After Arsenal lost out to north London rivals Tottenham in the derby on Sunday, much has been made of the Gunners’ central defensive partnership. With Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon scoring virtually identical goals within the space of two minutes, the Emirates side’s backline has come under criticism. Swansea captain Ashley Williams is being linked with a move to Arsenal in the press to plug the apparent void, but is the Welsh defender the answer?
On Sunday Arsene Wenger opted to partner Per Mertesacker with Thomas Vermaelen in the heart of his backline. Both players have come in for criticism over their tenures in north London, and the defending for Spurs’ two goals was very basic to say the least. With Laurent Koscielny on the bench and seemingly not a more robust option than the previously mentioned duo, most Gunners fans would welcome a new signing at the back in the summer.
Mertesacker has struggled since his move from Werder Bremen to the Premier League, with clumsy touches and a lack of genuine pace being exposed in big games. Vermaelen, despite excellent performances at times and the versatility to play at full-back also, is too inconsistent and not the leader that Arsenal need.
The pair were largely disorganised against Tottenham, with captain Vermaelen failing to stand up and command his back four. The relatively inexperienced Carl Jenkinson and new signing Nacho Monreal needed guidance, which was not forthcoming. For all his technical abilities, the Belgian stopper seemingly lacks the authority of great Arsenal defenders of old such as Tony Adams, Steve Bould or Martin Keown.
In that respect, Williams could well fill the void. The Swansea man has been the defensive figurehead of the Liberty Stadium side’s rise to prominence in the Premier League, and has played a key role in thwarting improved attacking opponents at the top level. He commands the respect of his teammates, is vocal and has been one of Swansea’s most consistent performers since their promotion from the Championship.
However, with the gap between Arsenal and the top sides appearing to grow year-on-year, the Emirates faithful will be crying out for a big-name signing to really prove that the club are eager to get back in the Premier League title reckoning. With no disrespect to Williams, who is a competent and able performer at this level, he is not a Nemanja Vidic, Vincent Kompany or John Terry.
All over the park Arsenal lack leaders, with Jack Wilshere the only real dominant force in their team. The massively successful Arsenal teams of old were built around strong defensive characters, which are lacking in the modern day team. One has to question whether the signing of Ashley Williams is going to help the Gunners take the next step in their progression, and whether he is any better than the players that Arsenal already have.