29 June 2013

Right-back review: Jenkinson to go it alone?

Continuing a series that investigates each position, we take a look today at the right side of the defense. We've looked at keepers and center-backs so far, and there's been so much talk of bringing in players like Higuain, Rooney, and other attackers that we run the risk of neglecting the right-back position. The persistent rumors of Bacary Sagna's potential move to PSG, not to mention his injury woes, put us on shaky footing. Even for as much as I've extolled Carl Jenkinson's virtues, he's still a bit too green to anoint as the only right-back in the first team.

Using stats from whoscored.com and remembering our American high school letter-grades, let's assess the two men and their performance this year.
  • A= superb. Exceeds expectations and rarely if ever falters. Consistent excellence.
  • B= very good. Meets or exceeds expectations with occasional but moderate mistakes.
  • C= average/tolerable. Meets most expectations, falls short of a few, and commits mistakes of varying degrees of severity but rarely serious.
  • D= poor. Struggles to meet many expectations and falls short of most of them. Mistakes tend to outnumber successes and are often serious. Occasional patches of quality.
  • F= Fails to perform to any acceptable level. Frequent and serious mistakes. Moments or short stretches of decent performance are not enough to dispel serious doubts about the player's abilities.
Bacary Sagna: C+
  • whoscored rating: 7.01
  • Appearances: 25
  • Tackles/game: 2.2
  • Interceptions/game: 1.3
  • Clearances/game: 3.6
  • Team record: 16W, 6D, 3L
As much as I've showered Jenkinson with love, Bacary Sagna is one of the players who first comes to mind for me as I think about Arsenal, and I would even go so far as to say that I would love to see him finish out his career at the club. At 30 and coming off of breaking the same leg twice, one might expect a sharper drop in form; however, despite his error against Man U that led to him having to tackle van Persie in the box, his whoscored rating actually went up two-hundredths of a point. He might be losing a step but still adds grit and cunning enough to draw attention from PSG, who certainly have aspirations big enough and pockets deep enough to only want the best available. It's a bit sad then to hear that Sagna hasn't given a more full-throated denial of the PSG rumors, saying only this to L'Equipe:
I am in talks. I am not at a bad club...it is possible. I would have to see in what conditions and what would be proposed. I would not leave for anything. I don't reject anything.
Lost in translation is that phrase "I would not leave for anything," which suggests that nothing could get him to leave. Sadly, it's more accurate to translate what Sagna said as "I would not leave for just any offer" as in "I would leave for the right offer." Whether this reflects dissatisfaction with how he's been treated by the club or by its fan is open to speculation, or it could be the talk of a player who's ready for a change in the twilight of his career. His Arsenal contract runs through through June 2014, after which he might face the awkward dilemma of so many players over thirty. Would Arsenal welcome him back at that point, or should he get out while the getting is still good?

Such is my esteem for him that I want him to stay: as a mentor to (and competitor with) Jenkinson, an occasional center-back to see if he's open to it, and as an Arsenal man to the end.

Carl Jenkinson: C-
  • whoscored rating: 6.71
  • Appearances: 14
  • Tackles/game: 2.3
  • Interceptions/game: 0.6
  • Clearances/game: 2.4
  • Team record: 6W, 4D, 4L
Jenkinson started the season strong but seemed to fade down the stretch, enough so that he didn't make any appearances after 3 March. Some of his strongest performances came early in the season; his first three starts each earned a score higher than 7 from whoscored. However, aside from a strong showing against Aston Villa, he struggled later with scores as low as 5.53 against Swansea (beaten as he was by Michu). Whether this dip is due to fatigue, fragile confidence, or a re-emergence from Sagna, Jenkinson ended up watching the home-stretch from the bench. Despite that, I believe he has it in him to be our starting right-back as early as next year, if not on a full-time basis and certainly not as the only right back in the squad. If Sagna stays on one more year, this might be enough time for Jenkinson to absorb more of his experience and insight while sharpening up his own game that much further with an eye to taking over the right-back position outright by August 2014.

