Originally published in Give Me Sport – 10 April, 2016
Providing Arsene Wenger is still at the club come the summer transfer window, then he needs to finally spend big on a world-class central defender.
Arsenal’s leaky defence let in three goals against West Ham, on the weekend. Although they scored three themselves, the Gunners’ are in serious need of a world-class defender to partner Laurent Koscielny – having conceded 33 in the league.
A few seasons ago, Per Mertesacker was qualified enough to hold the title of ‘world-class centre-back’. Recently, though, his age and lack of pace has seen him struggle against top quality strikers.
Arsenal’s newest centre-back, Gabriel Paulista, also struggles against top opposition and has an aggressive streak, a welcome attribute in certain situations, but one that too often reveals itself in the nasty kicks we saw against Andy Carroll on Saturday.
Wenger needs to sign a dependable and strong centre-back to play alongside with Koscielny if Arsenal stand any chance of challenging for silverware next season. Here are five players that could do just that…
A widely recognised defender of top class. The Serbian centre-back has been at Borussia Dortmund since 2008 and could be motivated with a move away from the German club. A chance to experience a different league could be temptation enough, with Subotic having plied his trade in the Bundesliga for ten years, at Mainz and Dortmund.
Subotic has seen his opportunities limited under Thomas Tuchel, managing only 11 appearances this season – although he has kept five clean sheets. Having recently been diagnosed with thrombosis of the arm, clubs could be reluctant to sign him, but it is a manageable injury and does not look to affect his career too much – although he is sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Despite his lack of game time, Liverpool looked to be nearing the Serbian’s signature in January. His talent is apparent and he has been a strong presence in Dortmund’s back four for many seasons now. The 27-year-old still has his best years ahead of him and would easily slot into Arsenal’s defence and help shore it up. The struggle, for Wenger, would be persuading him to the Emirates if Liverpool also look to sign him – his former manager, Jurgen Klopp, would likely be his preferred boss.
With his dip in appearances, this summer could be the best time to try and sign the defender – possibly for as little as £15 million.
Another strong and powerful centre-back that Arsenal could look to sign is Torino’s Kamil Glik. The 6’3” stopper has impressed for the Serie A club since signing for them in 2011.
The Polish defender has many favourable attributes, notably his aerial ability – a skill that would have come in handy for attempting to stop Carroll’s goals. He is also a vocal player and could be the leader that Arsenal so desperately need on the pitch.
Glik did sign a contract extension in December 2015, however, tying him to the Turin-based club until 2020. Louis van Gaal also has the defender on his radar and competition could be fierce. As the table stands, though, Arsenal would be the likelier candidate with the offer of Champions League football next season.
Torino could allow the influential defender to leave, but it may cost Arsenal around the £20 million mark.
Glik’s defensive partner at Torino, Nikola Maksimovic, could also be a player Arsenal look to bring in.
Having been utilised in the right of midfield, during his initial loan season with Torino, he is a player that is good on the ball and has pace – the former asset being high on Wenger’s list.
At only 24, he has a lot of growing to do and may be out of his depth holding the line for a title-chasing Premier League side. He is possibly lower down on the transfer list, for this reason, but does have the talent to be a hit at the Emirates if the Gunners can pry him away from Italy.
Again, Torino would only allow this talent to depart for a hefty fee and his age could easily see him depart for a whopping £30 million or more.
A name that has appeared on Arsenal’s radar before, the former Basel man is another tough-tackler that could slot in nicely next to Koscielny.
At 25, Aleksandar Dragovic is similar to Maksimovic in his age and ferocity on the pitch. He may be young, but he is experienced. The Austrian has won two Swiss titles, one Ukrainian title, helped Basel to a semi-final appearance in the Europa League (2012/13) and is looking to win the title, again, with Dynamo Kyiv.
Manchester United, again, looked to sign the player in January but had their plans scuppered. Kyiv’s title charge was likely the main reason they refused to see Dragovic depart but the summer could harbour different results.
At five years Koscielny’s junior, it could be a great partnership – the perfect combination of youthful tenacity and aged wisdom. Arsenal could prise him away from Ukraine with a decent sum, possibly between £10-20 million.
The rank outsider in this list, the Ukrainian, and Dragovic’s team-mate, Yevhen Khacheridi, brings height and brute strength to a back four.
At 28, he is more experienced than his Kyiv colleague and has some years on Arsenal’s longest serving defenders. At a mighty 6’6”, he is Mertesacker-esque in his physicality but, being three years younger, is a lot more agile.
The former four players are more likely candidates to partner Koscielny but, if their signatures cannot be attained, then Khacheridi is a decent enough compromise who could be bought for as little as £10 million.
It is clear that Arsenal need a world-class centre-back if they are to hold any hopes of challenging for next season’s title, with their current campaign all but over.
Although the likes of Diego Godin, Gerard Pique, and Vincent Kompany are all of higher calibre, the above five players offer great defensive capabilities and are all more conceivable targets for Wenger to hunt this summer.