such short notice? Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi is a very much attainable target. After missing out on the champions league last year, Valencia are in desperate need to recuperate lost funds. The sale of Portuguese international Andre Gomes for 55 million euros a clear example of this. Despite having a £42.1 million buy out clause, it’s believed that Valencia would be willing to sell the German international for as little as £25 million. Similarly to the current Arsenal defenders, he’s very comfortable on the ball. In addition to this, he is very resolute defensively, completing 334 defensive actions for a sub-par Valencia side in the 2015/16 La Liga season.
Another potential option for the Arsenal manager to explore is Southampton captain Jose Fonte. At thirty-two years of age, Jose Fonte perfectly fits the “experienced” character that Arsene Wenger has often preached about in press conferences. The Portuguese international has previously stated that a move to a bigger club would be “tempting”, and as he reaches the end of his career, it would surely be extremely difficult to turn down a move to the Emirates. The Southampton captain has come off the back of a tremendous season, winning the European Championships, as well as guiding the Saints to a club high 6th position. Fonte himself is a no-nonsense defender, his 234 clearances last season (6.65 a game) emphasise this.
One other potential option yet to be discussed is Nacho Monreal at centre back. Whilst unlikely, the Spaniard was played at centre back in the 2014/15 season when times were desperate. In fact, you can make the argument that his spell at centre back developed him into the consistent left back he has become for Arsenal. However, with less than a week until the battle for the Premier League title commences, and only 3 centre backs in the squad, will Arsène Wenger invest in an outside talent, or will the youth be given a chance?