Arsenal legend Martin Keown has suggested Mikel Arteta should try using two left-footed centre-halves in Gabriel Magalhaes and Pablo Mari alongside one another in a move that could save the club millions by sparing them from needing to sign a new starting defender.
The Gunners are seeking to establish a new long-term centre-back partnership on which the foundations of their Premier League revival can be built.
Arsenal sit 10th in England’s top-flight this term and while their record of 37 goals conceded in 33 games is not overwhelmingly poor, they are still too frail and vulnerable to individual errors.
The criticism has long been aimed at Arsenal that they lack a solid backbone, the kind that they had when they last won the league back in 2004.
Arteta’s charges have lost 13 games in the league this term, as many matches as they have won, and look set to miss out on European football altogether next season unless they win the Europa League.
Arsenal got off to a disappointing start in that regard away at Unai Emery’s Villarreal on Thursday night, losing 2-1 with Dani Ceballos and Etienne Capoue sent off for either side in the second half.
Mari and Rob Holding lined up alongside one another, as they did in the league defeat to Everton, but Arsenal conceded inside just five minutes to Manu Trigueros at Estadio de la Ceramica and Raul Albiol doubled the lead after 30 minutes.
Keown, an iconic former Gunners centre-back himself, thinks summer signing Gabriel – recruited from Lille for £22million last summer – is the individual with the most talent among Arteta’s options although he was on the bench in Spain.
And the Invincibles defender would like to see Arsenal try lining up with both Gabriel and Mari at the back, as he expects David Luiz to leave at the end of his contract this summer.
Discussing Mari on BT Sport, Keown said: “He’s not been available for large periods. Seventy-one games, I think he’s only played in 16 of those in that period.
“I think he’s solid. I think they paid £7m for him so that’s not a bad signing, good return. Is he the best? I think Gabriel’s better.
“I think there’s been some issues with Gabriel. We rarely see two left-footed players playing together. We see right-footed players playing so I see no reason why they couldn’t do that.
“Holding in fairness has done well in that role. It looks like David Luiz is going to go so there’s a place for Mari, definitely.
“His performances have grown in the opportunities he’s getting. He’s confident, he feels the manager is giving him that opportunity.
“If you ask me which one is the best centre-half, I think Gabriel is but his confidence at the moment is on the floor.”
Keown’s comments come amid reports that Arsenal’s summer centre-back plans depend on the future of veteran Brazilian Luiz at the Emirates.
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Talking on the Here We Go Podcast, transfer expert Fabrizio Romano said: “Keep an eye also on a potential new centre-back for Arsenal because they are also considering to move for a new centre-back if David Luiz is not staying.
“So, everything will depend on David Luiz. Nothing has been decided yet.
“At the end of the season, they will decide about David Luiz, but if he will leave, for sure Arsenal will go for a new centre-back.”
But Mari and Gabriel forming a solid partnership might spare Arsenal the need to spend big on a right-sided centre-back, or at least one bought with the intention of starting every match.
The Londoners also have Holding as well as young defenders William Saliba and Konstantinos Mavropanos out on loan who can beef up their options next year even if Luiz departs.
Having Holding, Saliba and Mavropanos behind Mari and Gabriel might mean Arsenal don’t need any more new centre-backs, unless another were to leave permanently or on loan.
With the club short on cash unless they win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League next season, they must spend wisely, and they may already have two centre-halves capable of starting alongside one another – even if their partnership might be a little unorthodox.
If Arteta were to give the duo a try, and they were to impress, it could spare him the cash to bolster other areas of his first-team squad in the summer.