Luiz Out: What’s Our Best Centre Back Combo?

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

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?



29 Responses to Luiz Out: What’s Our Best Centre Back Combo?

  1. LBG says:

    Not easy obviously, but for a number of reasons would go for Holding and Mari on Thursday. As you mention, Rocky, I would still like to see more of Mari and think a European game when there is less likely to be a full press on from the opposition, could be a good opportunity. I also think Gabriel could be more traumatised than we might think by the Liverpool game.
    No longer going to debate Luiz, and disappointed some believe he will get another extension to contract at 34, when we should be welcoming back Saliba and Mavrapanos next season.
    COYG, cheer us up on a Thursday, please.

  2. RC78 says:

    Thanks Rocky

    I would say that our best pairing is Holding-Gabriel when they are both fit and focused…However, I feel like Mari has not disappointed when he played so we could also go for Mari-Gabriel. I think Gabs is the best CB of the lot

  3. allezkev says:

    Good post Mr Rock and maybe three at the back is an option as we approach the do or die period of the season – needs must etc?

    Holding and Gabriel looked a solid pairing earlier in the season before Gab got the virus, and since then he seems to have lost the edge to his game slightly because he looked so good previously but is now more error strewn, Rob seems to have dropped off as well, but I think that they’re our best available partnership.

    I like Mari and as LBG says he could be an option in the european ties, Saliba seems to be getting some great reviews in France so for me, no new contract for Luiz this summer.

  4. RockyLives says:

    Thanks LBG, RC and Kev

    If Luiz was fit he would be an automatic starter for me (even though I find the thought kind of horrifying).

    But I completely agree that he should not be given an extension. Let’s get Saliba in the team.

    One common denominator problem for all our defenders is the goalkeeper. Should we be in the market for a new one? We’d get decent money for Leno from a European team I would imagine.

  5. LBG says:

    Re goalkeeper
    Why can Mat Ryan be given a good go? Might take his chance like Marti.

  6. allezkev says:

    Totally agree on the goalkeeper question RL, Leno is good, I like him but to me he’s more Lukic than Seaman, so there is room for an upgrade, Ryan seems safe enough and maybe a couple of run outs in our final few league games so we can safely cement ourselves in 8th…….

  7. Rasp says:

    Thanks for the post Rocky. I can’t see much difference between Mari, Gabriel and Holding but I’d play Holding and Mari on Thursday as I think Gabriel is now very nervous when playing with Leno.

    The whole team is built on the quality of the goalkeeper. He directly affects the confidence of the defence and their ability to play from the back or to venture upfield. Leno does not have a big enough personality to command his area. He punches when he could catch, you never see him tearing into defenders when they make a mistake as Lehman would have done. But worst of all his decision making is very poor and has got worse if anything. I think we should sell him in the summer and play the No2 for the rest of the season.

  8. JM says:

    Gabriel(Holding) & Mari(Luiz) pairing.

    e.g. Gabriel & Mari or Luiz
    e.g. Holding & Mari or Luiz
    e.g Gabriel or Holding & Mari
    e.g. Gabriel or Holding & Luiz

    Currently, with Luiz out with injury for weeks, my starting pick will be Mari with either Gabriel or Holding at CBs.

    Also, in the back 4 (It is the basic football communication lingo between the players):

    e.g. Cedric (portuguese/english) – Gabriel (portuguese)/ Holding (english) – Mari/(Luiz) (portuguese/english) – Tierney (english)

    Cedric (speaks Portuguese, English & some German). He is born in Singen, Germany before returning to Portugal (and holds dual nationality?). I noticed that he is close with Xhaka (who speaks German & English) from team training and match day prep. pictures

    Gabriel (speaks Portuguese, French & learning English). 3 years in the French league with Lille.

    Mari (speaks Spanish, Portuguese & some English). 3 years with Man CIty (loan out to Girona, NAC Breda – where he was made team captain, and Deportivo). Won the Brazilian league and Copa Libertadories with Flamengo while being named in the Brazilian league team of the year.

