This morning’s headlines in the world of Arsenal focus on the centre of defence.
Tony Adams, a fine centre-half himself, argued that Unai Emery hasn’t changed the club much since taking over. Mr Arsenal thought we’d be a lot tighter at the back than we currently are, a more cerebral way of agreeing with Paul Merson labelling us as playing “testimonial football”. Adams’ solution is to drop one of Mustafi or Sokratis, and bring in Rob Holding.
Football is a simple game from the keyboard and the pundit’s sofa. Our proclamations are back of the fag packet football management. Tone reckoned that “If I [were] a new coach coming in, I would have made us tougher and hard to beat.”
When you’re hamstrung by a budget and the remnants of last season’s squad, there’s no chance of that happening. I don’t care how many slick dancefloor moves you bring to the training ground, with this squad, any manager would struggle to make us “tougher and hard to beat”.
With Mustafi in the centre of defence, that’s not easily achievable but the solution is: “Holding has got talent and potential. Stick him in and work with him.”
Which leaves us with two alternatives: stick with Mustafi, his foibles, mishaps and all, or let a young man learn on the job, with the attendant slating every time things don’t go to plan. Curiously, Adams doesn’t mention Mavropanos. I thought he did reasonably well in pre-season and was looking to push for a starting line-up place.
Emery, rightly, kept the youngsters out of the firing line against City and Chelsea. Last weekend, there were signs that Sokratis and Mustafi were beginning to gel. The youngster may be forced to wait a little while longer, with the Europa League and Carabao Cup games those likeliest for he and Holding to shine.
Meanwhile, claims emerged that Laurent Koscielny was on the verge of doing one before injury struck. Apparently, the process began when it became clear Arsène was leaving. Stéphane Courbis, Koscielny’s agent, claimed Lyon, Monaco and Marseille all offered him the chance of returning to France.
“He could not see himself playing for another English team other than Arsenal, ” Courbis said. “Since the approach from Marseille least season, the notion of returning to Ligue 1 entered his thinking. It was a genuine possibility.”
Which is no surprise. The Premier League is a ruthless arena for any centre-back let alone one in his early thirties. Seeing how Per Mertesacker struggled with the pace of attackers would surely have prompted questions in the Frenchman’s mind. I’m sure they are still there and will only be answered when he returns to full fitness.
I’ve got to be honest, I’d have reservations about Koscielny returning to the Premier League. The injury he suffered always used to, in old football parlance, take a yard of pace off a player. We’ve seen this season that the high line means we can’t afford that luxury.
I assume that if he came back into the XI, it would be at Mustafi’s expense. Their pairing last season didn’t inspire confidence in fans or each other and two experienced centre-backs such as Koscielny and Sokratis is surely a better idea?
However, would Koscielny bring a calming influence across the defence. Possibly but he couldn’t rein in Bellerin’s attacking excesses last season so why would that change now? The only way Bellerin’s form gets better is through the painful experience of matches and coaching. Lichtsteiner will have the most impact of any player, I’d venture. Also having a bit of defensive cover while Bellerin is buccaneer and buccanthere on the wings.
Deep Pockets, Short Arms
It’s too early to say whether we have the solutions to our defensive problems at the club already or whether we must wait for transfer windows – probably next summer – to present the solutions. We’ve got an ageing backline with Monreal 33 next year, taking the total of our first-choice defenders who are the wrong side of 30 to three, as well as Cech.
It’s major surgery for us to resolve. One new goalkeeper, a centre-back, and a right-back; is youth going to be given a chance because Stan will dipping into his pockets if we’re buying our way out of this situation.
Maybe it will all come good in the coming months and we’ll plough on with our mix of youth, experience and Mustafi. I think there’s a bit of work to do before we reach that stage though…