Our drop off at the back end of this season has told us nothing that we did not know. We still have areas of our squad where we need more depth.
If you had have asked me before the start of the season where we still needed to strengthen, I would have answered “centre back, central midfield and in attack”. And as the season has progressed, our lack of strength in depth in these areas has been punished.
This is not a criticism of the club. We are not Manchester City who can go out and spend £200m on 4 central defenders. Or in a single summer buy both the World Cup winning starting striker and the best striker in the world.
We do not have those finances. Our transfer policy is consistent improvement year on year.
Last summer saw us add a striker (Jesus), midfield creativity (Vieira) and a left back (Zinchenko) , as well as a back-up striker. All of these were more crucial than a central defender, central midfielder and striker.
We then added Jorginho, Leandro Trossard and Jakub Kiwor in January.
In January, getting in cover for Gabriel was more important than signing someone to cover William Saliba.
To cover Saliba, we had Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Rob Holding. We had no one who was naturally left footed, who could play left side of the defence. And we signed Kiwor.
I am sure the plan would have have been to move Ben White into the centre if Saliba picked up an injury. Tomiyasu then would have played right back.
But injuries to both Saliba and Tomiyasu has meant Rob Holding has been required to step up and play.
Holding is not a bad player. He has done a solid job for us. But if we want to be title challengers in the long term, he needs to be improved on.
Manchester City have John Stones, Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji as their centre back options. All 5 would start ahead of Rob Holding.
Edu and his team will address this area in the summer, and I am sure that right hand side defensive reinforcements will come in.
However, a 2nd choice right sided central defender will be a harder transfer than finding a new midfielder.
We can all list the new midfielders that might come in – the list starts with Declan Rice, goes onto Moises Caicedo and onto Andre Onana. There ar emany other options too.
Whoever comes in will be expected to compete with both Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey for a starting place. Two opportunities to start.
Considering both of their age, and Partey’s injury record, the new signing will see plenty of game time. That is why we can go for someone like Rice, without thinking he is being signed as a back up. The defence problem is not as easy to resolve.
The best teams tend to play with a settled central defensive partnership. And in Saliba and Gabriel we had one of the best in the league.
Any new centre back will be a back up player. Like Kiwor is. They will only come in for Saliba if there is injury or suspension.
That means whoever comes in must be happy sitting on the bench. That rules out a lot of players (unlike Manchester City, we can not pay someone £200k a week to sit on our bench, softening the blow of not playing).
And not only does the new man have to be better than Holding, he also has to be better than Ben White.
The option will still be there next season to play White at centre back and Tomiyasu at right back.
And with the development of 18-year-old Reuell Walters, who has been training with the first team for almost the entirety of this season, that option is more appealing.
I am sure in 12 months time, if we were in the same position squad wise as now, we probably would have seen Walters step into right back and White move inside. But this season, with the pressure we were under at the top of the league, that would have been a huge call for Mikel Arteta.
Playing the experienced Holding and leaving White at right back just made more sense then bringing in an experienced teenager and moving White into the centre. I am also not a fan of making two changes in the defence due to one injury.
So I think we will go out and buy another centre back. I then expect Kieran Tierney to leave and Tomiyasu to be first choice cover at right and left back. Walters and Lino Sousa wil lalso be options at full back.
I would not be surprised if the club try and find “another Ben White” – someone that will can play both centre back and full back. That will then give us further cover for White / Tomiyasu in the way Ake does a job at left back for Manchester City.
A new central defender must therefore be:
- Better than Holding, but happy to be 2nd choice
- Pacey, so we do not have to defend deeper
- Comfortable on the ball
- Less than £30million
- Provide an option at right back
Holding might seem like an easy player to replace. There are plenty out there who are better. But was will not be easy is finding someone who fits our scouting probile. And with that, I am now off to see who I can find!