Arsenal fans will have been alarmed this morning by reports from their training camp in California. On the club’s social media channels, Francis Coquelin has been boasting of playing at centre-back in their pre-season practise sessions. The stories get even more alarming than that — goalkeeper David Ospina has been spotted training as an outfield player.
The moves are a response to a lack of defenders on the American tour. Laurent Koscielny is not yet back from his holidays after Euro 2016, while the Gunners have been hit by the news that Per Mertesacker is likely to miss several months with a knee ligament injury. With Gabriel only just recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, that has left youngsters Calum Chambers, Krystian Bielik and Rob Holding as the only centre-halves available to train.
Dropping Coquelin in to cover makes sense. Arsene Wenger has experienced some success with converting holding midfielders to centre-half—both Gilberto Silva and Alex Song showed they were able to play there in relative comfort. It’s possible he may even turn out in the new role in a couple of friendlies as Arsenal wait for more established defenders to return to action.
However, Arsenal fans despairing at Wenger’s decision to opt for another ‘internal solution’ are certainly somewhat premature. It’s important to stress that this is a temporary solution — it’s highly unlikely that Coquelin will be considered as a serious option once the competitive campaign begins.
Wenger has already made clear that he intends to add an experienced defender in this transfer window. In the light of Mertesacker’s injury, he told the club’s official website: “We have to look for an option to get a bit more experience. We will see some of our young centre backs on Thursday as well. With Per being out, we are a bit short on the experience front and we are looking to bring somebody in”. Wenger’s scouts will now be scouring the continent to find a replacement for the giant German.
The name most commonly being linked is that of Mertesacker’s countryman Shkodran Mustafi. The Germany international, who was on Everton’s books as a youngster, has been a stalwart of the Valencia team since 2014. Intriguingly, Mustafi can also fill in at right-back. With Mathieu Debuchy almost certain to leave the club in this window, he could help provide some much-need cover in that position too.
The impatience of the Arsenal fans is understandable. Having already seen very public bids for Jamie Vardy and Alexandre Lacazette fail for varying reasons, concerns are mounting about the club’s ability to get the requisite business done in this window. However, Wenger is insistent that the market will only real come to life in the final fortnight of the window. As frustrating as it is that certain moves have not come off, supporters can at least be encouraged by the fact that Arsenal are actively pursuing their targets.
The need for a new centre-back puts another item on the agenda. There is little over a month to go in the transfer window, and Arsenal seem set for a busier period than most clubs. There’s plenty of business left to do. However, a player being used out of position in a training exercise is no real cause for alarm. Arsenal will be stronger when the Premier League season kicks off—and they ought to be stronger still by the end of the window.