Arsenal have always found luck with getting top strikers wherever and whenever but the same can not be said of their defence. In recent years, the Gunners have witnessed major disappointments all hinging on one plain fact – a porous backline. And now, the North London side must set their sights on Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly when the transfer market reopens, according to former midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong.
Unai Emery’s men have had a mixed start to the 2019-20 campaign, recording three victories along with two draws and a defeat in the Premier League.
The Gunners sit fourth in the table ahead of Monday’s clash with Manchester United, but they have looked extremely vulnerable at the back, conceding 10 goals in total. And as it stands only four sides in Chelsea, Norwich, Wolves and Watford have conceded more goals than Arsenal so far ( via Skysports).
David Luiz has failed to convince in the heart of the defence since his £8m switch from Chelsea while the likes of Sokratis and Sead Kolasinac continue to underwhelm.
A 3-1 defeat at Liverpool in August showed just how far away Arsenal are in terms of mounting a genuine title challenge, with Frimpong adamant that changes must be made.
The Ghanaian, who played at the Emirates Stadium between 2011 and 2014, has urged Emery to target Napoli’s Koulibaly in order to shore up the defence.
While being quizzed on how Arsenal have fallen in recent times, Frimpong told Meta Ratings: “Pretty far, to be honest.
“I watched the game against Watford and it wasn’t good. Our defence is certainly weaker, when you compare it to Liverpool or Man City.
“David Luiz has been making some mistakes, and in my opinion, there’s little difference between Luiz and Mustafi; I would rather see Callum Chambers selected.
“They need to be buying better defenders, like Koulibaly, who can make a big impact on Arsenal’s team.”
When asked if a player like Koulibaly could help ensure the Gunners qualify for next season’s Champions League, Frimpong responded:
“Yes, a Koulibaly!
“They have to improve the defence to challenge.”
Koulibaly has spent the last five years of his career in Naples, emerging as one of the most highly-rated defenders in European football.
It’s no wonder the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have all been linked with the 28-year-old in the past, while Barcelona are reportedly preparing to launch a bid for his services in January.
With that in mind let’s take a potential look at how he might be much of an upgrade to the Gunners current options. Sokratis Papasthatopoulos will be used as the yardstick being the most consistent centre-back for Arsenal throughout last season.
Koulibaly was a key figure in a Napoli side that finished second and conceded a mere 36 goals in 38 games last season (via Skysports). Only Juventus and Inter Milan had better defensive records in the Serie A. While Sokratis was part of an Arsenal side that finished fifth and conceded 51 goals in the process (via Skysports). From a defensive perspective, the likes of Leicester City, Wolves and Everton conceded fewer goals than the Gunners (which shouldn’t be heard of for a club of their status).
From a personal perspective, Koulibaly made 1.7 tackles, 1.1 interceptions and 0.9 blocks per 90 minutes (via Whoscored), which leaves him slightly higher than Sokratis at 1.6 tackles, 0.7 interceptions and 0.6 blocks per 90 minutes via the same source.
However, the Napoli man was more of a constant for his side featuring in 35 appearances (3134 minutes) compared to Sokratis’ 25 appearances (2199 minutes). That kind of consistency from Koulibaly is defintely what Arsenal need and it’s why he’ll be a more “stable” and reliable option for the Gunners to consider.
Not much of a yardstick to judge defenders with but yet again Koulibaly slightly comes out on top in this regard. Last season, the Senegalese managed two goals and two assists which narrowly edges out Sokratis who contributed to his side with one goal and two assists (via Whoscored).
The Napoli man did manage one dribble per game which is also better than that of Sokratis at 0.2 dribbles per game.
One would naturally expect Sokratis to top this aspect as he plays under a coach with a serious philosophy of playing out from the back – one that has cost the Gunners far too many times. But what about the right candidate playing under the right philosophy? It could be the beginning of a good blend and harmony in defence for Arsenal – something they’ve lacked for ages now.
With regards to passing abilities, Koulibaly and Sokratis are both even at 0.2 key passes per 90 minutes. However, the Napoli man had an average of 71.9 passes per 90 with a pass accuracy of 88.7%. Sokratis might have managed a slightly better pass accuracy at 89.4% but it becomes disappointing when you further realize he made a far less 55.5 passes per 90 minutes (via Whoscored).
Explaining the fact that the Napoli man is calmer and assured on the ball and in a system that involves playing from the back, he will indeed flourish.
With both players standing at 6′ 1″ as per Transfermarkt, It’s no surprise they both have similar statistics of 2.2 aerial duels won per game (via Whoscored). However, with the Senegalese boasting a more bulky build and a robust figure, his all-round physicality ultimately gives him an edge in terms of winning a tackle naturally.
Far too many times Sokratis has been guilty of making “unnecessary” tackles that have put his side and himself in danger. Koulibaly would sort that issue, should he come to the Emirates and could inspire a “Van-Dijk” esque impact in the Gunners backline.
It doesn’t need to be emphasized that Arsenal will be getting a highly-rated defender and one of the best in the business should they get their hands on Koulibaly. Surely, the idea of signing Koulibaly is one that seems quite lucrative. However, Arsenal and Unai Emery would have to fight off the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and loads of European clubs who have all also shown interest in the Napoli centre back.