    Luiz (speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English & French). He should be able to communicate the football lingo with all of our defenders.

    Tierney (speaks Scottish English). Multiple personal accolades alongside Scottish league & cup titles. Was captain at Celtic.

    Since Tierney is out with injury for more than a month,

    e.g. Bellerin (spanish/english) – Mari (spanish/english/portuguese) – Gabriel (portuguese) – Cedric (portuguese)

    e.g. Cedric (portuguese) – Gabriel (portuguese) – Mari (portuguese/english) – Saka (english)

    e.g. Cedric (portuguese/english) – Mari (portuguese/english) – Holding (english) – Saka (english)

    e.g. Bellerin (english) – Holding (english) – Mari (english/portuguese) – Cedric (portuguese/english)

    e.g. Bellerin (spanish/english) – Mari (spanish/english) – Holding (english) – Saka (english)

    Personally, I classify Chambers with a new and potential squad playing role in DM. (he was much shorter, 6ft, than the rest of our CBs, and is more comparison with our DM/CMs Elneny, Partey & Xhaka). He is competent in attack and defence.

    Lastly, I will not purposely seek out a new starting GK instead of Leno (because our team has more urgent necessities to recruit in summer, e.g. backup LB, starting CM and AM and depending on circumstances, starting/backup RB & ST etc.). I have a unusual feeling that we could do a player exchange with Real Madrid for Odegaard, tempting them with e.g. Saliba?, since Ramos is not renewing and Varane is contemplating his future too. In fact, I could see a scenario where our team move out/release all our French players in the summer (Guendouzi, Lacazette & Saliba).

    If our management decide to add in a new GK, my pick would be Robert Sanchez (a 23 year old, 6ft 6, GK from Brighton&Hove Albion, who has conceded 19 goals and kept 7 clean sheets in 19 league matches so far). He is promoted from the B&H youth team (spent 5 years training) and is definitely fluent in English (other than his native Spanish). B&H conceded 38 goals in the league, the least among the lower half (11-20 positions) of the league and only 3 goals more than us.

  9. LBG says:

    The slight problem with all the Gabriel/Mari selections is they are both left sided and that will certainly potentially put more pressure on the playing out from the back.
    I’d like to see Chambers alongside Partey when we need a bit more grit in defensive midfield.

  10. Gööner In Exile says:

    What I liked about Holding earlier in the season is unflappability he seemed quite calm and unlike you Rocky I felt he was better with ball at feet than you recall. Okay he is not necessarily going to play 50 yard defence splitting passes but he doesn’t seem as fussed as long as he receives the ball facing the play. and I do recall him pressing the team forward in the wing position (perhaps against Wolves having been dropped to 9 men.

    On his defensive concentration I would add that both goals that have been scored against him and pinned on him were scored by wingers, not necessarily players he should be expected to be marking and where he needs teammates (either full back or keeper) to give him a bit more of a shout as he wouldn’t necessarily know he was arriving.

    Gabriel has an impetuous lunge in him from times, although at 23 I kind of expect that. Luiz still does it at 34 which is more concerning. Again earlier in the season he looked more comfortable with ball at feet, although now I would say he has become a little less confident. It certainly helps him and Holding to have Xhaka in front of them who will receive the ball from them with back to goal, some others who have played that position do tend to hide a bit (Ceba I am looking at you).

    The suggestion to play Chambers in that position does make sense, he has proven that he can use ball at feet competently for a right back so should be fairly comfortable at centre back too.

  11. LB says:

    The Chambers\Partey midfield idea is interesting.

  12. LBG says:

    I am constantly amazed at interpretations of Xhaka’s performances!! You suggest he is useful as a receiver of the ball ” with his back to goal”, for Gabriel and Holding in this case. I would like to bet that for the great majority of times that Xhaka receives the ball in that circumstance, he immediately passes back either to the same player or the other CB or GK.
    He never turns and releases the pressure. If there has been improvement in his game in that position, it is when he has space and the ball in front of him. In this instant he has been better at moving the ball on more efficiently and without losing it.
    Difficult to prove, but my observation.

