Johan Djourou is gone, on loan. Ignasi Miquel may be on the way out on loan as well. Sebastian Squillaci is on the same road out of North London. None of this is particularly surprising - Djourou has barely played this year, Miquel needs playing time and is not first-team ready, and Squillaci is terrible. But it does present a problem: only three players in the squad reasonably capable of playing central defense, unless you want to go the Barcelona Insanity Defense route and play Arteta at the back. I don't. So perhaps there's a solution to be found that would actually strengthen the team.
And perhaps that solution can, once again, come from Montpellier, and maybe a little more. The reigning French champions are having a bit rougher time this year than last, sitting mid-table with seven teams between them and Champions League qualification. We know as well as anyone else that such a position can be salvaged, but the transfer winds are swirling around them all the same. In particular around Yanga-Mbiwa, and Arsenal have been linked, so let's take a look at him.
Yanga-Mbiwa is relatively young, turning 24 years old in May. He isn't massive, at six feet and around 170 pounds, but this is Arsenal, so that's not really a strike against him. Though he's not particularly tall he's capable aerially, though it's not necessarily his biggest strength. In a lot of ways he's like a combination of the defenders we have already - positionally proficient like Mertesacker, quick and good with the interception like Koscielny, and willing and able to run the ball out of defense like Vermaelen. He's a good passer and dribbler, and technically adept.
So he's an upgrade in defense mostly in that he's a good player - better than Djourou, by all accounts - but not likely to be a huge step up from the three center backs that we've given playing time to so far this year. That's okay, because the three center backs that we have now are all pretty good. Like last year, a lot of Arsenal's issues defensively start in midfield, and Yanga-Mbiwa can be a part of the solution there as well.
Montpellier's captain is a defender by trade - mostly centrally, though he can play as a fullback as well - but he's also played some midfield this year. One such appearance came against Arsenal at the Emirates in November, and his dynamism and strength in that performance (along with his September game against Arsenal, from the back line) were notable. He has less experience playing further up the pitch, but based on his skillset I feel that if given the opportunity, he has the potential to become a capable defensive midfielder. To have a player who could act as cover in defense and additionally shore up the midfield would be a major coup. Add in the fact that Yanga-Mbiwa has had only one major injury of note (in 2009 he missed two months), and has appeared in at least 32 matches for Montpellier in four of the past five years, and the player is even more attractive.
The problem is availability. As mentioned above, Montpellier are finding it difficult to repeat last year's successes, as they're mid-table in Ligue 1 and eliminated from European competition after finishing last in Group B of the Champions League. The missing revenue from European play - and unlikelihood that there will be any next year - makes Montpellier more likely to sell, and possibly for a reasonable price. There are claims that Yanga-Mbiwa may be available for as little as £3.5 million, though transfermarkt.co.uk lists him at closer to £8 million. That seems optimistic to me, considering the fact that ESPN says Lille were rejected after tabling a €6 million offer in 2011. Additionally, he signed a new deal in November that extended his commitment with the club until June of 2015. He was due to be a free agent after this season, and the extended deal will either make him a long-term part of Montpellier's solution, or will simply drive his price up. Additionally, Montpellier claims that there has been no contact from Arsenal yet over Yanga-Mbiwa. Things can change, but at the moment we'll have to wait and see if they do.
Personally, I would be very pleased if Arsenal were to acquire Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, as a defender and/or a defensive midfielder. Particularly in the latter case, I think he would be a massive help to the team's defense, and a very real upgrade to the squad in general.