If Sagna does end up leaving, it is no disrespect to Jenkinson that I insist we bring in another right-back and one who is more-experienced than him. We certainly can't run the risk of having only one right-back as much as I do like Jenkinson. His speed and work-rate add a lot, but he is still much too one-footed and positionally weak. In his defense, he's just 21 and has made only 23 Prem League appearances across two seasons, but he's taken great strides, a trend that will almost certainly continue into 2013-14.

He's on record as having said "my ambition for my career is to play for this football club. I want to be good enough and make my mark here." In the short time he's spent on the field, he's more than earned a chance to make his mark next year and in years to come.

28 June 2013

Caveat emptor on Fellaini

How hard should Arsenal press for Marouane "better hair than Chamakh" Fellaini given how little David Moyes has worked to bring him in? He barely registers on trasnfermrkt's assessment of who's likely to go to Man U, and bwin rates such a move at 17/11 (bet £11, win £17) compared to 5/11 on moving to Arsenal. Moyes coached Fellaini during the big Belgian's entire time at Everton (from 2008 on) and surely knows his strengths and weaknesses. As he assesses Man U's current roster, he surely sees a geriatric (if still effective) cluster of Giggs (39), Scholes (38), and Fletcher (29), and a nursery school of Welbeck (22), Cleverley (23), Kagawa (24), and Powell (19).  I exaggerate a bit, of course, but between the two, Moyes must perceive the need for strengthening his midfield. Forwards like van Persie and Rooney (should he stay) will only get as many chances as their teammates can create for them. With a cadre of midfielders massing at the wrong ends of the experience bell-curve, why isn't there more activity or chatter around a move for Fellaini?

Perhaps it's just out of deference or respect to his former employers that he doesn't want to be seen raiding the coffers. Then again, if this were the case, Man U wouldn't be making a move for Leighton Baines. I couldn't find any evidence of friction between Moyes and Fellaini, and it's not like Man U is staying up nights trying to decide which bills to pay and which to put off.

It's enough to make me wonder. 

Just how much is Fellaini worth--financially, that is? I've suggested that getting Higuain at £22m might be a bit of a steal for a 25-year old player who is capable of scoring 20 league goals. Fellaini, also 25, rated at around £24, might be a bit overpriced. I'm not suggesting that Arsenal's mindset should be "if we can get Higuain at 22m, why should we pay 24m for another player?" Higuain addresses a high priority in a way that Fellaini may not. When certain players become available, you worry less about your own priorities and resources and take the plunge. I'm not sold on Fellaini as that kind of player. A quick look at what some Everton fans are saying here and there, sotto voce, is that selling Fellaini might be more important than keeping him because of whom they could sign on the proceeds. When a club's followers don't mind and might even favor selling a player, buyers should take note.

Nothing in what I've said so far is in itself a red-flag, but there is a certain "death by a thousand papercuts" element to what I'm saying. As much as Arsenal could use a tough, physical defensive midfielder, Fellaini strikes me more as burly and impulsive rather than tough in a tactical sense. According to whoscored.com's ratings, Fellaini does rate a 7.57 in the Prem. However, a deeper-dive might give rise to some concerns.

Check the graphic I've put together to compare his stats to those of the current Arsenal squad. Numbers in parentheses indicate how he'd compare to current Gunners. He'd instantly toughen up the defense, no doubt. However, at what cost? These numbers make the man look overly aggressive to the point of recklessness. His 2.6 fouls per game already outstrip Arteta's 2.2--but how many of Arteta's fouls might be tactically astute? Fellaini's eight yellow cards in 31 appearances may not have led to seeing red, but he did earn a three-match suspension for his head-butt on Shawcross. As much as that might warm the hearts of Gunners fans, taking Shawcross's bait shows a degree of hotheaded-ness that might pose too much of a risk.

