Unai Emery and Sven Mislintat’s shared mission to rebuild Arsenal’s backline this summer won’t end with the imminent arrival of Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund.
In fact, The Independent believe the north Londoners will attempt to bring in up to four defenders this summer, but improving a side that conceded 51 goals last season, the most of any team in the top seven, is about changing the structure of the starting XI as well, to ensure a defence that was often left painfully open under Arsene Wenger is given the adequate protection it’s previously lacked.
Perhaps that’s a big part of why Emery has been brought to the Emirates. The Spaniard favours a 4-2-3-1 formation that puts two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the back four, and it’s not too dissimilar to Arsenal’s setup during the Invincibles season when Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva occupied deep pockets in the engine room and Denis Bergkamp tucked in behind Thierry Henry.
The problem though, is the lack of candidates at Arsenal naturally suited to those defensive midfield roles. Arsenal’s only real out-and-out holding midfielder is Mohamed Elneny, but even he struggles to convince at times. Then it becomes a matter of asking the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka to fulfil roles that don’t play to their natural strengths and often end up highlighting their weaknesses, the latter being the most repetitive example of that last season.
And while Arsenal’s recruitment drive during the last transfer window and the current one has hinged almost entirely on Mislintat’s Dortmund connections, the solution could well rest in Emery’s contacts within the game, linking up again with one of his former players in midfielder Steven Nzonzi. The Frenchman, known to Premier League fans from his time with Blackburn and Stoke City, was at the heart of his Europa-League-winning Sevilla side as the playmaking powerhouse anchoring the midfield.
The 6 foot 5 midfielder showed what he can bring to this Arsenal team on Monday night, as France began their World Cup preparations with a 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland. It was a performance that saw Nzonzi demonstrate his power, authority and ability to control the game with the ball, winning five aerials and completing four possession gains while making the most passes of any player on the pitch, a whopping 102.
In many ways too, Nzonzi represents the transition Arsenal need to make this summer. He has the calmness and quality on the ball which was integral to the Gunners’ definitive style of football under Wenger, a philosophy the club obviously wish to maintain, but he brings with it strength, height and discipline too. Transfermarkt value the France international at £27million, so should the Gunners swoop for the Sevilla man? Let us know by voting below…