With the exciting prospect of Chambers and Holding, and more experienced players like Koscielny, Mustafi, Gabriel, Mertesacker, and even Monreal, Arsenal’s centre back position is one of the strongest parts of the current Arsenal team, and surely one that Arsenal can lean on in this season.
With the current mixed bag of centre- backs, some young, some old, some quick, some strong, it’s obvious the position won’t need strengthening this summer. If anything, someone will have to spend a significant time watching from the sidelines this campaign, as Chambers has returned.
The questions to consider is who should be our sixth centre- back, and will Wenger continue the success with three at the back or go back to a defensive four?
Wenger should definitely start the 17/18 campaign with three at the back. Our lack of defensive stability was a major thorn in our side last season, which was immediately plucked out when we switched to a back three. Arsenal conceded no more than seven goals in the last ten games after making the switch (after being blitzed by Crystal Palace in April), including games against City, Spurs, Man United, and Chelsea. In comparison, we conceded 16 goals in the previous ten games before the switch, including three against Palace, three against West Brom, and two at home against Watford. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?
With three at the back, it’s important to have a sufficient number of centre- backs of course. We currently have six and a half (adding Monreal), but we have six and a half very good players to choose from. This is were it gets tricky. Even with three centre- back positions to fill, not two, someone will become quite redundant. Who will be out backup’s backup?
Koscielny and Mustafi are the first two on the block. Followed by Holding and Mertesacker. And we know Monreal can do a job there as well. But then we have Gabriel and Chambers left. One of which would get a modest amount of playing time, while the other one gets a very limited amount of time on the field. Between these two Chambers has to come up top. His development would suffer too greatly if he is put at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Alternatively, it wouldn’t be a poor decision to loan Chambers out again. If he can be a starter at another Premier League team, it would actually be the best choice for his development. But with the real possibility of injuries to Koscielny and Mertesacker throughout the season, and because there isn’t anyone ready to step up from the academy if needed (other than Bielik, who should be loaned out instead), Wenger might be more cautious departing with one of his centre- backs this summer.
Putting Gabriel as our sixth centre- back is the best solution. It is unfortunate, because he is a good player. But he’s not better than our best players, and can’t be allowed to block Chambers’ development when he’s got wind in his sails from his time at Middlesbrough. Gabriel knows he’s a squad player at Arsenal, but will he be content with a backup’s position? Doubtful. I suspect we will have a much greater task on our hands next summer concerning our centre- backs, as Mertesacker retires, Chambers’ development has unveiled itself further (is he good enough for Arsenal?) and Gabriel might want to leave due to lack of playing time.
Next I will explore the possibility of Arsenal amending the current formation slightly, and possibly playing with two strikers.