Arsenal have made a number of exciting signings so far this summer, but after selling captain Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona, they are believed to be in the market for another centre-back.
One of their new arrivals, Calum Chambers broke into the Southampton side as a right-back last season, but the 19-year-old has played with real composure and assurance in central defence during his early displays for the Gunners.
Despite that, Arsenal still look short of options in that area, as Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are the only established centre-backs at the club. Nacho Monreal filled in during pre-season, and Ignasi Miquel remains at the club, but neither appear to be a long-term solution.
The club’s first-choice target appears to be Olympiakos defender Kostas Manolas, who impressed in the Champions League last season, and for Greece at the World Cup. Juventus are also tracking the 23-year-old, but the Gunners appear to be favourites for his signature. Should the Premier League club press ahead with a move for him?
Mertesacker and Koscielny are Arsene Wenger’s first-choice central defensive partnership, and any new arrival is unlikely to break up that pairing immediately. Arsenal have increased competition in several areas this summer, in the belief it will inspire their players to produce their best, and Manolas’ presence would keep the established pair on their toes. He is still young, and he will improve with experience, but he is good enough right now to challenge them for a place in the starting eleven.
In the Champions League last season, the Greece international won more tackles per 90 minutes than both Mertesacker and Koscielny did in their league appearances. While that may be expected, as Olympiakos would have to defend more than Arsenal in most games, Manolas actually won a higher percentage of his duels than either of the Arsenal defenders.
Manolas stands at 1.86m tall, and he significantly outperforms Koscielny in the air. While Mertesacker’s aerial dominance is unmatched in the Comparison Matrix above, the stats suggest that Manolas would be able to handle the long ball tactics employed by some Premier League sides.
Mertesacker and Koscielny work so well as a partnership because they help to negate each other’s weaknesses. Mertesacker tends to play deeper than the France international, which means his lack of pace is rarely exposed. Koscielny is more proactive and likes to attack danger head-on, but if he gets caught out then Mertesacker is still there as an insurance policy.
When Vermaelen played last year, that balance was skewed and the team never looked as confident defensively. He was too similar to Koscielny to work with him, and his impetuous nature could leave Mertesacker exposed. Manolas defends with fierce commitment, but he is also an impressive reader of the game. Statistically, he falls somewhere between Koscielny and Mertesacker, which makes him an ideal signing for the Gunners.
His defensive displays at the World Cup were also very impressive. He played in every minute of Greece’s games in Brazil, and he won 75% of his tackles, and 71% of his aerial duels during the tournament.
It’s clear that Manolas can defend, but there are question marks over whether he is good enough on the ball to fit into Arsenal’s possession-based style. Manolas plays for sides that primarily look to contain the opposition at club and international level, and he would be much more heavily involved in the build-up at Arsenal.
Opposition sides rarely close down Arsenal’s centre-backs as they look to close off their passing options instead, and that means that the defender’s have to be sharp and precise with their use of the ball. Manolas’ pass accuracy is significantly lower than either of Mertesacker and Koscielny, and he would have to step up in this regard if he moves to the Emirates. A mitigating factor is that he played many long passes for Olympiakos, while Arsenal defenders rarely hit those type of passes.
An area that Arsenal could do better in is set pieces, and Manolas would help defensively and offensively. His height and aerial prowess allows him to deal with balls into the box, and he made more clearances per 90 than either of the Arsenal players last season. The 23-year-old is also a handful to contain at the other end of the pitch, and he scored two goals in eight Champions League appearances.
Olympiakos are believed to be willing to part with Manolas for a fee of £8 million, and when you consider Thomas Vermaelen went for £15 million, that represents very good value for a very exciting young defender. If he arrived at Arsenal, he would be a squad player at first, but he has the potential to establish himself as a key member of Arsene Wenger’s side.
Topics: Kostas Manolas
Related Teams: Arsenal