Arsenal are no strangers to a defensive crisis or two, so it’s perhaps no surprise that they find themselves embroiled in another just a week before their first game of the Premier League season versus Liverpool.
Gunners’ fans will recall a similar shift at the heart of their defence last season that saw Arsène Wenger forced to couple Calum Chambers with Gabriel Paulista for the first time against Liverpool, whereas it was Mathieu Debuchy who deputised at centre back against the Reds back in December 2014.
Following injuries to Per Mertesacker and now Gabriel, Liverpool have once again found themselves as the recipient of Arsenal’s woes. Koscielny will have little less than a week’s training and remains an unlikely to feature, leaving Wenger, barring the arrival of a new centre back in the coming days, with Chambers, new boy Rob Holding, Krystian Bielik and an adapted Nacho Monreal to choose from.
Wenger remains hopeful that a scan will say otherwise, but Arsenal fans can’t hold much optimism after Gabriel was stretchered off in tears in the final moments of their 3-2 win against Manchester City on Sunday.
Whereas the Gunners were already looking to bolster their defence in light of Mertesacker’s four-month lay-off, finding a new centre back has now become paramount. Here are three options Arsenal could look towards:
1 – Shkodran Mustafi
Shkodran Mustafi has collated his fair share of experience throughout his career, despite being just 24-years-old. The German centre back experienced life as a Premier League player, despite failing to make a single appearance for Everton since 2009.
As a 20-year-old, Mustafi was moved on to Serie A club Sampdoria in 2012, later impressing in his 50 league appearances in Italy before Valencia snapped up the Germany international two summers later.
The 2014 World Cup winner, with 77 appearances to his name since joining ‘Los Che’, now finds himself with a viable route out of the Mestalla, as Arsenal, potentially, line up to take him. As much as Valencia would like to refuse the prospect of his sale, receiving a fee in the region of €30 million (£25.5 million) would go a long way into solving their Financial Fair Play commitments.
Valencia, with no UEFA Champions League football this season after an underwheliming campaign, may have even already identified a replacement for Mustafi in ex-player Raúl Albiol, associated numerous times with a comeback to La Liga. Deportivo de La Coruña’s Sidnei is also referenced as a transfer target, holding strong ties with notorious agent Jorge Mendes, whereas Valencia will also look to offload Aymen Abdennour, Lucas Orbán and Aderlan Santos.
Of those to have played more than 25 times in La Liga this season, only Weligton (Malaga), Germán Pezzella (Real Betis) and Aythami Artiles (Las Palmas) won more aerial duels per 90 minutes than Mustafi’s 2.90%. Translating to 73%, Mustafi still has some way to go in surpassing his compatriot, Mertesacker, who registered a 78% success rate, but in turn the Valencia defender offers Arsenal versatility, superior physical attributes more befitting of the Premier League’s fast-paced nature and, more importantly, availability in the final weeks of the transfer window.