Rumors are brewing that in addition to a replacement for recently departed midfielder Alex Song, Arsenal may be in the market for another defender. Of course, by "rumors are brewing" I mean "Arsene Wenger said that himself." This is something that a lot of fans have voiced for a while, based presumably in part in unhappiness with current options as well as last year's defensive frailties. I have maintained all summer that this really isn't a necessary move, but I trust the manager's judgment, so I won't fully debate the stance. On the other hand, I have a few issues with it, and the whole thing boils down to a pretty simple idea.
If Arsenal are going to buy a defender, the only logical slot where one could fit is right back. Based on the information available right now, anything else would be overkill and a waste of money that could be better allocated elsewhere.
I want to make clear that I understand the frustration with Arsenal's proclivity for shipping goals. They allowed more goals last year than they had since the early 1980s, and that's not a way to win the league unless you set scoring records. Which we didn't. We were not great defensively last year, but the solution doesn't have to be to buy in defense.
Remember this: we had a near-historic level of injuries at fullback last year. Both of our starting fullbacks and their deputies suffered long-term injuries, and while Arsenal were able to tread water a bit, the defense undoubtedly suffered. This is unlikely to happen again, just because of how poor our luck was to have it happen once. Remember this: Thomas Vermaelen has an unexpectedly poor season. He is one of Arsenal's better defenders and vital to the team, but coming off a season-long injury the year before, he was shaky (which tends to happen). He should be better this year.
Also remember that with a new assistant manager in Steve Bould, there should be a renewed focus on defense in training and possibly different tactics and organization. After adjustments, Arsenal improved last year at set-piece defense, something that was an issue before. Pat Rice was a very good coach and a loyal Arsenal servant for decades (and still is), but the team could benefit from a new voice in training.
Improvements can certainly be made in training and just natural improvement, but they could certainly also be made in the transfer market. I just don't feel that the best way to do that is buying in defense.
What is more important is strengthening the midfield. It appears that Arsenal are well on their way towards that, if the rumors about Nuri Sahin are true (all signs point to "they are"). And with the addition of Santi Cazorla already - skilled at protecting possession and capable as a defensive midfielder - the midfield is looking strong already. With Song's departure, though, I feel that further reinforcement is necessary: with Song, having Sahin as depth and cover would have been enough, but an enforcer-type (which Sahin really isn't) would greatly strengthen Arsenal's ability to defend, as it would add shielding and resilience to the midfield, making it more effective in assisting the back five. A massive part of the defensive issue last year (aside from the fact that we were playing midfielders at fullback much of the season) was a lack of protection from the midfield. If someone like Yann M'Vila or Etienne Capoue were to come in as well, I think that would be adequate business for this transfer window.
But if we're to buy a defender, the only place one will fit is on the right side. At centerback, as I mentioned on the podcast, we have tons of depth. Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are a fine top-choice pairing, with Per Mertesacker as a perfectly acceptable first-man backup. Johan Djourou is better than he showed for much of last year - lest we forget the fine shift he put in during the 2010-2011 season while Vermaelen was injured. Sebastien Squillaci is not at all good enough to play at Arsenal, but even as Kyle Bartley is moved on we have a young player in Ignasi Miquel who is more than acceptable as a fifth-choice (!) central defender. If another centerback was to come in, who is pushed out? Djourou or Mertesacker would have to be sold, as that's undue stress on the wage bill. What quality of player would come in to back up an obvious first-choice pairing (the team captain and last year's best defender)? It's unlikely to be a player better than what we have, so what's the point, really?
The same goes on the left side. Kieran Gibbs is known to be one of Arsene Wenger's favored player, and if he can sort out injury issues, he has the talent to lock that position down for a long time. This, of course, is a big ask at the moment, but is possible. Andre Santos is a bit of a cult hero, and I feel that he is massively underrated as a defender. He's surely second-choice, but he is not as grossly incompetent as some claim. Perhaps more reliable talent could be brought in here, but again, Santos or (less likely) Gibbs would have to move on. If not, as in the center of defense, the quality of player willing to come in to compete with two favored players at his position is unlikely to be high. Perhaps a young player (the defensive version of M'Baye Niang, perhaps) could come in at one of these spots, but that won't markedly improve the defense for this year, so it's irrelevant at the moment.
And so, by process of elimination, the only place to legitimately improve would be on the right side. And truly there may be room to improve there. Bacary Sagna is one of the best fullbacks in England and Europe, but after breaking his leg twice last season, it's hard to tell whether he will be up to full strength when he returns - and he is not likely to return for up to a month, still. Carl Jenkinson is a divisive figure: I think he's fine as a backup, but many feel he's not ready to play extensively for Arsenal. With Sagna missing at the moment and possibly diminished, it may not hurt to improve on Jenkinson. And while Sagna is clearly first-choice, his injury issues and his age (he will turn 30 this February) and Jenkinson's percieved inadequacy could attract a legitimately talented player.
But that's unlikely to happen at either of the two other defensive positions, and honestly isn't necessary there. Buying a left-back or centerback would be a waste of money unless accompanied by moves at other, more needed positions. In other words, if Arsenal buy a left-back and fail to bring in talent at defensive midfield, I would view it as a poor deal.
Because honestly, if you're concerned about Arsenal's defense, shoring up midfield has to be where you start.