The 2015/16 season has been a bit of a strange one for the Gunners. It seems as if the north London club are always either in the middle of a high-scoring shootout, or fighting to a 0-0 draw. There hasn’t been much in between. In fact, Arsenal have been a part of 13 matches in which at least four goals were scored in total, but have also kept 20 total clean sheets on the campaign as well.
Inconsistency has been Arsenal’s achilles heel in recent years and manager Arsene Wenger will have to sort it out in order to guide the club to a Premier League title. While fans and pundits alike constantly discuss the team’s need for a “dominant striker,” and rightly so, Arsenal’s defense also has some major question marks at the back.
There are, however, areas in defense that the Gunners are set. Thirty three year old goalkeeper Petr Cech is still one of the top shot-stoppers in the league, despite his age. Cech’s £10 million transfer from rivals Chelsea appears to be a steal and has helped solidify the goalkeeper position for the Gunners.
Both full back positions are also fairly stable. On the left, Nacho Monreal has been nothing short of fantastic during the current campaign and is in contention to grab a spot in the Premier League team of the year. Along with the Spaniard, England international Kieran Gibbs, who has mostly been utilized as Monreal’s backup, should be considered an experienced and outstanding contingency at the position.
Switching over to the right side of defense, Arsenal have found their right back for the (present and) future. Hector Bellerin is just 21 years old, but the former Barcelona youth product has blossomed into one of the most sought after youngsters in Europe. Behind Bellerin, the Gunners currently have Calum Chambers as second choice right back; however, it is thought that the 21-year-old Englishman will have a future at a different position. Arsenal have also recalled Carl Jenkinson from West Ham following a serious knee injury earlier in the year. The defender is hoping to be ready for the 2016/17 season.
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Arsenal’s central defense is where the issues come into play. France international Laurent Koscielny is a top-drawer center back and appears to have a few solid years left in the tank. After that, it gets a bit murky. Per Mertesacker, who has been a splendid signing from Werder Bremen in 2011, has not looked himself for a majority of the season. The 31-year-old has one more year left on his contract and there seems to be little chance of the German re-signing with the north London club.
Gabriel Paulista is the team’s third center back. While he has played well at times this season, a potential long-term partnership with Koscielny seems shaky. In 16 total matches this season in which both Gabriel and Koscielny have been the duo in central defense, Arsenal have only won half of the games (0 for 3 in Champions League matches). It appears that the lanky tandem are too similar to each other and would be better served playing alongside a taller, stronger center back.
If the Arsenal brass do decide to bring in an additional center back this summer, they should look for a more imposing, physical player at the position. The Gunners have had plenty of issues defending balls in the air and should target a defender that can handle himself in aerial duels. Roma’s Kostas Manolas, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk could be potential summer transfer targets for the Gunners.
Both Manolas and Koulibaly are highly-rated, so Arsenal would most likely find themselves in the middle of a bidding war between fellow Premier League rivals for the signing of either player. Manolas might be a better fit due to his aerial abilities; however, Koulibaly is as tough as nails and is certainly physical enough to hold his own in the demanding Premier League.
Van Dijk, on the other hand, may come cheaper, but still could be exactly what the Gunners need (as I statedover a year ago). The 6’4” Netherlands international has been a smash hit signing for Southampton, winning 74% of his aerial duels during league play beats Koscielny (62%), Gabriel (68%), and Koulibaly (56%).
Whatever Wenger decides to do during the upcoming transfer market, it appears to be an absolute vital next few months for Arsenal’s 2016/17 title quest.
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