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2016/2017 Arsenal Preview: Centerbacks

A major concern for Arsenal to start the season as uncertainty and injury surround the center of defense.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

A lot can happen in a year. At the start of the 2015/2016 season, Arsenal headed in with a clear first choice pair at centerback, a experienced back-up, a young stud to pin hopes for the future on and, should they need him, the incomparable Nacho Monreal (spoiler: they did). By the end, Laurent Koscielny had a down year, Per Mertesacker got pinned to the bench, Gabriel Paulista declared himself a bit of a hothead and less than advertised in the skill department and Calum Chambers... was allergic to grass? I dunno, barely saw him.

Monreal remained excellent.

Furthermore, what became a position of progressing worry has further blossomed into a rosebush of danger, with big nasty pointy thorns that drip acid and harbour flesh-eating catepillars that would make even the hardiest Pokemon Go users cringe.

Simply put, it gives me pause.

Firstly, Arsenal go into the start of the season severely short in the position, despite having five CBs on the roster. Koscielny is gassed and likely a still a bit miffed at Lloris after a long and excellent Euro 2016 with the French team. Expected to return to training in the next week or so, he may not be set for first team action until week 3 or 4. Unless the need causes Wenger to rush him back.

Worst, Mertesacker’s knee left him. Hurt in the preseason draw with Lens, Per is expected to be out until 2017 and if Santi Cazorla is any indication, it could be a longer road back to fitness for the 31-year-old.

To compound this, Gabriel is also unavailable this preseason and potentially the start of the regular season with tonsillitis. While he should hopefully get up to full health and speed soon, it isn’t ideal for the 25-year-old Brazilian who would like to rebound from an iffy season with Arsenal. One may blame first season conditioning but he wasn’t relied on heavily until the second half and appeared to have little in the way of partnerships working with either Koscielny or Mertesacker. Without the later, Gabriel suddenly becomes a key man at the heart of defense and many will hope he can take a solid step forward.

That is, unless, he is supplanted by the youthful duo of Chambers and new signing and thankfully-no-longer-a-dirty-Bolton-player (ask someone over 30) Rob Holding. The two have had the lion’s share of time in the preseason and both have performed amicably. Whether or not Arsene Wenger will want to trust the young pair to see out August while the experienced defenders get up to speed, or even if he has a choice, remains to be seen.

But even with all this uncertainty, it is worth noting: last year, Arsenal finished with 36 goals against, the same as the season before and better than the season before that. It was the 3rd best total in an admittedly disjointed table but still nothing to shake a stick at. With Cech in net and new defensive midfield rock Granit Xhaka in the team, there are positives to build on. Add in the wildcard of a CB reinforcement being brought in, be it Shkodran Mustafi or... Shkodran Mustafi, and there is enough to see Arsenal out the first few weeks of the season.

Or, should more players get injured, acid dripping thorns and poison caterpillars. Either or.