In truth, the sight of Skipper and on pitch leader, Laurent Koscielny being withdrawn injured has for years been a worrying one for Arsenal supporters. For some time, in the eyes of most of us the Frenchman was one of a decreasingly limited number of world class performers in the first team squad. We can all debate the semantics of what is truly world class but if Pep Guardiola wants to enlist your services, as he did with Koscielny, when at Bayern, I would suggest that is a fair indication.
However, as the player progresses into his thirties and the troublesome achilles proves more troublesome, Arsenal can no longer rely on their on-pitch captain being the player he once was or indeed, being available to play more than once a week. The lack of Champions League football has partially masked this issue, along with the unforgivable early departure from the FA Cup, because Wenger has been playing virtually an alternative team in the lesser European adventure. Now though, in the latter stages of the Europa League, with his route back into The ECL, unlikely via the Premier League, Wenger as he did last night will look to field his strongest team.
I am not aware of the seriousness at this stage of Kos’s injury but the fact that he looked in some pain does set one to thinking about the alternatives. Although the enforced FA Cup break followed by the internationals may work in Arsenal’s favour on this occasion. In recent weeks, with Per Mertesacker firmly in semi-retirement and Wenger having reverted to a back four, both Calum Chambers and Rob Holding have been given run outs alongside Mustafi. Both players have strong attributes and both have shown glimpse that they have the ability to play at the top level, but which, I wonder will be given the run, as partner to the German World Cup winner, if Koscielny is out for any period. Indeed, even if the Frenchman is able to return swiftly, with all eyes on the Europa it surely makes perfect sense to wrap him in cotton wool and give one of the Englishmen a run of games to forge a meaningful relationship with Mustafi.
To be entirely honest I like both Holding and Chambers and both have attributes to admire. The former so confident for a youngster in his first season culminating in the FA Cup win and the fans honouring him with Cannavaro comparisons and the latter back from a combative and rewarding loan spell at Boro. It is hard to tell which the current manager sees as ahead in the pecking order with both being afforded opportunities in 17/18 to press their claims.
Holding, certainly in an aerial sense has the edge, which alongside Mustafi may be an advantage, with the German showing more heading prowess in the opposition box than his own. Both read the game quite well and sense danger but Chambers certainly has more ability to exit a tricky situation with footwork and has a marginally superior passing ability. Holding however, is swifter than his colleague across the pitch, which is a real asset in this league.
So in short, not a simple decision but one that I suspect needs to be made straight away because whilst some Gooners are not convinced by Mustafi, he will play and be the senior partner to one of the English hopefuls. Both candidates have a mistake in them and both would benefit from the top quality defensive coaching not afforded in the present regime. Both would also I imagine thrive more in a set up not utilising zonal marking. However, we are where we are for the time being so I thought, with this article in mind, I would go all ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire and ask the audience. Here is what close to 1000 Gooners voted over an 8-hour poll yesterday and I think that, on balance I agree.
Chambers was excellent last night and Holding good last time out. With Kos injured now, in a settled back 4 who would you like to see partner Mustafi?
— Dave Seager (@goonerdave66) March 16, 2018
Will Wenger agree on Calum Chambers over Rob Holding and do you? Let me know on Twitter and in comments.
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Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.