To turn away from negatives and look for positives, we might find scant evidence to prove that Fellaini would be a wise signing. Yes, his 11 goals and five assists helped Everton, but they barely finished in 6th place, nine points behind Spurs and only two above Liverpool. Those 2.6 tackles per game would make him Arsenal's 3rd-best tackler (behind Arteta and Gibbs), but his pass-success rate is only 79%, which would make him one of the worst passers at Arsenal, ahead of only Giroud and the keepers. Putting him in the midfield, then, might dent Arsenal's possession-based approach--for as many tackles and interceptions that he might contribute, he might more turn the ball over many more times. Averaging 52.5 passes per game means that nearly a dozen passes per game go awry, and that's a degree of inaccuracy that suggests a lack of skill or attention on Fellaini's part.

He does strike me as a very good player, but not one worth £24m. Arsenal already have a very good roster of midfielders: Wilshere, Arteta, and Ramsey have done quite well for the club in the more-defensive roles they've each been asked to play, and Podolski and Walcott have spearheaded an attack good enough to score the 3rd-highest number of goals in the Prem.

At the end of this, then, what is Arsenal left to do? At first glance, Fellaini seems a hot commodity. However, a kick of the tires is almost enough to convince me to skip the test-drive.  Should Arsenal splash the cash?
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27 June 2013

Transfer odds round-up: Higuain to 75%, Cesar to 50%, Fellaini to 40%

Here's a quick little image I've put together to crunch a few numbers to help us keep track of where we are in our pursuit of various players. To keeps simple at my end, I'm only tracking the three who are currently most likely to sign for us at the moment, this includes Higuain, Cesar, and Fellaini. Grenier and Jovetic, for example, seem to be fading from our list of priorities or possibilities. Should they warrant closer monitoring, we can do that.

If you know of other sources of reliable information that might merit inclusion here, please let me know. I'm not interested in the latest rumor updates themselves. For example, the betting lines seem important because they come from companies whose existence depends on tracking likelihoods whereas The Sun, The Mirror, or Marca are selling headlines, a much-less reliable source as far as I'm concerned.

A quick apology is in order, I suppose, to Fellaini. I couldn't resist including his head-butt of Shawcross. For one, it unfairly suggests that he's a hothead. In his defense, it's Shawcross. More specifically, Shawcross was mugging him all game long. Second, he now appears smaller than Cesar or Higuain, which by no means implies that he is less important. If anything, he'd improve the squad more than Cesar might. (No offense, Julio. Hey, look at it this way: I haven't written about the fluffy Belgian, but I did write about you. BFFs, baby).

Last but not least, feel free to comment on the aesthetics. I'm a self-taught Photoshop rookie and am always open to suggestions, tips, or critiques. As always, thanks for visiting!

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26 June 2013

Squirrel that lives on Gonzalo's brother's ex-girlfriend's street confirms Higuain has signed with Arsenal

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: In a stunning tell-all interview, a local squirrel has been able to confirm that Gonzalo Higuain, the want-away Real Madrid striker, has signed a contract with Arsenal FC of London, England. The dramatic news comes as a source of tremendous relief and excitement to fans of the London-based club, who to this point have had to content themselves with a slow but steady trickle of unconfirmed leaks from people with no connection to the negotiations. Now, finally, has come incontrovertible proof from an indisputable source--members of the family Sciuridae are legendary, not just for their agility in stealing from bird-feeders and indecisiveness in the face of danger, but also for their importance to the summer transfer-window. This particular squirrel is known as being "in the know" even before the ink has dried on a contract.

While unable to speak English, Spanish, or Italian, the squirrel was able to communicate his insights through an elaborately choreographed series of dashes. He would first run about three meters, stop, lift one paw and stare in the direction from which he came; he would then suddenly dart back at an angle approximately 43 degrees from the first lap before freezing stock-still with all paws splayed. Then would follow a series of tail-flicks, each quicker than the last. Finally, the squirrel emitted a series of sounds that observers described as "like a bark that ends with a whistle and it looks like he was trying to barf."

