In this brief lull in activity before next season starts, we find ourselves at a good juncture to reflect back on the squad we used over the past season. In Part 1 of this multi-part series, we looked at the Arsenal goalkeepers and full-backs and determined who should stay, who should go, and who falls in the middle. This article will go through each of Arsenal's center-backs, summarize their performance this season and what they bring to the squad, and sort them into one of three categories based on their attributes and contributions -- Do Not Sell, Keep At Most Costs, and Catapult Out of the Club. In case it's been a while since you read Part 1, below is a brief description of what each category entails.
Do Not Sell: This player is of the utmost importance to the squad, hasn't been around long enough that a sale would make sense, or both. We're talking about a player who may very well be built around by Arteta. Or we're talking about a player who just walked in the door and hasn't failed extravagantly enough to have the club scrambling for the eject button.
Keep At Most Costs: This is a player who puts in a solid contribution at the very least, but may be worth selling for the right price. As we all know, Arsenal don't have Russian oligarch money lying around, so we will have to do some business with the aim of putting some cash in the war chest. Players in this category are the most saleable assets in the squad. A few of these will likely be shipped out to supplement whatever transfer budget the club does have.
Catapult Out of the Club: Please, PLEASE, get this guy out of here. These are the players who have been absolute catastrophes and need to be shipped out at the first sign of a bid. Anyone in this category had to go yesterday.
Shkodran Mustafi: What can be said about Mustafi that hasn't already been said? It feels like the entire footballing world has spent the last few years looking down upon the German center back with pity. Robbed of his confidence, Mustafi is now practically synonymous with being cataclysmically error-prone. However, he has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance under Arteta, looking almost reliable for several games in a row. But the cracks in the facade started to show against Spurs. During the North London Derby, Mustafi reverted back to his old ways, panicking under the attacking threat from Tottenham and engaging in asinine attempts to bring Harry Kane down in and around the box. The fact is, Mustafi isn't a bad defender per se. He is quite good in the air, a solid distributor of the ball, and actually a decent tackler and intercepter of the ball when his self-belief isn't in the toilet. It's just that he's also a safe bet to make one massive mistake almost every time he puts on an Arsenal kit. More than with most defenders, it's about the mental side of the game for Mustafi. But even when his confidence is up, Mustafi is not a good enough center back to take Arsenal forward. Verdict: Catapult Out of the Club. It's safe to say that Mustafi has been something of a disaster. Most fans will be understandably glad to see the back of him when he does eventually leave the club, although Arsenal will never recoup the approximately £35 million they spent to sign Mustafi from Valencia. The world has seen him implode too many times. But Arteta might have made him interesting to a few clubs over the last several weeks, which would be good enough. He is currently on £90,000 a week, a wage which he has failed to justify. However, it's a wage he is reportedly happy to stay at Arsenal and collect for the remaining year of his contract. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that he collects it from the bench for most of next season.
David Luiz: David Luiz has at times been almost as catastrophic as Mustafi this season. He singlehandedly altered matches against Chelsea and Manchester City for the worse by getting sent off. He conceded five penalties this season, a Premier League record for most given away by one player in a single campaign. Performances like these have rightfully prompted much scrutiny from supporters. However, the Brazilian has had his moments. He was virtually faultless in the 2-0 victory against City in the FA Cup semifinal, making 11 clearances while playing in a back three with Mustafi and Tierney. Against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, he was able to nullify Olivier Giroud and helped Arsenal to defend their 2-1 lead in the final quarter of the match. He's typically a great distributor of the ball, is vastly experienced in the highest levels of the game, and has established himself as a mentoring figure in the squad. He has been seen offering advice to the likes of Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Bukayo Saka specifically cited David Luiz's help in an interview after the signing of his contract extension. Verdict: Do Not Sell. Arteta has made it clear that he wants him around, and it is easy to see why. In the midst of the rebuild Arteta is attempting to bring about, David Luiz serves as a player who fits nicely into Arteta's system as a central defender comfortable playing out from the back. While it remains to be seen how sustainable Luiz's reliance on being in a back three is, his reputation as a "big club defender" who takes risks with the ball is exactly the kind of profile Arteta wants in the side. Additionally, the veteran defender has demonstrated a fantastic propensity for serving as a mentor to the younger talents in the squad, which has been lacking in recent years. At the age of 33, David Luiz is probably in the twilight of his career, but there is plenty of value in using his experience and abilities to jump-start a new era at the Emirates.
Pablo Mari: He only made three appearances for the Gunners this season before suffering an ankle injury that leaves him aiming to return to full training in September, but Pablo Mari already looks more competent than most of Arsenal's other center backs. Despite not having much experience at this level of European football, Mari brings a calm confidence on the ball seldom seen from other Arsenal defenders. It's undoubtedly why he was signed. As stated previously, Mikel Arteta's style involves playing out from the back, which requires center backs capable of long-range distribution of the ball. Pablo Mari was quick to show in his limited appearances that he has an eye for line-breaking passes. The pair of him and David Luiz was massively intriguing, starting attacking plays and effectively preventing opposition forwards from being able to pressure the defense into mistakes. His pace is rather Mertesacker-esque, but he didn't make any embarrassing individual errors in his few appearances this season. That has to count for something, right? Verdict: Do Not Sell. The guy has 3 appearances for Arsenal so far. What he's done in that limited time is encouraging, but it is too early to tell how good he is. Considering the other center backs in the squad, however, Arsenal should hold on to Mari, if only for the reason that the sight of him on the ball is not inherently terrifying.