  13. RC78 says:

    @Sue – PSG wins at Bayern somehow…don’t know how we did it! Neymar 2 assists, Mbappe 2 goals

  14. RC78 says:

    Kimmich is an outstanding player…The whole Munich is quite amazing, really.

  15. Sue says:

    Brilliant game, RC!! And that Mbappe goal nut-megging Neuer – sweet!! Mbappe is something else 👌
    Great week in the CL… Real, City, PSG… then Porto go and let us down 😄

  16. RC78 says:

    Real had a great game vs Liverpool indeed
    As for City, lucky break in the end but Foden is such a special talent

    I am happy if we have Real, City, PSG and Chelsea go through
    with a final City – PSG 😛 and of course a PSG victory at the end…

    That said, Bayern totally outplayed PSG and PSG is great at making a mess at home against big teams in the CL so I can’t get too carried away yet

  17. RC78 says:

    Mbappe – 8 goals in 8 CL games. Efficient.

  18. LBG says:

    Looks like Poch is doing something right. Great irony if he comes up against Tuchel.

  19. Aaron says:

    Play the cb’s who have had the most time together and who help the defense concede the least.
    Someone on here or another site did the math.

    Regarding the $h*tTy match, BVB were robbed-straight out. Have no idea how the player interfered with ederson, at all, nicked the ball first and was obvious to all except those viewing vaR.

    psg were fortunate Lewandowski was out. Yes, they scored on the counter, but they were blasted off the pitch, I do not know what others were watching, but they gave up to 30+ shots, and missed a few easy ones they should have been finished. but that is futbol.

    Bayern will return the favor next game, and Mbappe and co. will perform their normal disappearing act.

    AFC’s game is going to be tough, tough to watch, to play in, just a tough nut to crack.

    The clock is ticking.

  20. LBG says:

    Very rarely agree with E Petit’s assessments, but ” ditch half the squad”, would do me. Arsenal should not be a “holiday resort”.

  21. LBG says:

    And to replace them, and with my RC glasses on, Hakimi, Bertrand, Bissouma, BOdegaard and…..Saha. Simples!

  22. RA says:

    Very good Post, Rocky,

    The problem for fans when trying to analyse football problems is that we can sometimes concentrate to much on the ‘micro’ and not enough on the ‘macro’.

    In the question of which CBs are the best in the present circumstances we can fall into the trap of just following the ‘micro’ of personal bias and ignoring the ‘macro’ of the wider problem of the manager’s tactical requirements.

    All the CBs and the GK would be much better if we dropped the nonsense of playing out from the back, when none of our current players can mange the ridiculous short passing starting with the GK in the penalty area, at best, and sometimes in the even more ridiculous goal area.

    Dump the tip tap tactic which inevitably attracts even the teams in the relegation fight to press us, knowing we are suckers and prone to give away goal chances to them.

    I know some will say there is nothing wrong with the tactic – and that may be true – but we do not have the players capable of playing like that — DUMP IT — until we get better players who can play that system.

  23. RA says:

    Morning, LBG,

    I never knew you could buy glasses for your RC.

    We live and learn. 🤥

  24. LBG says:

    Morning RA. Oh yes! They have a certain “je ne sais pas” about them, mon ami!

  25. LBG says:

    I like “mon ami”, because the French regard it as a cliche, and who wouldnt want to annoy them with that! “Bonjour, mon ami”.

  26. RA says:


    Ça va, mon ami, j’espère que tu vas bien et que ta santé va continuer d’être bonne.

    (it’s OK – RC is Belgian) 😜

  27. RC78 says:

    Bonjour chers amis – je suis bien Francais mais vivant en Belgique 😛 Qui veut des lunettes?

    @Aaron – I agree with you concerning Bayern and PSG and actually mentioned in my post…

  28. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – I am busy until 14h30 in meetings and then can put a post-up. Hope for today’s game. Let me know if OK with you.

  29. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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