The Gunners’ squad looks well equipped for the second half of the season, but Phil Costa believes a new left-sided full-back will eventually be needed with Kieran Gibbs set to leave this summer
By Phil Costa
With another January transfer window upon us, it’s the first time in many years that Arsenal’s squad has no issues that urgently need tending to. There are a few injury problems in the heart of midfield, but elsewhere the club are well stocked with options both in attack and defence.
An area that could become potentially problematic is left-back, however. While Nacho Monreal has been incredibly consistent over the last 18 months, he’s fast approaching his 31st birthday and continues to struggle against quick wingers. The uncertainty over Kieran Gibbs’ future is another issue the club must resolve: if the Englishman decides to leave this summer, a replacement will be needed.
Below are five potential options for Arsene Wenger…
1. Faouzi Ghoulam (Napoli)
Many full-backs are exceptional in the final third but clueless in their own. You won’t find many defenders in Europe with a more well-round ed game than Faouzi Ghoulam, though.
The Algerian gets forward effectively – he’s already provided six assists this season – but is also assured in the tackle, which make him an ever-present in Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli side.
Ghoulam currently boasts an 85% pass-completion rate in Serie A, a statistic far superior to most central midfielders in the league. The left-back averages 1.4 key passes and creates 1.6 chances per 90 minutes, and 76 per cent of his take ons are sucessful – which puts him comfortably ahead of both Monreal (64%) and Kieran Gibbs (55%).
He’s excellent in the air, too, using his solid 6ft 1in frame to win over half of his aerial duels, while he’s conceded only 10 fouls in nearly 1300 minutes.
With an aptitude for crossing and finding a pass without letting it hinder his strong desire to defend, Ghoulam is a model of consistency. The Algerian would provide some much-needed steel on the left and offer a welcome contrast to the more attack-minded Hector Bellerin at right-back.
What he’d cost: £14m
Chance of it happening: 8/10
2. Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg)
Having already signed one Switzerland international from the Bundesliga in Granit Xhaka, Arsenal may be tempted to replicate that decision by securing the signature of Ricardo Rodriguez.
The 24-year-old has established himself as one of the best left-backs in Germany since his move from FC Zurich in 2012, although he’s struggled in a disjointed Wolfsburg side leaking far too many goals this term.
Nevertheless, his superb technique and quality from dead-ball situations will always make him an attractive option for most clubs.
Rodriguez’s statistics this season may be skewed slightly as a result of him being forced to play at centre-half. He’s not attempted a single take-on, for instance, and is only creating one chance per 90 minutes.
His defensive work has improved significantly, and though that’s meant he may not be as influential in the final third, spending time in central defence has improved the weakest areas of his game.
The Gunners were reportedly interested in Rodriguez last summer, but it’s unclear whether inconsistency of late has put them off. With the riches of Inter and PSG still hovering with intent,
triggering his £19m release clause in July would still be fantastic business.
What he’d cost: £19m – clause.
Chances of it happening: 7/10
3. Jose Gaya (Valencia)
With Valencia in turmoil both on and off the pitch, star players may have to be sold to make ends meet. With Portuguese right-back Joao Cancelo on the verge of a move to the Camp Nou, 21-year-old Jose Gaya is another talented youngster seemingly headed for the exit.
Blessed with blistering pace and bundles of energy, the Spaniard suits the all-action, forward-thinking role of the modern full- back, which was evident during his breakthrough season in 2014/15.
Having come through the ranks while watching Spain’s brilliant 2008 and 2012 national sides, pressing is something ingrained into his mind; like many young defenders, though, the Valencia academy
graduate has a frustrating habit of switching off at the back post, as well as overplaying in dangerous areas.
Despite his promise, Gaya hasn’t kicked on to become the player most expected after he burst onto the scene 18 months ago.
Injuries have slowed his progress, while the constant managerial changes at Mestalla haven’t provided the stability needed for young players need to thrive. The prospect of a new challenge could bring out the best in the Spaniard. but he certainly won’t be cheap.
What he’d cost: £25m
Chances of it happening: 5/10
4. Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin)
Another attacking full-back who prefers to play on the front foot, the 24-year-old averages two interceptions and wins 1.2 tackles per 90 minutes
Having originally been signed by Hertha Berlin as one for the future in 2015, Plattenhardt made the left-back spot his own a lot earlier than expected. Pal Dardai’s side are well drilled and effective on the counter, with the German playing a key role in their ability to transition quickly from defence to attack. He’s also quick to bring the ball out into space and willing to be direct in wide areas.
Plattenhardt, like Rodriguez, is terrific from set-plays: with only a one- or two-step run-up, he’s able generate plenty of whip and speed on the ball, which makes his deliveries extremely difficult to defend.
Another attacking full-back with a positive mindset, the 24-year- old averages a 60% win rate in his aerial duels – the highest of any player on this list. The Hertha man also has an eye for goal, often trying his luck from range, and has already scored twice this campaign.
Plattenhardt has added consistency to his game as the capital club look to challenge the established order for Champions League football. His contract runs until 2020 but he wouldn’t cost a lot, and with a strong German contingent already at the Emirates, he’d settle in quickly.
What he’d cost: £8m
Chances of it happening: 3/10
5. Ricardo Pereira (Nice)
Over the past two seasons, Nice have gambled on giving troubled players another opportunity to prove themselves. Hatem Ben Arfa earned a move to PSG after a spell at the Allianz Riviera, while Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda are currently flourishing following their summer moves to the Ligue 1 leaders.
Rampaging wing-back Ricardo Pereira lost his way after signing for Porto, but he’s now impressing on France’s south coast thanks to regular first-team football. The 23-year-old may lack technical finesse, but he more than makes up for it with his impressive physical qualities.
Pereira boasts an 88% pass-completion rate in 2016/17, while averaging an incredible 4.3 clearances and 2.6 tackles per 90 minutes.
Used at both right- and left-back this season, his speed allows him to dominate either flank; as such, he’s completed 68% of his take-ons and won 55% of his duels.
He can also produce going forward, creating 1.6 chances and completing 1.3 key passes on average – in addition to providing three assists and even grabbing a goal himself.
Arsenal approached Djibril Sidibe – now of Monaco – last summer because of his ability to play both full-back roles.
If Wenger is planning to kill two birds with one stone again, Pereira would be a highly intelligent purchase. At an age where he can still improve but won’t need too much time to settle, his stamina and energy should suit English football down to a tee.
What he’d cost: £10m
Chances of it happening: 3/10
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