It’s been 16 years since Arsenal went through a complete Premier League campaign unbeaten, and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since.
Arsene Wenger has departed the scene – his final years a downward spiral into extinction, while Unai Emery has already been and gone.
A club legend, Mikel Arteta has taken the reigns and will presumably be given more time than his predecessor to sort out what is a veritable mess of an Arsenal squad. Indeed, he is expected to enjoy a long reign at the helm, and in the ‘Next Premier League Manager to Leave’ market, Arteta is priced as long as 100/1 – for context, Pep Guardiola was 25/1 at the time of writing.
There are some interesting youngsters coming through, and the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack, but when you are conceding more than a goal per game on average – as the Gunners have been in 2019/20 – then that makes the job of the Gabon hitman all the harder.
Arteta’s defensive resources are laughable, really, for a side that used to be the best in the land. Sokratis? David Luiz? Chambers? Mustafi? How has it come to this for a club who once took great pride in their ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ chant?
There will surely be a significant overhaul in defence this summer, and there has to be – Arsenal are now considered long shots in the betting on the Premier League to finish inside the top four, which is a startling fall from grace for a club that once made history for their brilliance.
The various transfer betting markets have priced the Gunners up as a strong contender to sign a number of hot prospects across Europe, but none have been more heavily linked with a move to London than Dayot Upamecano, an uncompromising central defender who would certainly bring strength and guile to the Arsenal backline.
But is he the man to solve the Gunners’ defensive crisis?
Beauty and the Beast
The modern-day central defender has to be able to perform his basic functions of marking, tackling, heading and using any body part possible to propel the ball away from danger.
But there is the creative side to the role too. In the classic ‘total football’ teams of the Netherlands and Barcelona, a defensive midfielder would drop into defence to pick up the ball – acting as a playmaker to bring more advanced players into the game.
However, in this brave new world, it is the defender himself who is tasked with bringing the ball out and breaking the opposition’s lines – particularly at a cosmopolitan outfit like Arsenal.
That is a skill that Dayot Upamecano has in abundance, and his passing range is such that he can even be trusted to launch long-range balls to spark counter attacks – a tactic that RB Leipzig use with aplomb.
The Red Bull franchise are improving year by year, but if they lose Timo Werner this summer, they will surely go backwards – that will see them fall even further behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the pecking order and in most German Bundesliga tips too.
There is the beast to go with the 21-year-old’s beauty too, and that basic defensive competence is something that the Gunners have been lacking in for a number of years now. Upamecano is an old-fashioned central defender in the sense that he makes 3.20 clearances per 90 minutes, 2.00 tackles and 1.50 clearances – he is brave and uncompromising.
One of the most sought-after talents in football, Dayot Upamecano has the world at his feet. It is highly unlikely that he will remain at RB Leipzig for much longer, and while Bayern Munich are the favourites to land his signature, the bookmakers are also hinting that Arsenal are very much in the hunt.
And how Arteta could use a player like him heading into the 2020/21 campaign…