There's Something About: Zapata & Santacroce
With Arsenal having just lost Kolo Toure, Arsene Wenger needs to find a replacement for the powerful Ivorian.
The most likely replacement for Toure is Fulham's Brede Hangeland. I am not entirely convinced by the Norwegian. He did have an excellent season, and as Arsenal fans we have had an experience with a one season wonder. He does stand at 194 centimeters, so he would be a threat at set pieces.
However, he does have a lack of pace and that for me stands out the most. Ten years ago in the Premier League, pace was an asset: Now it's a necessity. Nemanja Vidic was the best centre back in the world last season, but against Liverpool (in both games Vidic was sent off) and Barcelona (Eto'o) he was beaten for pace.
Arsenal last season played with six attack-minded players and four defenders and are likely to do so if no defensive midfielder is brought so Hangeland is exposed, unlike Fulham's style of play, Arsenal plays with a high line.
Another question, can Hangeland cope with the pressure of playing for one of Europe's top clubs. Hangeland is in the mould of Vermaelen and Senderos, albeit he is taller and is superior than Senderos, jury's still out on Vermaelen.
Injury is a part of football, and it is highly likely that Arsenal will have injuries in the defensive department. Just imagine Hangeland and Vermaelen against Drogba or Torres, these two possess pace and power, they would be a handful for any defence.
That would be a suitable partnership against a team like Blackburn Rovers, but not against a Liverpool team boasting Fenando Torres or an Inter Milan side with Samuel Eto'o leading the attack.
Serie A, tactically the strongest league in the world, has produced some of the greatest defenders of all time Paolo Maldini, Lillian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Gaetano Scirea, Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavro, and Alessandro Nesta, the list goes on.
There are plenty of defensive starlets in Serie A such as Davide Santon of Inter Milan and Kjaer of Palmero. The aforementioned defenders will have bright futures, but the defenders Arsenal should take a big interest in is Cristian Zapata and Fabiano Santacroce.
Arsenal should sign the two defenders and place one on loan, preferably Santacroce to continue his development. Zapata, of Udinese, is a defender who Wenger has been credited with interest in the past, his contract is to expire in June 2010.
Zapata has struggled with injuries, that's why the big clubs in Italy are interested but have not made a concrete offer.
Zapata, 22, is 188 centimeters tall, he is extremely quick and has immense power. He has a good reading of the game a terrific jump, versatile at the back and is comfortable with both feet. Zapata has European and International experience, therefore the Colombian would be an excellent replacement for Toure.
Santacroce, 22, stands just under 6'0" (181 centimeters), should be brought to replace Gallas, like Zapata, Santacorce is very fast, comfortable with both feet. His reading of the game is astonishing, watching him play is reminiscent of watching Alessandro Nesta.
Napoli are building a great team, with Lavezzi, Hamsik and Santacroce as the core of the side and would be unwilling to sell him, however if Arsenal offered the possibility of loaning Santacroce back to Napoli for a season, I believe we could find a way of purchasing the talented Italian.
With both clubs failing to make Europe this season, and with Zapata's contract in June 2010, both players might be willing to join a club that has European football. Another advantage Arsenal has is that these two clubs would prefer to sell to a club abroad, instead of strengthening a rival in the same league.
Both players would strengthen Arsenal immensely but Wenger (if he signs a defender) will probably go for Hangeland, or may surprise me by signing Naldo of Werder Bremen.
Regarding Zapata and Santacroce one can only dream.
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