Arsenal’s Achilles Heel

Look at the size of those hands

In breaking news yesterday Laurent Koscielny has stated that he will need “daily treatment” on a problem with his achilles until the end of his career. It’s a quote that should shoot cold through every Arsenal supporter.

Koscielny’s own words,

“Every morning I have my treatment for my Achilles and I know I need to do this to the end of my career. Sometimes with all the games we play every three days, it is difficult and I need to have a rest to recover well.

“You need to be careful with this because if you stop doing your own exercise programme for one or two weeks, the problem will come back.”

Koscielny reportedly has achilles tendonitis which I coincidentally developed this year. I can attest to both the hobbling nature of this injury and the requirement for a special daily exercise regimen. Even with exercise, whenever I walk up stairs I feel it tug slightly. Whenever I play, I’m fine for 50-60 minutes before the radiating pain starts and I know that the next day I’ll be hobbling around like a pirate.

And in order to even play I have had to add stretches to my daily exercise routine. Actually, I’ll just be honest and say my “exercise routine” is taking the dog for a walk to which I’ve added yoga and other stretches. The yoga, though, helps.

Koscielny is fortunate in that he has the entire Arsenal medical team at his disposal 24/7. They probably have a perfectly designed set of stretches and strengthening exercises to keep Koscielny in top shape (I got one from my physical therapist). But Koscielny is Arsenal’s best defender, a true warrior on the pitch and the man who flies in to make last-ditch tackles reminiscent of Arsenal great Martin Keown. And the idea that he’s carrying an injury is just a reminder that Arsenal may need to start looking for his replacement.

Arsene has recently switched to a 3 center back system and if he wants to keep using three center backs this puts extra pressure on making sure that Arsenal have a full compliment of players who can do all of the things an Arsenal center back needs to do. They need to be comfortable in possession, technically good enough to deliver a long pass on the ground up the pitch to the midfielders, aggressive in the air, strong enough to hold off the challenges of the English Premier League’s lumbering forwards, and fast enough to cover for long passes over the top.

In a typical 3 center back system you want at least 5 or even 6 center backs. This provides cover for injury and players to rotate. Heavy rotation isn’t as strictly necessary for defenders as it is for other positions on the pitch but with Koscielny’s injury, rotation will be mandatory.

Arsenal currently have Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gabriel, Mustafi, and Holding as first choice center backs. That’s five, though counting Mertesacker here, a player who was dropped a year and a half ago, is a bit disingenuous so, let’s say four.

Arsenal also have Nacho Monreal who has played as an erstwhile center back and who is ably suited to a back three system, so long as he is covered by stronger and more aggressive players like Koscielny and Holding. A back three of Mustafi, Koscielny, and Monreal would be a bit soft, especially in the air, but would be an excellent passing side. As you can probably see already, Arsenal have options in the center back and could tailor a small cadre of center back “platoons” to fit the game plan on the day: playing against a team like Southampton who use speed? Play Monreal, Koscielny, and Gabriel. Need more ball control in a game? Monreal, Koscielny, and Mustafi. So on and so forth.

Arsenal are also getting Calum Chambers back from his loan spell at Middlesbrough. Chambers is only 22 years old but is one of the best center backs I’ve seen with the ball and along with Rob Holding could well play a big part for Arsenal’s future at center back. Holding has been good this year and has looked most comfortable on the right of the back three. He’s strong and fearless in the air and has a bit of bite to him as Marko Arnautovic found out when he tried to bully him a few weeks ago. Chambers is actually an adept dribbler and Wenger even once saw him as a future holding midfielder for Arsenal. Could Chambers be the ultimate replacement for Koscielny?

Even if Arsenal persist with three center backs and lose Mertesacker I still don’t expect them to sign anyone new for that position this summer. Between Mustafi, Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding, Chambers, and Monreal, I think they have the position covered, freeing Arsene to spend huge money on a center forward. But what will be curious to see is who will take over the mantle from Koz as Arsenal’s toughest, fastest, and most beloved defender?


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