Rodentologists explain that this performance translates roughly to "Gonzalo Higuain has signed for Arsenal. The deal will pay him more than £100,000 per week. Also, Mourinho is a wanker."

In more-serious news, here's a quick break-down of probabilities according transfermrkt:
  • Higuain to Arsenal: 74%
  • Higuain to Juventus: 47%
  • Tevez to Juventus: 77%
Interestingly, the probability of Tevez to Juventus is only a bit stronger than Higuain to Arsenal, and Tevez is apparently already in Italy for his medical. The stories suggest that Tevez will sign for £12m or so, which is less than half  of what City paid for him. This tells us a bit about how Juventus approaches the transfer-market--a budget-buy of Tevez, taking Bendtner, Anelka, and Llorente on loans (and then signing Llorente). In other words, not all that ambitious. We should be able to beat them to Higuain--although we may now have to keep an eye on Man City. I don't think they need or want another striker when they have Dzeko and Aguero. Then again, when you have the word "Sheikh" in front of your name, the concept of "needs" and "wants" are mere trifles. Let's just get Higuain. I was almost more comfortable when it was Juventus we had to beat.

When will Higuain sign?

Poll update (10am CST): 43% of voters believe that Higuain's signing could be announced by the end of the week, up from 31% before the news of the Serie A scandal, and 35% believe it could happen by next Friday, up from 21%. 78% of all voters, then, (and almost all of them since the scandal broke) are feeling pretty good. Does Tevez's move throw a spanner in the works, though? I've added the poll here in case you want to cast (or change) a vote.

25 June 2013

Why should Gonzalo sign with Arsenal instead of Juventus?

Our continuing series of Photoshop mis-adventures yields this info-graphic, meant to lay bare once and for all why Gonzalo Higuain should once and for all sign with Arsenal. Remember: we make no claims to artistry or fact, only to time frittered away.

Tell Higuain that Juventus was raided by Italian police

According to a story in The Independent, Italian police have raided the offices of 41 football clubs in Italy, including 18 from Serie A such as Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, Lazio, Napoli, and Udinese, the top six finishers this past season and the entire cabal of qualifiers for European competions next year. The warrants "list conspiracy and money laundering, as well as international tax evasion and false invoicing" and allege that "clubs have evaded tax payments by listing bogus costs connected to non-existent players' contract negotiations". Player contracts were among the documents seized. The full story is here (although I've pretty well covered by this point).

If that doesn't tip the scales further in our favor, I don't know what else will. A few hours ago, Juventus could rightly point out to la Pipita that they are the champions of Serie A and can offer the very likely prospect of repeating next year. I don't know how long the investigation will drag out, what if anything Juventus might be found guilty of, and what sanctions would come down, but the last time this kind of stuff happened in 2011-12, teams had points deducted for the following season, had to pay fines, some were relegated to lower tiers, and players were banned for up to five years.

Whatever doubts Higuain may have had about where to go should all but disappear. Between this and the naming of Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid's manager, I'd say our chances of finally getting Higuain to sign have spiked dramatically. Transfermrkt, to whom I turn for odds, has him at a 72% chance of signing for Arsenal and 47% for Juventus. Not enough? Go to betvictor, the only salon still fielding bets for Higuain anywhere, and of you bet  £10 on him signing with Arsenal, you'll get  £10.50. Bet on him going to Juventus, and you'll win  £90. In other words, it's nearly nine times more likely, according to betvictor, that Higuain will sign with Arsenal.

When will Higuain sign?

In a previous post, 52% of voters suggested that Higuain's signature would be announced by June 28th. I've re-added the poll here for those curious to cast a ballot in the wake of the Serie A scandal. Juve may still be able to talk of scudetto, but we can simply whisper "scandal". Yes, everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but it's awfully hard to swim in water without getting wet. 41 clubs have been targeted. This isn't a few bad apples playing fast and loose; it appears systemic. Those famed black-and-white kits of the bianconeri might earn a new nickname--maybe the carcerato, or "inmate". I don't mean to suggest that any Juve players are actually involved; more likely, they're unwitting pawns in a larger game.

