I have long held the opinion that Arsenal will only sign one centre back this summer.
With Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos set to be joined in Islington by Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 into 2 does not go.
There is an argument that we should sell to buy. That Shkodran Mustafi will leave the club and be replaced, but this does not make me comfortable.
The two names heavily linked are Caglar Soyuncu and Benjamin Pavard, both 22.
With Laurent Koscielny out injured until 2019, it would be very risky to try and integrate a new first choice centre back pairing without having senior back up.
Buying from a new country is always uncertain, even somewhere like Germany where the style and quality of football is very similar to the Premier League.
If Arsenal made the decision to try and integrate Sokratis alongside either Soyuncu or Pavard, without having a senior back up, the risks would be great.
If one struggles to settle – like when Sebastien Squillaci flopped upon moving from Spain (he was just 30-years-old at the time), we need to ensure we have adequate back up. Holding, Chambers and Mavropanos are not adequate back up.
The summer we signed Squillaci, we also secured the services of Laurent Koscielny.
The French pair were added to a squad that contained Thomas Vermaalen and Johan Djourou.
The Belgian had been at the club for a year (and had not yet broken down) and Djourou at 23 was showing himself to be one of the best young centre backs in the league.
In Squillaci we secured an experienced French international. Laurent Koscielny a bit of a risk – 24-years-old with just a single year of top flight football to his name.
However we could take that risk as we had Vermaalen in the squad.
Low-and-behold, Vermaalen broke down – playing just 5 games, and Squillaci failed to keep up with the pace of the game. This left us relying on Koscielny and Djoruou. The pair playing 80 games between them.
Now picture the scene.
Koscielny is out injured until 2019. Sokratis comes in and his Arsenal career replicates that of Squillaci. He flops.
We have sold Mustafi to make room for the new lad – lets say Soyuncu – and all of a sudden we are playing a 22 year old in his first season in England alongside Calum Chambers. And what happens if we get hit by the double wammy? That Soyuncu (or Pavard) also struggles?
At least with Mustafi, we know what we have. We might not be 100% sure on him, but he has been in England for 2 years, and would provide some sort of consistency.
And with Hector Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis and Saed Kolasinac not at the World Cup, they will get a full 8 weeks with Unai emery being coached, organised, and taught how to defend.
However, whilst watching France v Australia, and seeing Pavard play for the first team, a solution came to mind.
With both Pavard and Soyuncu being 22, they would not be getting signed for now, but also with one eye on the future – the next 8 – 10 years.
Last season Arsenal played 60 games. This season I imagine it will be similar.
That means there is plenty of game time to justify paying the money for a new, young centre back.
Instead of coming in to partner Sokratis, they will be coming in to compete with Mustafi to partner him.
They struggle to settle straight away, it means the senior partnership of Mustafi and Sokratis starts. If they come in and fly, it would mean that Mustafi is relegate to that second choice.
But this would still leave us with 7 centre backs for 2 positions.
We can write off Koscielny. January 2019 is the earliest he will be back to fitness. And that is if there are no complications with his Achilles injury. It would not be too much of a surprise to me if we never see him in an Arsenal shirt again – with his contract expiring in 2020.
That means we still need to shed one. Either Chambers, Holding or Mavropanos.
Reports are that Fulham are interested in Calum Chambers, with prices mooted about of £20m.
Watching Pavard play, out of position at right back, he certainly looks like an upgrade on the Englishman. Soyuncu is as well.
By trading in Chambers for £20m, and signing one of the others for £35m seems like a good deal. An additional £15m spent on a better player.
We would then have Mustafi and Sokratis as first choice centre backs, and Soyuncu / Pavard alongside Rob Holding as the second string players, getting game time in the League Cup and Europa League.
A lot of people will now be moaning about Mavropanos.
Let’s remember he is still just 20-years-old and people calling for him to be considered after just 3 games need to give him the chance.
I would rather Mavropanos remain in and around the squad for the first 6 months, giving us a 5th centre back option. Then if Koscielny does return in 2019, Mavropanos perhaps go’s out on loan for the rest of the season.
That will then leave us with 5 options going into 2019/21.
Sokratis (who will then be 31), Soyuncu / Pavard (23), Mustafi (27), Holding (23) & Mavropanos (21)
A decision could then be made next summer on the future of Mustafi.
If he steps up to the plate and improves alongside a consistent leader like Sokratis, he stays. If he shows himself adequate enough (and is happy being) 3rd choice centre back, that is fine as well.
If he fails to improve, and Arsenal decide to cash in, they at least then know about Sokratis and the new guy, and if one hasn’t fully settled, look to buy another centre back next summer.
Whilst I am still not comfortable someone coming in this summer to replace Mustafi in the summer, I am certainly not against bringing in someone who will bridge the skills gap between Holding / Chambers / Mavropanos and Sokratis, even if that means that one of the 3 youngsters ends up making way.