Who Should Arsenal Sign To Address Their Defensive Problem?
Despite an upturn in the form of David Luiz since Mikel Arteta’s appointment as Arsenal manager, the Gunners are far from solving their long-term problem position at centre-half.
Signed as a last-minute bargain buy in the summer transfer window after initial targets fell through, Luiz has largely stayed true to his own form – bouts of erratic defending mixed with sprinkles of brilliance.
When signed by former manager Unai Emery, everyone associated with Arsenal admitted the 32-year-old was not the long-term solution to the problem, but he has nonetheless become an integral part of the side, starting 18 of their 21 Premier League games.
Still, though, Arsenal’s deficiencies at centre-half are obvious, not helped by the long-term injury to Calum Chambers and a complete lack of faith in Shkodran Mustafi, meaning Arteta’s options are somewhat limited.
All of which has naturally led to heightened transfer speculation, with 31-year-old Jerome Boateng – who is out of favour at Bayern Munich – the biggest name linked with a January switch to the Emirates.
However, bookmakers believe Arteta is more likely to target youthful centre-halves in a bid to finally solve this tiresome issue, with RB Leipzig’s 21-year-old Frenchman Dayot Upamecano the most likely candidate should Arsenal do business in this area.
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Arsenal January Transfer Latest Odds
Betting sites aren’t always right, particularly when it comes to transfer betting odds, so we spoke to former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn to get his thoughts on who his old club should sign this month.
“We’ve been talking about Arsenal addressing a problem position at centre-half for three or four seasons now, but I guess it’s down to the manager to decide where he thinks it’s most vital to improve the squad,” he told Gambling.com.
“What money has he got to spend? Can he get the right players in January? It can be very, very difficult in such a short window. If I’m honest, I don’t see Arsenal doing a lot of business this month, but it’ll be interesting to see what Arteta does.”
For Winterburn, signing Boateng would not represent a solution. Think Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk. When Southampton told Jurgen Klopp he couldn’t have him in the summer of 2017, the German waited until January 2018.
It’s about getting the right player, not the best available at that moment in time, warns Winterburn.
“They’ve been linked with a lot of players over the course of the last year and centre-half is still a priority," he said. "Does he go with a short-term fix and hope that it works or wait and take the time to identify the target that you really want?
“My feeling is that Arsenal shouldn’t bother with another short-term fix, they’ve got to use their money more wisely. If they can get the right player in January, then great, but if they can’t – just wait until the summer.
“I think it was obvious that David Luiz was never Arsenal’s first choice transfer target last summer. The amount of money they were reportedly ready to spend on a new defender, only to settle for Luiz at the last minute, suggests he was a Plan B or C.
“But, despite that, since Arteta’s come in, Luiz looks a lot better defensively. We know he’s got a lot of ability on the ball, but now he’s showing quality when he’s on the back foot too.
“But I think Arsenal need to concentrate on getting that back four tighter together, as well as the protection in front of them. At the moment, I think Arteta is going to have to work with what he’s got.
“If they do a lot of work on the training pitch, there’s no doubt in my mind that they can improve considerably. Now whether that will be enough to convince the manager to stick with them for next season, I don’t think so, but I don’t think he should rush through with anything this window.”
Talented Teenager On The Books
However, Winterburn seems to suggest that the answer to Arsenal’s problem could be staring them in the face – William Saliba, the highly-rated 18-year-old currently out on-loan after the Gunners paid a reported fee of £27million for his services last summer.
“For me, Arteta has got to start bedding in some players that he plans to work with next season, and then in the summer he’ll have a better idea of how many transfer targets he needs,” said Winterburn.
“That might be difficult though because we have the young lad, William Saliba, out on loan at Saint-Etienne and you would imagine he’d come back and be a part of the first team squad and push for a starting place.
“If we say Arsenal need two new centre-halves, perhaps he’s one of the answers, with another, more developed defender to arrive in the summer maybe.
“That might complicate matters for Arteta as he can’t see Saliba’s progress first-hand, but by all accounts he’s performing well when called upon.”
Arteta could be recalling William Saliba from his season-long loan at St. Etienne, according to the Daily Mirror.— AFTV (@AFTVMedia) December 31, 2019
Would you bring him back in January? pic.twitter.com/SQMuy52C0m
At the moment, Arsenal are 10th in the Premier League table, some nine points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea. As such, the bookies make them 12/1 shots for a top-four finish, meaning the Europa League – which they’re 9/1 to win – is a more realistic avenue for Champions League qualification.
Winterburn acknowledges that Champions League football is crucial for attracting top players, and it’s the uncertainty of Arsenal’s position that adds extra risk to the notion of leaving transfer business until the summer.
He said: “The only thing is, we really don’t know where Arsenal are going to finish, but between now and the summer we just have to hope that Arteta can strike a rich vein of form and get the club back up into contention for the top four.
“Maybe, just maybe, we might be able to get into that top four in the final stages of the season, but I think it’s unrealistic given where Arsenal are at this moment.
“It’s also about showing prospective signings that Arsenal are indeed moving in a new direction now, the right direction.
“There’s still a lot to play for. There’s the top four, FA Cup and Europa League – and of course if you win that you qualify for the Champions League, which is so crucial for attracting players.
“They are all long shots at the moment though.”
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