It seems fairly logical to assume that Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s first-choice centre back. He started 33 Premier League matches for the Gunners this season, which was more than both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista.
The Gunners ended the campaign having conceded 36 goals, which was only two more than meanest rearguard in the top-flight Manchester United shipped. However, Arsenal’s defensive record on the road brought some cause for concern.
They let in two goals or more in nine of their 19 road trips and turning some of their seven draws in away fixtures into victories would have obviously seen them lay down a stronger title challenge to Leicester.
Adding more depth in central defence appears to be one of Arsene Wenger’s priorities this summer, with Arsenal currently priced at 6/1 to be crowned 2016/17 Premier League champions.
Bayern Munich’s Mehdi Benatia is among the first defenders to be linked with a move to the Emirates.
Benatia hasn’t really made the impact at Bayern many would have expected upon his arrival from Roma, failing to start more than 13 Bundesliga matches in any of his two campaigns in Germany.
However, at his best, the 29-year-old is the all-round defender that would conceivably be the ideal partner for Koscielny at Arsenal.
Koscielny has worked best in tandem with Mertesacker to date, with the duo’s contrasting strengths balancing out well.
Mertesacker’s strengths are in his positioning, distribution and reading of the game, while he severely lacks in pace. Yet, this season despite his height, the German competed for fewer headers than Koscielny and Gabriel, won fewer tackles, made fewer interceptions, fewer clearances and blocks.
As for Gabriel, his attributes are much similar to those of Koscielny, which doesn’t tend to create a good partnership. Both prioritise pace over positioning, while the Brazilian can be rash in the tackle and lack the appropriate distribution skills to allow the Gunners to build from the back. He played the fewest passes of the trio in the Premier League this season.
Benatia does somewhat merge the skills of Mertesacker and Gabriel in terms of being happy competing in the air, having enough pace to recover if getting dragged into the channels or higher up the pitch, bringing the ball out of defence and launching attacks consistently by feeding possession into midfield.
Bayern have given Benatia a first taste of winning major trophies and he looks exactly the type of all-round central defender that can make Arsenal more watertight and resilient, both in the Premier League and Europe.