If Arsenal are serious about sticking with a three-man defence they would be wise to go all-in on persuading Virgil Van Dijk to join them this summer.
The big Dutchman ticks just about every box, and would absolutely be my priority signing.
In fact I’m hoping the charm offensive has already begun.
There will always be more excitement generated by the prospect of spending serious cash on a forward player, but scoring goals isn’t a pressing issue for Arsenal.
OK, it will help on that front if Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil renew their contracts, but even if they don’t, creativity and attacking output is rarely a massive concern in N5.
Right now, it’s at the other end of the pitch and what they do without the ball (just like FA Cup semi-final opponents Manchester City) where the Gunners must focus urgent attention.
To compete with the likes of Chelsea and Spurs, an upgrade in the quality of their defensive personnel is a necessity - and Southampton’s talisman would fit the bill perfectly at the heart of a revamped rearguard.
But for injury curtailing his campaign prematurely, the Saints star would’ve been a shoo-in for the PFA Team of the Year.
He is young but battle hardened, physically imposing, a calm leader, and outstanding on the ball.
All those traits would be very welcome at Emirates Stadium, but in the middle of a back three it’s the latter that could be especially useful.
Within that shape wingbacks hug the touchline, so it helps enormously to have a ball-playing defender that’s capable of picking them out with an early, accurate 40-yard pass that can instantly turn defence into attack.
With the pitch stretched by this width, the system also offers defenders the chance to clip more balls into front men too, providing they’re confident enough in their technique to do it.
Right now the Gunners don’t have anyone who stands out as being super-comfortable with that type of distribution, but Van Dijk would stick his hand up and accept the challenge.
Personally, I was pleased to see Arsene Wenger experiment with a 3-4-2-1 on Monday night at the Riverside.
While there were natural teething problems - highlighted by the breakaway goal conceded - the presence of an extra central defender was by and large a reassuring sight.
Arsenal’s two centre-backs have been left exposed too often this term, dragged into wide areas when full backs have been caught up field, so this fresh formation offered obvious stability; safety by numbers.
With practice and good coaching there’s no reason why Arsenal can’t thrive in that formation.
However, one or two other positions would also need strengthening to make it click.
The addition of a quality left wingback seems inevitable (with Schalke’s Sead Kolasinac heavily linked) and an athletic, imposing central midfielder would also make a significant difference.
If you’re going to deploy a two-man central midfield, the duo has to be mobile and defensively savvy. Take a look at Spurs who have Dembele and Dier (or Wanyama), and Chelsea, who boast Kante and Matic.
Those pairings lay an aggressive platform for the gifted performers around them to shine. The Arsenal side has lacked that type of security this term.
In a 3-4-2-1 central midfielders must be able shift wide when opponents create 2v1s, and it also helps when one of them drops into the middle of the backline if a wide defender’s been pulled to the touchline.
Athleticism and a nose for danger are must-have ingredients. It’s an area the Gunners will almost certainly be looking to bolster.
There is though, one obvious sticking point with the Van Dijk to Arsenal rumour that surfaced in today’s press.
Until we know the club’s plans for the managerial position, I suspect it will be near on impossible to get any contract renewal, or permanent transfer finalized.
Players want to know who’s in charge. They need to know.
It’s obvious, but the sooner Arsenal make their intentions public, the sooner they can crack on with the squad rebuild.
There will be stiff competition for his signature, but even if he costs silly money Virgil Van Dijk would be at the very top of my summer wish list.
He’s a player that would instantly improve Arsenal in the area they need most.