5 January Transfer Targets Who Would Boost Arsenal's Defense
For the first season in the last several, Arsenal fans do not need to worry about the integrity of their team's defense.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have forged a rock-solid partnership in the center of the Gunners' back four. Kieran Gibbs is rapidly becoming one of the best left-backs in the Premier League after putting his injury troubles behind him and Bacary Sagna has stormed back from a sluggish end to last season.
Yet if one looks hard enough, it is clear that some holes remain. Sagna is out of contract at the end of the season and there are only three true center-backs in the squad, rather than the usual four.
These are not glaring weaknesses, but January is the time to plug minor holes. Let's look at five ways Arsenal can shore up their back line when the transfer window reopens.
Arsenal would have faced Piszczek twice this season if the Pole had been fit, but hip and groin problems have kept him on the sidelines since Borussia Dortmund's Champions League final defeat.
If Arsene Wenger does not believe in Carl Jenkinson's ability to take over for Bacary Sagna if Sagna leaves, Piszczek would be a fantastic long-term replacement.
Piszczek is a dynamic right-back who is equally capable of muscling a winger off the ball as he is bursting down the right side and whipping in a cross. Jenkinson has not yet shown he can provide those sorts of well-rounded performances, and Sagna's ability to do so has made Arsenal's right flank a fortress for years.
This transfer is rendered unlikely because of Dortmund's thinness at right-back, but the possibility of Piszczek moving to the Emirates is worth considering.
Not every defensively minded signing must be a right-back, left-back or center-back.
A midfielder like Morgan Schneiderlin can offer substantial defensive protection by shielding the back line and snuffing out attacks before any defenders are forced into action.
Arsenal have seen how effective such a player can be when Mikel Arteta is at his best. Watch the Spaniard's performances against Borussia Dortmund, for example, and one clearly sees a proactive and intelligent midfielder who allows the defense to hold its shape.
Schneiderlin has thus been integral to Southampton's success this season, and as key a figure in the Saints' stellar defensive record as any. He has the physical prowess to succeed in the Premier League and the footballing intelligence necessary to be a deep-lying midfielder.
Arsenal's midfield is already so overflowing with talent that it would be difficult to add another body and give everyone significant playing time, but Schneiderlin is still a player Arsene Wenger should consider.
Realistically, it will be impossible for Arsenal to attract a world-class center-back when even Thomas Vermaelen cannot get regular playing time. Winston Reid would be a decent fourth option.
Reid has been a consistent presence at the center of West Ham's defense since 2010, and has proven his ability to perform in English football.
Sure, his would not be the most glamorous of signings, but that is not what Arsenal need, nor what Arsene Wenger will be looking for. Reid, the captain of the New Zealand national team, might not want to sacrifice regular playing time to come to Arsenal, but perhaps a nice pay raise could entice him to move.
Here is another potential solution to the Bacary Sagna problem, although signing Sime Vrsaljko would indicate Arsene Wenger has very little faith in Carl Jenkinson.
Of course, Vrsaljko would have to be available before Arsenal could make a move. Given he just made the step up from Dinamo Zagreb to Genoa this season, the Italian club might be unwilling to part with him.
Still, every player has his price. At 21, Vrsaljko has Champions League experience and is a Croatian international. Though a right-back by trade, he can also fill in on the left and is a potent threat going forward.
If Wenger knows Sagna will leave in the summer, he would be wise to pick out a young replacement as soon as possible.
Something tells me that exhortations for Arsenal to re-sign Bacary Sagna should be directed at the player himself.
Everyone can see Sagna is back to his best after tepid displays last season. In the absence of any cover ahead of him on the right, he has managed to be both a relentless defender and a potent attacking threat simultaneously.
Sagna can also slot into central defense for short stretches if one of Arsenal's center-backs is injured. And he does it all with such remarkable and rare consistency every single week.
Surely everyone at Arsenal can see that. The only barrier to signing Sagna to a new, and much-deserved contract is Sagna himself. While he might want to take advantage of his last opportunity at a hefty payday, Arsenal really need to convince him to stay. They will not find any better option on the market.