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The Arsenal squad looks far better at the January stage of this season than it has done in recent years.
For the match against Chelsea in December, Arsenal boasted a bench of Wojciech Szczesny, Sebastien Squillaci, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Andriy Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner. It was a stark contrast to the inexperienced substitutes of their opposition.
However, of primary concern for January is a new centre back.
Thomas Vermaelen is injured for the foreseeable future, while Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci have been hapless at times. Johan Djourou has certainly impressed since returning from injury, but the form displayed against Leeds and Ipswich indicated he is not quite there yet.
To challenge for the title, Arsenal need someone who can fit in immediately. Expect this list of ten potential targets to feature a few central defenders who can slot in seamlessly.
1. Per Mertesacker
Though Matthew Upson has been linked to Arsenal, we elected to leave him off of this list. Not only is he English and therefore likely to be overpriced, he doesn’t possess the quality needed to be in a title challenging team. As was seen against Germany in World Cup 2010, he massively struggled against a the quick German counterattacks – something Arsenal are often hit by.
Someone who shone in that game though, was Per Mertesacker. Indeed, he has shone ever since he became a regular in the German national team at the age of 20.
The 26 year-old Mertesacker is 6’6″ and would dramatically increase the height of Arsenal’s defence. He is also a superb tackler – booked just twice in his first four seasons as a professional footballer, and yet to be carded this season.
With Werder Bremen currently struggling in the German Bundesliga, perhaps Mertesacker will soon be more open to a move. After all, he is yet to sign a new contract.
2. Simon Kjaer
Arsenal could do worse than again look to the Bundesliga for Danish centre back Simon Kjaer – also not having the best of times with his club. Signed for €12m by VfL Wolfsburg in the summer, he has struggled under Steve McClaren to show the form which made him so coveted by European clubs when at Palermo.
21 years old, 6’2″ and with 15 international caps already, Kjaer could still grow to become one of the best centre halves in Europe if trained in the correct environment.
VfL Wolfsburg do not struggle financially though as they are bankrolled by Volkswagen, and are under no pressure to sell a player just half a season into his contract, which could raise Kjaer’s price.
3. Christopher Samba
Arsene Wenger has said that he would like a player with Premier League experience, though international or European experience is also welcome. Chris Samba has certainly proven himself a tough competitor for the last few seasons, and the Blackburn Rovers defender has a powerful physique able to cope with the strongest of strikers.
Should Arsene Wenger require a Plan B, Samba could also be thrown up front for Arsenal players to lump balls forward to.
Of course I’m kidding Arsene.
4. Jan Vertonghen
Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen has been Thomas Vermaelen’s partner for the Belgium national team, and could be a hit at club level too – though Arsene Wenger is understood to be concerned about having two left footed players at centre back. Belgian coach Georges Leekens has similar qualms, and tends to play Vertonghen in a holding midfield role, where the 6’3″ man has also played for Ajax.
This is of course another area in which Arsenal could use reinforcement, with a lack of cover for Alex Song. Vertonghen has 23 international caps at the age of 23, and due to his prowess in midfield is a better distributor of the ball than many centre backs. His versatility is a major selling point for Arsenal.
5. Gary Cahill
Arsenal have a strong relationship with Bolton Wanderers and their boss Owen Coyle.
Jack Wilshere flourished at the Reebok Stadium last season, while a loan bid for Carlos Vela has also been accepted by the Gunners with the player now mulling it over. Gary Cahill is strong and tall, Premier League proven, has youth on his side at 23 – and would help with the club’s English quota (which in fairness Arsenal hardly struggle with).
However, with his price tag massively fluctuating in the media due to his nationality, the £10m valuation Arsenal have put on his head is unlikely to be the same as Bolton’s. If Owen Coyle believes what he reads, he could expect up to double that, which would of course scupper the deal.
6. Phil Jagielka
Arsenal had a bid for the Everton defender rejected in the summer, and with the same void at centre back could return with another offer in January. Jagielka has shown himself to be an excellent defender and is now first choice backup for the England team when either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand is unavailable.
However, he has shown no sign of being unhappy at his current club, and David Moyes would certainly not welcome a bid.
At 5’11″ he would also not offer the height that Arsenal are looking for, but is certainly an experienced campaigner.
7. Yann M’Vila
Yann M’Vila is a defensive midfielder who has recently established himself in the revitalised France team under Laurent Blanc. At just 20 years of age, it is hoped that he will make the position his own for the next decade – and once he is picked up by a top European club he could well do the same for them.
With shadows of Patrick Vieira about him, he is calm in distribution and a good tackler, and could be a quality alternative to Alex Song in defensive midfield.
8. Mahamadou Diarra
There are two Diarras at Real Madrid – Lassana and Mahamadou. Both are considered surplus to requirements, and could conceivably fit in well at Arsenal. However, Lassana Diarra has already shown that he would not consider a role where he is not a first team regular, and if he was unable to oust Alex Song from the line-up on a regular basis he would not be happy at the Emirates.
Mahamadou Diarra though would certainly consider a backup role, because despite playing a critical role in Real Madrid’s La Liga triumphs in 2006-07 and 2007-08, he hardly gets a game for the team now. The 29 year-old would also be available cheaply.
9. Eden Hazard
Arsenal were linked with Eden Hazard when he played for the Belgian U17s side, but declined to act on their interest. Now 20, Hazard plays for the full national team, and his dribbling ability bamboozles teams on a regular basis in Ligue 1 for Lille.
He has recently stated that Arsenal would be his dream move, but whether Arsene Wenger would be prepared to splurge millions of pounds on a player in a position they have plenty of cover for remains to be seen.
In an odd way, Hazard’s transfer to Arsenal probably depends on the future of Cesc Fabregas. If Fabregas is sold to Barcelona in summer 2011, Samir Nasri will likely move into his role of attacking central midfielder, which would free up a space in the team – and funds – for Hazard to join.
10. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arsenal are believed to be in pole position to sign Southampton academy star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but no deal is yet in place. 17 years old and possessing the raw pace that has proven such an asset for Theo Walcott, Southampton officials reportedly believe that Oxlade-Chamberlain is even better than Walcott was at the same age.
If Arsenal do follow through with their interest, they can expect to pay a similar fee to that of Walcott – £5m or so with add-ons based on future achievements.