Swansea City defender Ashley Williams is still a must-sign target for Arsenal, despite the success of the Per Mertesacker-Laurent Koscielny central defensive partnership. Williams can provide quality cover for a reasonable fee at a key area of manager Arsene Wenger's team.
Wenger is thought to be ready to bid £3 million for the rugged and experienced centre-back, per a report in Metro. That's great value, even if the 29-year-old only has one year left on his existing contract.
For a minimal fee, Arsenal can secure strong depth behind the starting back four. That's an obvious need, given the uncertain future of current club captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgium international has been relegated to the bench by the Koscielny-Mertesacker combination. Vermaelen's demotion is certainly justified, since Mertesacker and Koscielny brilliantly complement one another.
But Vermaelen is naturally not happy at missing out so often. There is more than one club ready to take advantage of his unhappiness.
He has been heavily linked with a move to Serie A side Napoli, per Daily Mail reporter Mike Dawes. Vermaelen has also attracted interest from Manchester United, according to David Wright of The Daily Express.
Vermaelen has deteriorated into a reckless defender, but Arsenal's depth in the middle is threadbare even with him in the ranks. It will be positively barren if Vermaelen ventures through the exit door this summer.
However, the Frenchman recently appeared to quell rumors of a switch to the English Premier League champions, according to quotes published by Paul Brown of the Daily Star:
My situation will be sorted out before the World Cup, but I haven't signed for anyone so far. I have agreed with no one.
I don't have any agreement with Manchester City or with anyone else. I have never set foot there. Several European and English clubs have contacted me.
Certain talks have gone further than others, and Manchester City are among them. But today, I'm still an Arsenal player.
Today, there's a 90 percent chance I will leave and 10 percent that I will stay.
I have been asking myself that question for a long time, and it's the time for a new challenge.
Arsenal is an extraordinary club that has given me the chance to grow, both in sporting and human terms. It's a family club, I feel good here.
If Wenger can't convince Sagna to stay, he will lose a great deal of versatility in defence. The 31-year-old right-back can act as a capable central defender.
The prospect of losing both Sagna and Vermaelen makes finding another capable centre-back a necessity. Williams, who can also play right-back, is perfectly suited to the robust physicality of the EPL. He is also an underrated passer out from the back.
This isn't the first time the Arsenal chief has shown interest in Williams. An £8 million bid was mooted in early March 2013, per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian.
Of course, since then, Mertesacker and Koscielny restored solidity, intelligence and resolve to Arsenal's previously chaotic defence. At times during the 2013/14 season, their performances were so commanding, the pair drew comparisons to former club greats.
Ex-stalwart right-back Lee Dixon compared them to former gruesome stoppers Tony Adams and Martin Keown, per London Evening Standard reporter James Olley:
Mertesacker has got a stature about him that is reminiscent of Tony. He has that big, colossus frame. I don’t want to compare them too much but now he has grown into the club, he has a genuine desire to do well for Arsenal like Tony did.
I was one of the critical ones when he first came in but he has worked at it. He needed the right character around him and you could compare Koscielny to Martin Keown given his same dogged determination to do his job. Both of them would go through a brick wall for you. Mertesacker and Koscielny complement each other well and in that sense are a perfect combination.
Dixon's words were high praise, but only serve to underline Mertesacker and Koscielny's importance to Wenger's current squad. Their consistency means a new centre-back is no longer a top priority.
But given the significant drop off when either is out of the team, having a player like Williams in reserve is a luxury Arsenal need. Signing a defender that accomplished for just £3 million is an opportunity a committed bargain hunter like Wenger can't pass up.
The offer of UEFA Champions League football should be enough to lure Williams to North London.
Even with Mertesacker and Koscielny's maturation into a formidable partnership, Arsenal need stronger defensive reserves next season. That means Williams is still a must-buy target for Wenger.