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Building The Arsenal: Now, Summer 2019 & the Future - Center Back

Examining Arsenal’s center back position.

Arsenal v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Final Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Welcome to part four of the ‘Building The Arsenal’ series, which is taking a look at the current depth chart and contract situations for each of the players at a particular position. I’ll attempt to project their individual futures, and the club’s objectives for the upcoming transfer window this summer. Up next is dreaded center back position.

Previously: Goalkeeper | Right Back | Left Back

It should go without saying that center back is a primary focus - maybe the focus - in the summer transfer window. Even with Arsenal’s limited transfer budget, a new central defender will be on the club’s books come opening day.

When was the last time you felt confident about Arsenal’s stable of center backs heading into the season? Let’s take a look at exactly what the Gunners have right now.

Current Depth Chart

It’s been quite a while since Arsenal have had solid depth at center back. 2018/19 continued the streak of stressful performances, injuries, and headaches. There’s no middle ground at center back - aged and still-developing players are the norm for Arsenal in that position.

  • Starters: Sokratis (30 years old, £18 million) & Laurent Koscielny (33 years old, £9 million)
  • Backups: Shkodran Mustafi (27 years old, £27 million) & Rob Holding (23 years old, £11 million)
  • Future Prospects: Konstantinos Mavropanos (21 years old, £3 million), Calum Chambers (24 years old, £13 million), Krystian Bielik (21 years old, £2 million), & Julio Pleguezuelo (21 years old, £270k)

*Transfer values taken from Transfermrkt - Arsenal.

Valencia v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League Semi Final : Second Leg Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Contract Situation

  • Sokratis - Under contract through June 2021.
  • Laurent Koscielny - Under contract through June 2020.
  • Shkodran Mustafi - Under contract through June 2021.
  • Rob Holding - Under contract through June 2023.
  • Konstantinos Mavropanos - Under contract through June 2023.
  • Calum Chambers - Under contract through June 2022.
  • Krystian Bielik - Under contract through June 2020.
  • Julio Pleguezuelo - Under contract through June 2019, but could have an option to extend.*

*I couldn’t find the specific details of Pleguezuelo’s contract beyond the 6/2019 date, but there was a report back in January that Freddie Ljungberg requested the player receive an extension.

Objectives for Summer 2019 Transfer Window

  • Sokratis - No action needed. Whether or not the club want to sell him next summer to recoup some value, or potentially extend him until he is 33, is a decision that can wait a year.
  • Laurent Koscielny - No action needed. The club captain has earned the right to see out his contract and decide to either retire next summer or return to France for one final season.
  • Shkodran Mustafi - He cost Arsenal nearly £37 million, but they’d be lucky to get £20m now. Mustafi clearly would benefit from a new location, at 27 he still has plenty of miles ahead. With links to Germany, Spain and Italy, this summer is the time to sell Shkodran, no matter how much of a bath they take on the sale.
  • Rob Holding - No action needed.
  • Konstantinos Mavropanos - No action needed. But next season he needs to be tested more often to determine his long term value to the club.
  • Calum Chambers - No one at Fulham enjoyed 2018/19. But he now has 125 Premier League appearances. Given his age, contract length and how many issues Arsenal must address, Chambers is a perfectly suitable backup for next season at center back.
  • Krystian Bielik - Add a one year extension. This has been Bielik’s most successful year, appearing 31 times, with three goals and two assists for Charlton Athletic. He has helped the League One side reach the League One Playoff Final against Sunderland later this month. Another year with Charlton or a Championship level side, if they aren’t promoted, would be ideal for 2019/20.
  • Julio Pleguezuelo - Extend his contract. The Arsenal U-23s finished second in the Premier League 2 table, only losing twice when Pleguezuelo was in the lineup. He served as the U23s captain for the majority of the campaign. Another season in PL2 with a few bench call ups during the Europa League group stages (if we are still in it) or the League Cup, seems most likely next year.

Projected 2019/20 Depth Chart

The issue here is whether or not Unai Emery wants to play with two or three center backs as Arsenal’s primary formation next season. For now let’s assume he opts for three the majority of the time, even if that would occasionally pull in someone like Nacho Monreal.

  • Starter: Sokratis, Holding, & New Signing
  • Backup: Koscielny, Mavropanos & Chambers
  • Future Prospect: Krystian Bielik & Julio Pleguezuelo

Even deploying two CBs the majority of the time, you might still see those five, plus a new signing, on the roster, given Arsenal’s injury history and changing formations.

Hopefully, Mustafi is sold and the club brings in a new starting caliber player to open the season alongside Sokratis and a fit Rob Holding. Koscielny would be rotated in with those front three, but given his age, would likely be seen as CB4 in this scenario. Mavropanos and Chambers can gain experience during Cup matches and European group stage games. Both need to impress at some point next year to deserve retaining their spot on the roster over either of the two future prospects listed or someone new that comes in.

Is anyone going to miss Mustafi if he is sold? How confident should we be concerning Rob Holding as a centerpiece next season? Do you prefer the mostly untested Mavropanos or the Premier League experienced, but seemingly known quantity in Chambers?