Who's at the heart of Arsenal defence?
Despite Arsene Wenger's extensive summer shopping, Arsenal's squad is not yet complete. The arrival of the likes of Alexis Sanchez has generated plenty of excitement among the fans, but that enthusiasm is balanced out by concern over those positions that still require attention. Most pressingly, the Gunners require a new centre-half.
Arguably, Arsenal needed a centre-back even before selling Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona. Last season, they managed to get by with just three senior centre-halves: Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Wenger was fortunate in that he was able to call on Bacary Sagna to fill in at centre-half when necessary. However, Sagna has since moved to Manchester City. With Vermaelen following him through the exit door, Arsenal are lighter than ever at the back.
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Wenger has brought in Calum Chambers to offer competition and cover. Though he seems to possess the attributes required of a thoroughbred centre-half, he is still a novice in the role. Chambers came through the Southampton academy with a burgeoning reputation as a box-to-box midfielder. In the first team, he was used primarily as a right-back. Although he has played at the heart of the defence for England U19s, it would be unfair to immediately thrust him into that position permanently. Arsenal need someone with more experience in the role.
Wenger must choose carefully. The first-choice pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker is firmly established. If Wenger brings in someone in their prime, they might follow the same pattern as Vermaelen and become discontented with their role as a reserve. One plausible solution could be to bring in someone towards the beginning of their career. They could then continue to learn their trade behind the club's senior centre-backs, stepping in when required. However, deploying young centre-backs comes with certain risks. Few positions on the field bring narrower margins for error. In the past, Wenger has opted for young defenders like Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou and paid the price as they learnt their lessons in the thick of competitive action.
That's not to say it necessarily makes sense to sign an older player. Arsenal fans ruefully remember the acquisitions of Mikael Silvestre and Sebastian Squillaci. Both men arrived at Arsenal with reasonable reputations but quickly demonstrated their best days were behind them. It's a fine line between a defender with experience and one who is over the hill.
At present, Arsenal are being heavily linked with Kostas Manolas of Olympiacos. He seems like he could present a good solution. Manolas offers a middle way between the two extremes. At 23, he is young enough to bide his time behind Mertesacker and Koscielny. However, he's not green. Despite his relatively tender years, he already has 13 international caps to his name and was one of Greece's outstanding players in a World Cup in which they surprised many by progressing from the group stage.
Manolas joined Olympiacos on a free, and the Greek side could now look to cash in on a player whose stock is higher than ever. Juventus and Arsenal have both been linked with bids for the burly defender. Having beaten the Turin team to Alexis Sanchez earlier in the window, Wenger could now be set to snatch another player from their grasp.
It will not be easy to find the right man for the remaining spot in the Arsenal squad. Wenger needs someone who is prepared to provide cover but good enough to offer competition. He needs someone with the hunger of youth but the benefit of experience. Manolas seems to fit the bill. It would be no great surprise to see him turn up in an Arsenal shirt before the end of the window.