Far be it from me to wish ill on a competitor, but actions have consequences. If it turns out that Juventus or other clubs in Italy have actually done what they're alleged to have done, the contrast between that kind of financial skulduggery and our history of financial prudery (so prude as to enrage factions of our own fan-base) could not be more striking. I was going to make a pun on "striking" but just couldn't bring myself to it.

Long story short, Gonzalo, you know what to do. 

24 June 2013

Higuain and the Tortoise: Zeno's Paradox rules the transfer market

Each passing day seems to bring us one step closer to signing Gonzalo Higuain, but, like Zeno's paradox "Achilles and the Tortoise", it seems we'll never actually get there. For those unfamiliar, Zeno was a Greek philosopher from around 450 BCE. He told a story in
which a tortoise challenged Achilles, the great war-hero, to a race. On the face of it, the race seems simple: of course, a hero like Achilles could outrun a tortoise. However, as the tortoise describes it, he gets a ten-meter head-start. In the time it takes Achilles to cover those ten meters, the tortoise will perhaps advance one meter. Then, in the time it takes Achilles to cover that one meter, the tortoise will advance 100cm. In the time Achilles takes to cover 100cm, the tortoise advances 10cm. The race continues like this, in an infinite number of steps, and Achilles never catches the turtle, who is always some shrinking, microscopic distance out of reach, always receding just beyond our reach...

Of course, it's an exercise in logic in which the conclusion follows from the premises but doesn't match reality. Races don't occur in a series of smaller and smaller steps (10m, then 1m, then 100cm...) and Achilles would, in real life, overtake the tortoise at the 11th meter and leave him in the dust. However, as I awake each day and see another litany of headlines linking us to Arsenal, the paradox came to mind. In the paradox, we are Achilles and Higuain (or his signature) is the tortoise. The interminable process and its inexorable conclusion seem to involve an infinite number of steps: Higuain wants out. We express interest. Juve expresses interest. We make an offer. Higuain seems open to it. Real Madrid balks. We offer. Real asks Juve to ante up. Higuain's father comments. Real won't make any deals until they bring in a manager. Higuain agrees to "personal terms." Real denies anything. Arsenal doesn't comment. Juve approaches again. Their bid isn't enough. Someone tweets that it's a done-deal. Someone else tweets to Higuain to welcome him to London. The betting parlors close the line on Higuain to Arsenal. Chelsea express interest. Dick Law travels to Madrid. Higuain's dad says it's "at an advanced stage". Higuain reportedly goes in for a physical.

The process, which seems to stretch back to antediluvian times, seems to have as many steps as Zeno's paradox. It seems we'll never catch up to Higuain. We pursue closer and closer, yet he remains tantalizingly out of reach, just beyond our oustretched hands. The happy news is that the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise is an abstract exercise in logic that doesn't apply to reality. Here's hoping that the same holds true in the paradox of Arsenal and el Pipita and we do finally close the gap and seal the deal.

When will Higuain's signature be official?

You make the call: when, if ever, will we read the official news that Higuain has signed? (American voters, I don't think they celebrate the 4th of July in England. July 5th is therefore a normal business-day over there).

Remember these are legally binding votes that I must report to the board to inform them of the will of the fans, so vote judiciously. No, not really. About the reporting, that is. Sorry.

More seriously, if we do see Higuain's signature, would this alone be enough to propel us into Prem League contention, or would we need to add somone else? Is Fellaini the real deal? Is Rooney worth the trouble? Your thoughts below the fold...

23 June 2013

Center-back Review: still room for Vermaelen?

