Do Arsenal need to sign a centre-back in the summer?
William SALIBA of Nice during the French Ligue 1 soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and OGC Nice at Parc des Princes on February 13, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Baptiste Fernandez/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Arsenal have undergone a cull of centre-backs in recent months with the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopolous completing moves to Schalke 04 and Olympiacos respectively. 

Additionally, current first team players such as David Luiz and Calum Chambers could also find themselves departing the Emirates in the summer window, with the former coming to the end of his contract and the latter seemingly out of favour.

If the aforementioned players do indeed leave north London, that would leave Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães and Pablo Marí as the only senior centre-backs within Arsenal's ranks, meaning reinforcements are a necessity. 

There are some notable centre-back targets who are nearing the final year of their contracts, with AC Milan's Alessio Romagnoli and Borussia Dortmund pair Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou coming to the end of their contracts in 2022.

However, Arsenal already have a plethora of young, talented defenders who are impressing during their loan spells and could well make the step-up in the 2021/22 season.

It would be prudent, therefore, for Mikel Arteta to promote from within rather than part with a significant transfer fee in order to sign replacements and there are two prime candidates capable of filling the void. 

William Saliba

The Frenchman was signed from Ligue 1 outfit St. Etienne by Unai Emery for a fee in excess of £30m in the summer of 2019 and has found first team opportunities hard to come by thus far in his Arsenal career.

Willian Saliba has since joined OGC Nice and has featured in all but one game for Les Aiglons, playing the full 90 minutes in each of his 12 appearances. 

Saliba's defensive stats have been imposing, registering 4.6 clearances and 1.1 blocks per 90 minutes, which is more than Arsenal's most frequent centre-back pairing of Luiz and Holding.

Moreover, the France Under-20 international has the ability to efficiently marshal the back line despite being only 19-years-old and this can be illustrated by him winning 0.7 offsides per game, compared to Luiz (0.2) and Holding (0.3). 

His calmness in possession is also an attribute that Arteta and Arsenal could benefit from as the Gunners like to build from the back. Saliba has a 90.1% pass success rate which is comfortably higher than any centre-back at Arsenal and completes 68.8 passes per game.

Furthermore, he is proactive on the ball and constantly seeks out attacking players, which can be typified by his 4.5 long balls per 90. 

Nice manager Adrian Ursea highlighted his excitement about signing Saliba on loan, stating

"He can bring a lot of things to us, defensively, and in terms of our game plan, and the way we play the ball out from the back. He can also be extremely valuable when it comes to set plays, an area in which we've suffered a lot..."

It appears Arteta has a ready-made replacement for Chambers if the former Southampton defender is to leave the Emirates in the upcoming transfer window, with Arsenal's manager claiming he is keeping a "very close eye" on the young Frenchman. 

Dinos Mavropanos

Another player who is making a case for a starting berth in Arsenal's first team is Greek U21 international Dinos Mavropanos, who has been superb for VfB Stuttgart since returning from a meniscus injury that sidelined the 23-year-old for one month.

A tall, dominant and fast defender, Mavropanos was signed by the Gunners in January 2018 following a recommendation by former Chief Scout Sven Mislintat. However, the former PAS Giannina centre-back found first team opportunities hard to come by and has featured just eight times for Arsenal. 

Nevertheless, his performances were impressive enough that his contract was extended until June 2023 prior to his season-long loan move to the Bundesliga side. 

His recent outings for Die Roten may have come as a surprise to some of the Arsenal faithful, but Mislintat has been unwavering in his support of the young talent. 

"He has all the hardware and all the software to be a great defender", Mislintat affirmed recently.

"If he can stabilise physically, he’s undoubtedly a Bundesliga-level defender.

"He’s one of the fastest centre-backs in the league alongside Dayot Upamecano.

"A super guy, a model professional. You have to admire his energy, all the strength it took to get over his injuries", Mislintat continued. 

Mavropanos compares favourably to Arsenal's centre-backs in terms of tackles and interceptions, registering 2.6 and 3.1 respectively per 90 minutes, highlighting his defensive credentials. 

His passing accuracy could be better with just 76.9% of his passes finding a teammate, however he tends to make risky passes into attacking areas and this can be exemplified by his 0.3 key passes per 90, which is the same number as Holding and Luiz combined. 

It has come to light that Stuttgart are keen to extend the Greek's stay in the South-West of Germany for another year, with manager Pellergino Matarazzo calling Mavropanos a "Greek gladiator" and "A monster in terms of physique". 

Nevertheless, Mavropanos looks set to stay at Arsenal and fight for his place, which he will get an opportunity to do during a full pre-season with the north London club.

Therefore, despite a number of experienced defenders looking likely to leave the club in the summer, Arsenal seem to be blessed with a rare crop of talented up-and-coming centre-backs who are ready to make the step-up into the first team. 

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