Samuel Umtiti is a fabulous player.
He would tick almost every box when it comes to what Arsenal need in a new central defender.
Left footed, left sided, he would provide the cover inside of Saed Kolasinac to allow the Bosnian left back to bomb forward.
At just 25-years-old, he has both the experience and youth to come in between Sokratis & Rob Holding / Kostadinos Mavropanos. An instant improvement to our defence, he would be a short term partner for Sokratis whilst being a long fixture in the heart of Arsenal’s defence.
He is everything you need in a modern defender.
In 2018, ESPN FC journalist Sam Marsden was effusive in praising Umtiti, opining that, “As well as reading the game as if it was a children’s book, timing his challenges to the millisecond and putting his body on the line in the name of a block, [Umtiti] is a daring defender…He takes risks, feeding the ball between the lines, and rarely picks the wrong option.”
I talk about Umtiti because speculation is building that Arsenal are targeting the French defender this summer.
The source of the speculation is questionable.
It comes from Darren Arsenal on Twitter.
Darren is one of the few people on Twitter that I follow, and he is not one of those ITK attention seekers who regularly come out with transfer speculation to gain followers. He does have some insider information, although he called Mikel Arteta wrong in the summer.
I have no reason to doubt the validity of his comment, however whenever speculation starts with an individual from Twitter, it has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.
When I saw the comment at the weekend, my first thought was “brilliant, he would be ideal”. But in writing this article, there is a big concern – his injury history.
If Arsenal signed Umtiti, he would have to get his play acting out of the system from day one.
He has an embarrassing tendency to take a dive in defence, to roll about on the floor feigning injury. Whilst this might work in La Liga and the Champions League, referees in England are a little bit less sympathetic. They will see through his play acting and wave play on, telling him to get up.
His knee problems are a huge concern.
Umtiti has started just 8 league games for Barcelona this year. The two previous years he started 24 games out of 38.
Each year at Barcelona he has suffered numerous injuries ruling him out of games. It is his latest 3 injuries that our most concerning, however.
His last 3 injuries have all been knee problems – seeing him miss over 30 games for Barcelona. The knee problems in 7 months. It is clearly a reoccurring problem, and one that would make him a big risk to sign.
I have long been of the opinion that Arsenal should cash in on Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers this summer, with the £40-50m in combined transfer fees paying for a single top class defender. That sort of money would secure you Umtiti.
But with his injury problems, can Umtiti be relied upon to be first choice for 38 games a year? And if not should we really be investing big in a player with his injury history?
Were we to go into next season with Sokratis, Umtiti, Laurent Koscielny and Holding, you would be very concerned that three of the 4 have recently had long term lay offs
Koscielny has his long term Achilles injury. He perhaps only has 1 or 2 years left in him. Whilst he can not be relied upon for a season, he is a good, experienced option to have as 4th choice.
You then have Rob Holding who is out long term with a knee ligament injury.
Who knows when he will return? How he will return? And if he develops a long term reoccurring issue?
To then add Umtiti into the mix would be a risk. There would be a high chance that all 3 could be injured at one time; leaving Arsenal with just one senior central defender (I exclude Mavropanos, he is not a senior squad member and has also faced his own problems).
It will then be up to Arsenal to assess the risk, decide if he is worthwhile pursuing.
There is no doubt that, when fit, Umtiti is one of the best defenders in world football. That he would be ideally suited to play on the left hand side of Arsenal’s central defence. That he is a quality player that we could then build the next 5-8 years around.
But there is doubt over his injury record.