Building from the back, I'm continuing a retrospective look at each position and will this time around scrutinize Arsenal's center-backs. With Sebastien Squillaci out of contract and Johan Djourou's loan to Hannover looking like it will continue into the next season, we are currently
looking at going into the 2013-14 season with three center-backs: Kosciely, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen. On one hand, this was enough to largely see us through without much trouble; on the other, it leaves us one injury away from having only two players available. In addition to the insurance a fourth center back might bring us, it would help to add a bit more competition for the starting roles to keep everyone on their toes. Whether this means Arsenal should sign another center-back, such as Swansea's Ashley Williams, is a question to keep in mind.

Using whoscored.com's stats, then, let's look back at how those three center backs performed. We're again using American high school letter-grades, which might bear a quick summary:
  • A= superb. Exceeds expectations and rarely if ever falters. Consistent excellence.
  • B= very good. Meets or exceeds expectations with occasional but moderate mistakes.
  • C= average/tolerable. Meets most expectations, falls short of a few, and commits mistakes of varying degrees of severity but rarely serious.
  • D= poor. Struggles to meet many expectations and falls short of most of them. Mistakes tend to outnumber successes and are often serious. Occasional patches of quality.
  • F= Fails to perform to any acceptable level. Frequent and serious mistakes. Moments or short stretches of decent performance are not enough to dispel serious doubts about the player's abilities.
Thomas Vermaelen: D+
  • whoscored rating: 6.84
  • Appearances: 25 (4)
  • Tackles per game: 1.5
  • Interceptions per game: 2.1
  • Clearances per game: 4.9
  • Clean sheets: 7
  • 15W, 3D, 11L
It's telling that the first image that comes to mind for many Arsenal fans have when they think back over Vermaelen's season is the flubbed clearance that allowed van Persie to score. Whether this is fair or not is a separate debate for the ethicists. The symbolism is indelible, and it does seem to represent his season on the whole. More damning to him, perhaps, is how well the defense played over the last ten or eleven games without him. Of course, much has been made of the Kos-Per partnership, but the improved defensive effort is just as attributable to the emergence of Ramsey and his partnership with Arteta, and an improved teamwide effort overall. It's possible that a strong partnership between Vermaelen and Mertesacker could have emerged in these circumstances. Withott slighting Koscielny, he flourished both through his own efforts as well as those of the team as a whole, so it's only fair to suggest that Vermaelen might have done the same.

Back to Vermaelen, then, let's dismiss the apparent Effect of the Armband. He co-captains the Belgian team quite well enough that the pressure of captaining Arsenal should not be too much to bear. It was a factor to some degree, but it alone is not enough to explain his drop in form. Instead, what we seem to have witnessed is a confluence of factors that, under the microscope of the captaincy and a slow start to the season, grew larger than they might have otherwise. Namely, some of his long-held flaws were more noticeable--concentration, discipline, positioning, etc.--that might have been tolerable under a non-captain but are much less-so for the captain himself. More grievous (to me) than the flub against Man U was poor communication, such as that between him and Monreal against Spurs at White Hart Lane in March: it's one thing to try but fail (as Vermaelen did against Man U); it's quite another to be so unaware of a teammate (especially one new to the team and struggling to learn the language) or an opponent's whereabouts.

Having said all of this, I still firmly believe that he will come back next year stronger and more-focused, ready to challenge for a starting role, even if the captain's armband goes to someone else along the way.

Per Mertesacker: C+
  • whoscored rating: 6.92
  • Appearances: 33 (1)
  • Tackles per game: 1
  • Interceptions per game: 1.5
  • Clearances per game: 5.1
  • Clean sheets: 16
  • 22W, 9D, 9L
I have to admit that I'm still not sold on Mertesacker. I do believe him to be a very good player, but it's perhaps telling that his rating is only 0.08 points higher than Vermaelen; he is lauded as being among the Prem's best center-backs while Vermaelen is lampooned. Take away one Vermaelen error, and we might be having a very different discussion. I'll say one thing for Mertesacker that I can't say for Vermaelen: he does know his limits and does his best to play within them. He does make up for his lack of pace (and let's be frank: "lack" is a gentle word to use) with astute positioning. However, there are times when even this is not enough, as when Sagna gifted a pass to van Persie at the Emirates. Mertesacker tracked back, but did so by backpedaling towards the center of the penalty area, which forced Sagna to recover but having to tackle van Persie from 6-8 yards from the goal box. Had Mertesacker applied more-direct pressure to van Persie, Sagna may not have had to act to rashly. 