Sokratis: This has been a tale of two seasons for the Greek defender. He started the season being heavily used by Unai Emery, clocking in 11 straight full matches played in the heart of the Arsenal defense to start the campaign. Unfortunately, his fortunes would change drastically upon the appointment of Mikel Arteta. He started three of Arteta's first four matches as head coach, but has not featured since playing 90 minutes as a right back at the beginning of March. It is evident that Sokratis does not fulfill requirements in order to start at center back for the new boss. This could be for a couple reasons. Perhaps it has something to do with his rumored bust-up with Mateo Guendouzi during the warm weather training camp in Dubai. It could also be because Sokratis is not as good on the ball as David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Mustafi, and Holding are. Whatever the case may be, Sokratis appears not to figure into Arteta's plans at the moment. And at 32 years of age, with Luiz and Mari fitting the profile of center back Arteta wants to use, Saliba back with the squad, and the club reportedly looking to bring in at least one more center back, Sokratis' circumstances do not appear likely to change anytime soon. Verdict: Catapult Out of the Club. Sokratis looks destined to collect dust on Arsenal's bench at the moment, and the club need to offload a couple defenders in order to sign better ones. Reckless, not blessed with pace or technical ability, and on the wrong side of 30, Sokratis isn't good enough to take the club forward. Arsenal need to offload him however they can. According to David Ornstein, the club is looking to do just that. Stuttgart are allegedly interested, but Sokratis is reportedly content to see out his contract.
Rob Holding: Perhaps Wenger should have spent £55 million on him after all. Well... that might be too harsh. A lot of how this season has gone for Rob Holding isn't his fault. However, the 2019-20 season will go down as one in which legitimate questions could be asked about whether Holding has a future at Arsenal. At the beginning of the season, Holding returned from an ACL injury he suffered against Manchester United in December of 2018. In returning to his pre-injury fitness, Holding has only played 17 senior matches this season. After most of the season spent sprinkling sparse appearances between long stints on the bench or out of the first team, Holding has finally managed something of a consistent run in the side since the restart. During that time, the Englishman's form has been inconsistent. Against Liverpool, he was immense. Shoulder checking the daylight out of Sadio Mane while cleanly knocking the ball away was a highlight of the season. However, he was woeful against Watford, giving the ball away to a team that would be relegated from the Premier League that day in the build-up to the penalty David Luiz conceded against them. His struggles in the match contributed to Watford attempting 19 shots. Even in the win against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, Holding looked shaky and the sight of him left 1-on-1 with Christian Pulisic was more terrifying than anything Jordan Peele could direct. Almost a year since returning from injury, Holding continues to look like a shadow of the promising young defender Wenger signed from Bolton Wanderers. Verdict: Keep At Most Costs. David Ornstein recently reported that Holding is among the center backs Arteta would like to offload this summer. And it's clear to see why. Holding is not a natural runner, doesn't possess the technical ability Arteta requires in his center backs, and is only a marginally better passer than Sokratis. But at only 24 years old, he is a solid defender and still has time to improve. Or he could fetch a nice transfer fee from a club interested in his services. The level of concern with Holding at this point isn't dire, but the club would be justified in seeking to capitalize on his value now in order to finance purchases during this window.
Calum Chambers: Sidelined by an ACL injury since December, Chambers started the season by emerging as perhaps the most underrated defender in the squad. Between the end of September and the end of December, Chambers put together a good run of matches in the side, playing as either a center back or right back during that time. Chambers is now back in training, but isn't expected to feature until next season. Verdict: Do Not Sell. At 25, Chambers is beginning to come into his own as a defender. Additionally, he can be deployed at multiple positions -- namely, right back, center back, and defensive midfield. This is exactly the kind of attribute Arteta will be looking for in his players, as evidenced by how the head coach has moved around Saka, Maitland-Niles, and Tierney throughout the last several weeks. Chambers, after having a good loan spell with Fulham during the 2018-19 season, was prevented from kicking on by injury. However, with his experience and versatility, Chambers at the very least makes for great cover for Arsenal's starting defenders.
William Saliba: At only 19 years old, Saliba leaves Saint-Etienne as an established starting center back for the Ligue 1 team. Although he was limited by injury to 17 total appearances on loan, his performances over the last couple seasons depict a powerful, adept defender with good technical skills. He now joins Arsenal (for real this time) and will aim to earn a starting job for the Gunners. Verdict: Do Not Sell. This is the most obvious one on the list. Saliba is every bit as promising as Saka and Martinelli, and more experienced. If he is half the player Arsenal fans hope he is, Arteta will mould him into a vital part of the team's spine.
Dinos Mavropanos has not been discussed because he has already been loaned out to VfB Stuttgart. The midfielders will be discussed in Part 3.
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