Five defenders that could solve Arsenal’s defence problem
Last season was Arsene Wenger’s worst since coming to England in terms of league positioning as Arsenal finished outside the top four for the first time since the Frenchman took over the reins at the North London club. They did win the FA Cup to finish the season on a high, but it was a generally underwhelming campaign last season and only that title and a run of seven wins from their last eight Premier League games made the season end on a sort of positive note as they secured fifth place and defeated Manchester City and Chelsea to win the FA Cup. This positive turn around came along with Wenger’s switch to a 3-4-3 that was used very effectively by Antonio Conte at Chelsea and Arsenal began the new season with the same formation, however, there are serious question marks about the personnel they have in central defence to successfully execute the formation. The transfer window is still open and Arsene Wenger could still try and strengthen that position and I will be looking at five centre-backs that could help make them stronger.
Virgil van Dijk
Celtic paid £2.6million for the Dutchman’s signature from Groningen in 2013 and that was where he began to appear on the radar of Premier League clubs. He appeared in 36 of 38 Scottish Premier League games and scored five goals as the Hoops eased to the title, losing just one game in his first season and in his second season, he appeared in 35 SPL games as Celtic strolled to another title and more impressively, he managed 10 goals in 58 appearances across all competitions for the club. He was featured in the PFA’s Team of the Year for both years.
He left Celtic after only 10 games of the 2015-16 season to join Southampton in a £13million switch and was crowned Southampton’s Player of the Season as the Saints conceded just 36 goals in his 34 appearances. His Physicality is one of his stand-out attributes and what Arsenal need right now. He is big, tall and uncompromising and is one of the best in the land aerially, which will also come in handy for the Gunners as they always struggle at defending set-pieces. He is also deceptively quick and his positioning, especially in one-on-one situations and reading of the game are both impressive, and he is a very calm and composed defender with Premier League experience. Arsene Wenger should be scrambling to get the big Dutchman.
Middlesbrough went down despite possessing one of the best defences in the Premier League’s bottom half last term, conceding just 53 goals in 38 games and Ben Gibson was very important to their defensive performance, putting in solid and consistent displays in his maiden campaign at the highest level. The 24-year-old is a classic English centre-back: he’s tall, powerful and fairly straightforward in his approach.
The 6ft 1in defender is very good with the ball and on average maintains an 84% successful pass rate and makes 30.58 forward passes per game. He is also very successful in beating his opponents with the ball and in 94.44% of occasions he manages to get past, which shows that he has what it takes to play for a team more used to retaining and utilizing ball possession than breaking it up like Arsenal. He would bring strength, aerial dominance and simple but effective passing to the left-sided role in Arsenal’s backline.
This 28-year old could be called a veteran at that relatively young age because it seems like he’s been around forever. He has won almost everything there is to win in football with Bayern and Germany. He is one of the best central defenders in the world when in full flight, but injuries have not been kind to him lately as he made just ten starts for Bayern last season and was forced off early on with a thigh problem in the last match of the season. Matt Hummels, Javi Martinez and new boy Niklas Sule have all made the process of getting back into the team harder for Boateng and he could be looking for a move out of Germany to re-ignite his career.
He has played in England before, with Manchester City and won the FA Cup with them, so moving to England will not be strange for him. He possesses qualities that will suit Arsenal, like his composure with the ball, very accurate penetrative passes from deep and calmness under pressure. He would also like to show that he can really cut it in the Premier League after his not too impressive first stint in the country.
Matthijs de Ligt
At 18, De Ligt is the youngest defender on this list, but the teenager has shown an ability and awareness that belies his tender age and has been consistently putting in strong performances for the Ajax first team despite heavy competition in the centre back role. He routinely plays great passes between the lines and is always available to re-circulate the ball and maintain possession. He also possesses the ability to play a long diagonal pass in the mould of former Ajax center backs, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
However, what differentiates de Ligt from most other ball-playing center backs is that he couples his brilliant technique with equally superb defensive skills. He is strong, commanding and very aggressive. Given his background as a midfielder in Ajax’s youth system, he is comfortable pushing up high to win the ball back as quickly as possible which is ideal for Arsenal’s desire to high-press. His age is another huge factor as it means that should Arsenal get him, they will be getting a player that will only get better as he matures into one of the best CBs in the world and one that will be with them for the long run.
Stefan de Vrij
The 25-year-old Dutch defender is a pretty complete player overall, as he can provide a lot of help on the offensive end as well given his excellent aerial game, besides his pretty intelligent play at the centre of the defence. He is quick and physical in defending, good in the air and the ground, composed on the ball very much typifies the type of defender that will fit into Arsenal’s three-man defence. He reads the opposition well and chooses his time to produce a tackle.
Another important aspect of his game is that he is very comfortable with the ball and more often than not tries to play his way out of trouble. He actively takes part in the build-up play and is adept at recycling possession. De Vrij has very much earned a reputation of being a very reliable Centre-back who can also fill in at Right back if needed, which will be a plus to the Arsenal side as it means he can play in the three-man defence or play as a right wing back.
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