Five central defenders Arsenal could sign in January
Harry Reardon considers Arsene Wenger's options to shore up his shaky Gunners backline in the New Year
A highly promising centre-back, who at just 21 is already into his fifth season at the top level. However, despite threatening to break through as a first team regular at Real Madrid on a few occasions, the Frenchman has been mainly restricted to Champions League appearances this season, and could potentially be tempted to move on. On the pitch, he is as proficient in the interception as the tackle, and will rarely give the ball away once he has it. Manchester United and Chelsea have already been heavily linked, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shares Varane’s nationality, has a well-established reputation for developing young talent, and has money to spend. What is more, this signing would send out a serious statement to the rest of the league.
A player already heavily linked to the Gunners in recent weeks, Mings has been featuring mainly at left back for Ipswich this season. At nearly 6’4” tall and just over 12 stone, though, he would be something of a giant among all but Arsenal’s BFG, Per Mertesacker, and could surely be shifted infield. He would need to work on his passing to fit in with his team mates (while Mertesacker can boast over 90 per cent accuracy, Mings’s is a somewhat less impressive 63.9 per cent), but he is alert and no-nonsense, as well as being a former graduate of the fabled Southampton academy. Crystal Palace failed with a bid to sign him in the summer, but if the Gunners were to come knocking, one suspects it would be a different story.
A list of potential Arsenal signings would hardly be complete without an unheralded name from Ligue 1, so here is Papy Djilobodji. The Senegalese is powerful in the air, as well as boasting the highest number of clearances of any player in Europe’s other top four divisions outside the Premier League this season. Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund sniffed around last January as Nantes’s solid defence kept them out of significant danger, and the French side have kept up their mean streak this season, with just 13 goals conceded in 16 games. However, Djilobodji has played just a couple of games at senior level for his country, and so a work permit might prove problematic.
Coming back closer to home, Wenger could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of his own book and look to Manchester United’s fringes for another rough diamond. As did Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling has split opinion at Old Trafford, making 131 appearances – including starting a Champions League semi-final in his first season at the club – and oozing style, without ever establishing himself as an undisputed first choice. At the age of 25, Smalling needs to find a regular place somewhere if his career is not simply to drift away. He is too classy a player for that, and a new lease of life at the Emirates Stadium could be exactly what he needs.
Another player whose career is due to kick on, 24-year-old Brazilian Gabriel Paulista has been a burgeoning presence in the Villarreal backline for the last season and a half. He is alert, with one of the best records for interceptions across Europe this season, and does not look to dive in unnecessarily, with a record of just 0.7 fouls conceded per game. He is not averse to clearing his lines when required, though, and has been getting rave reviews for the Yellow Submarine this season. He could be an extremely promising signing under the radar for the Gunners.