Arsenal’s defensive issues are mounting but January could solve their problems
Christmas is over, the decorations have been put back in the loft for another year, and 2019 is here, and with it, the opening of the January transfer window.
The January transfer window is a polarising aspect of the footballing calendar that has split fans, players and managers since its inception in 2003.
For some, it’s an important opportunity that helps teams acquire players in positions they are in desperate need of, whilst for others, it is seen as a way for the super rich to bolster the ranks and extend the gap between teams in the league with fewer funds.
Arsenal have been a team that rarely dabbles in January, with former manager Arsene Wenger being a harsh critic of the window.
But following horrific defensive performances against the likes of Southampton and Liverpool in December alone, Unai Emery has to look towards the transfer window as a salvation point for Arsenal’s major problems at the back.
Solving everything with duct tape
It’s no secret this season that Arsenal are broken at the back. Injuries to the likes of Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi have seen Emery stick together multiple messy back fours held together with duct tape.
Laurent Koscielny has struggled since returning from an Achilles heel injury, and summer signing Stephan Lichtsteiner has shown his age with sloppy performances in games Arsenal should be winning.
Fellow summer recruits Bernd Leno and Sokratis have impressed for the Gunners, but they are being handed the majority of the defensive work with everyone else underperforming.
With a limited budget, Arsenal’s scouting team has to be 100% sure it is bringing in the right defenders that can make an instant impact.
But with the transfer market more competitive and over-priced than ever, who can the Gunners realistically bring in?
Looking through the shop window
Arsenal have never been a club to spend big compared to others in the Premier League, but if Emery is to help the Gunners reclaim Champions League football, the Spaniard must use his funds wisely.
And the first thing the former PSG and Sevilla manager must do in the rebuilding process is to buy young.
The Gunners have a relatively old squad with an average of 27, with the defenders often being the oldest members of the team. Sokratis has turned 30, whilst Nacho Monreal is 32, Koscielny is 33, and Lichtsteiner 34.
As well as signing young, another key aspect should be versatility. Defenders in the modern age are expected to do a lot more than just tackle attackers, they’re expected to be good with their feet and start attacks from their area of the pitch.
And with Arsenal being Arsenal, injuries are bound to happen, making versatility an even more important attribute.
Breaking down the candidates
So who is genuinely available for Arsenal?
There has been talk that Gary Cahill could join the Gunners on loan from London rivals Chelsea, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the Blues captain is not only far too old for Emery’s side, but his game time in the past two seasons makes him a weak candidate to plug Arsenal’s defensive hole.
Benjamin Pavard, the Stuttgart defender who shone for France in the World Cup as a makeshift right back but naturally plays as a centre back has long been seen as the fan’s favourite as a defensive signing this window.
However, Bayern Munich have beaten out Arsenal by signing the French international for a reported fee of £30 million which will see Pavard join the Bavarian side in the summer.
An under-the-radar and off the ball player who fits the bill, though, is West Ham academy product Reece Oxford, who has been linked with a move away from East London this window.
The 20-year-old defender, who spent last season out on loan at Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach, has long been a target for Arsenal, and rumours are spreading that Oxford would be open to a move across London.
The Gunners would be able to pick up the England youth international for a relatively cheap fee, and his experience in both the Premier League and Bundesliga make him a player Emery would be comfortable putting into the first team sooner rather than later.
Oxford made headlines when he shut down Arsenal as a 16-year-old, and now the defender could be the Gunners' surprising solution to their defensive problems.