David Luiz missed the Liverpool game after picking up an injury in training and, according to reports, may be doubtful for the rest of the season.
For all his frustrating faults (particularly his propensity to commit horrendous blunders on a regular basis) the Brazilian has ended up as probably our first choice CB.
When he’s not shooting himself and the team in the foot his defending can be excellent and his ability to play out from the back is better than any of our other central defenders (even if, for some fans, he slows us down too much).
So, with a Europa League quarter final looming and the need to get as many Premier League points as we can between now and the season’s end, who should be our first choice pair at centre back?
All the candidates have flaws.
Gabriel is probably the best defender of the bunch – big, strong and fast – but his passing is poor and he often looks panicked when receiving the ball from the goalkeeper while the opposition forwards are pressing.
His passing deficiencies are less obvious when he is playing alongside Luiz because the elder Brazilian takes most of the responsibility for playing out.
Holding has had reasonably solid spells during this season but is also prone to failings of concentration (witness allowing Raheem Sterling to score from an unchallenged header in the opening minutes against Manchester City). Like Gabriel he also appears uncomfortable when on the receiving end of Leno’s ‘hand grenade’ passes.
Mari has generally done OK in his appearances, but we still have not seen a huge amount of him so it’s hard to make a fully informed judgement. He has looked a little bit happier in possession than either Holding or Gabriel.
Chambers has not been used as a central defender by Arteta for a very long time. El Patron seems to prefer playing him at right back, where he did well against West Ham but, like the rest of the team, struggled against Liverpool. However, as a player who spent a season at Fulham in the defensive midfielder role (and was the fans’ player of the season), his abilities with the ball on the ground are pretty good.
On the basis of the above I would say our best ‘footballing’ CB is Chambers and our best ‘defensive’ CB is Gabriel, so I would be tempted to go with that pair.
However, if we are right to believe that Arteta has little or no faith in Chambers as a central defender, then the choice becomes tougher.
Holding and Gabriel is the more obvious one, but then we have two CBs who don’t like the ball at their feet and who will invariably spend the game trying not to catch Leno’s eye in case he puts them in trouble with another badly-chosen pass.
We could go with Gabriel (best defender) and Mari (a better ‘footballer’ than Holding), but then we have two left footed CBs, which does not seem like a good idea.
Or we go with Holding (decent defender) and Mari (decent footballer), which means we’re leaving out our best individual defender.
It’s a conundrum. What do you think?