This is just one example, of course, but it is representative of the larger issue: Mertesacker does not have the pace to deal with counter-attacks. This of course makes for a poor partnership with Vermaelen, who tends to press too far forward, but it also inhibits the ability of Koscielny or of the left and right backs to join the attack. I respect his solidity and intelligence for the game, but I worry that this limitation is one that will ultimately cost the team more than it has to this point. Further, it's an issue that will only grow over time. He's 28, and it's unlikely that he'll somehow get faster with age. I'm not willing to go so far as to suggest that Arsenal look to sell him this summer, but tough questions and their answers rarely get easier over time. Let's not forget that  he's committed a few errors himself, such as his take-down against West Brom that led to a goal.

He's a nice player and has done well for the club, so I apologize for the shabby treatment I've given him. However, it's my doubts regarding Mertesacker more than my doubts regarding Vermaelen that I find myself wondering about signing another center-back.

Laurent Koscielny: B-
  • whoscored rating: 6.99
  • Appearances: 25 (5)
  • Tackles per game: 1.6
  • Interceptions per game: 1.8
  • Clearances per game: 5.6
  • Clean sheets: 11
  • 19W, 5D, 4L
Here, arguably, is where statistics only tell part of the story. If you believe them, Koscielny is only marginally better than Mertesacker, who himself is infinitesimally better than Vermaelen. However, taking a look at the bigger picture suggests that Koscielny is far and away Arsenal's best center-back. He falls somewhere between Vermaelen's brashness and Mertesacker's conservatism: he joins the attack with aplomb but tracks back and anchors the defense, showing range and positioning to rival the best in the Prem. If his statistics suffer, it may be for falling between the two, losing points for aggressiveness compared to Vermaelen and losing points for stability compared to Mertesacker. 

Like the other two, he has been found guilty of a few errors, such as his embrace of Dzeko in January, but it's arresting to see that a defender managed to claim three MotM awards from whoscored, a designation usually reserved for attackers who win games with timely goals. That Koscielny joined those ranks while also saving the team's hash on more than one occasion should surely earn him more attention than he's gotten. Other teams, notably Bayern and Barca, have sniffed around, but it would be a sore mistake to let him leave under almost any terms. If we were to set aside some of his early and shakier performances, he might just lead the discussion for the Prem's best center-backs. Limiting ourselves to those who play for Arsenal, he leads the way with those MotM awards (3) and games with a rating of 8.0 or higher (3). 

Between the three of them, therefore, Koscielny seems to emerge as the best of the bunch, possessing the aggressiveness of Vermaelen without incurring the risk, understanding limitations like Mertesacker without letting them inhibit him. If there's a center-back around whom to build the defense, it is almost certainly Koscielny.

What does this mean for the summer transfer-window? A fourth center-back would be useful under the best of circumstances. Arsenal has been frequently linked with Swansea's Ashley Williams, but it remains to be seen whether he adds more than he subtracts after just one season in the Prem, and one that was a bit blessed by kismet at that. 

Whom should Arsenal try to sign?

As it stands, Arsenal go into 2013-14 with an enviable set of center-backs that did, after all, lead a defense that only conceded 37 league goals, second-best in the Prem. A shrewd addition to that group would bode well for the upcoming season: competition to keep all-involved on their toes, leading to the best pairings available. Most of the headlines have focused on more-forward thinking options such as Higuain, Jovetic, or Fellaini, but adding one more center-back might be just as crucial to Arsenal's aspirations in the upcoming year.

What do you think? Whom should Arsenal consider signing this summer to burnish the defense?