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Arsenal have a centerback problem

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The training room is once again filled with central defenders.

Arsenal v Manchester City - FA Cup: Semi Final Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

When Shkodran Mustafi limped off against Manchester City, I held out hope that the injury was not serious. Unfortunately, it is. Mikel Arteta revealed on Sunday that the German tore his hamstring tendon off the bone and that he will be out “a lot of weeks.” The team news on Arsenal.com says only that additional details about his recovery program will be confirmed in the coming days. At this point, we don’t know the severity of the tear, but a quick Google reveals that if surgery is needed (again, unknown), he could be out 3-6 months.

Mustafi joins Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers on the long-term injury list. Mari had surgery to repair sprained ankle ligaments and will be out until at least October. Calum Chambers is still rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last December and is not expected to be fully fit for a few more months.

As things currently stand, Arsenal will have four centerbacks available when the 2020-21 Premier League season opens on September 12th — Sokratis, Rob Holding, David Luiz, and William Saliba. Sokratis has made just one appearance since play restarted, an injury time cameo in the FA Cup against Sheffield United. Rob Holding is still working back into form after his ACL injury in December 2018, which has not been helped by other injuries that have kept him off the field. David Luiz gave away 5 penalties this season, a Premier League record. William Saliba is 19 years old and hasn’t played a minute in the Premier League.

It’s not a confidence-inspiring bunch. Mikel Arteta said on Sunday that centerback depth is something that Arsenal “will have to address.”

ESPNFC estimated that the Gunners have around 30M to spend this summer, a number that could go up slightly should they win the FA Cup and qualify for the Europa League. Either way, that’s not a lot of money. It’s “buy young players / prospects money” not “buy established players money,” which is a bit of an issue given the need for centerback cover.

So when Mikel Arteta says that it’s a situation that the club “will have to address,” I’m left asking how, exactly, does the club plan to do that? Dayot Upamecano, the name most frequently linked to Arsenal, has just signed a new deal with RB Leipzig. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be sold by the German club, but he’s almost certainly valued somewhere north of the 30M Arsenal reportedly have.

The same can be said of almost all of the other names the transfer rumor mill is churning out with connections to Arsenal. One of those other names is Matthias Ginter, according to Sky Germany. The 26-year old Borussia Mönchengladbach and German international is attracting interest from Arsenal, Inter Milan, and Chelsea, and is valued somewhere around that 30M mark.

The Gunners could look for a centerback on a free transfer, but the only name that has been cropping up is 35-year old Brazilian PSG centerback Thiago Silva. I don’t hate the idea of signing Silva as a stopgap, but Arsenal really only need centerback for the first half of next season. What are the odds that the Gunners can get the Brazilian to agree to a one-year deal? Probably pretty low.

Arsenal could also sell players around the edges of the roster to generate cash to spend on a centerback, but who would the club sell? What kind of price would they fetch in the cash-strapped post-COVID shutdown football world? Sokratis and Sead Kolasinac are two of the players likely on their way out at the Emirates, but selling a centerback and a left centerback/left back to fund transfers for a centerback doesn’t solve the problem of needing depth at the position.

The Gunners could also look to the U23 side for centerback cover, but I don’t think the club wants to go into the Premier League season with a youth player sitting fifth on the depth chart, especially given what that depth chart looks like. If the club did go that route, the likely “next man up” would be Zech Medley.

Add to the need for centerback cover Arsenal’s need for reinforcements elsewhere on the pitch, and things really start to look dicey for the upcoming transfer window. A bunch of holes to fill and not much money to spend is a bad combination. I guess we will just have to wait and see.