Why Arsenal may be better off ignoring Umtiti and trusting young defender Mavropanos

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The Gunners have been linked with a move for Barcelona centre back Samuel Umtiti - but do they already possess the solution to their defensive issues?

It took less than a week for Konstantinos Mavropanos to change the mind of Arsene Wenger.

When the Greek defender arrived at Arsenal in January 2018, signed by then head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, Wenger’s plan was to immediately send him back out on loan.

The Frenchman had stated that Mavropanos was “not ready to play” following his £1.8 million ($2.3m) move from PAS Giannina – but just a matter of days later, that stance had changed dramatically.

“I want to keep him until May,” said Wenger. “The first signs he has shown in training are so encouraging that I have decided to keep him.”

Mavropanos had to wait until April to make his first-team debut, away at Old Trafford of all places, but he made quite the impression – despite Arsenal slipping to a 2-1 defeat.

“I would have given him man of the match,” said Graeme Souness. “He was a rock... very impressive.”

Another fine display against Burnley the following week added to the hype, before a red card against Leicester brought an early end to Mavropanos’ first campaign in England.

That dismissal was a timely reminder of how raw the youngster was, but the centre-back had shown enough during those early appearances to suggest Arsenal had landed themselves a gem.

So at that time it would have been almost farcical to suggest Mavropanos would not start another game for the Gunners for nearly a year, but that is exactly how things have turned out.

A troublesome groin injury has decimated the defender’s first full season at the Emirates, with his start on Monday night at Watford his first since he was sent off at the King Power stadium.

Konstantinos Mavropanos Arsenal 2018/19

And at Vicarage Road he gave everyone a reminder of his qualities as Arsenal claimed their first away Premier League clean sheet of the season to seal a vital 1-0 win in the battle for the top four.

Aside from one error when he challenged rashly for the ball with Andre Gray in the first half, Mavropanos delivered an assured performance alongside Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defence before being replaced on the hour mark.

While he was on the pitch, he had 56 touches – making 48 passes with a success rate of 95.8 per cent. He made three clearances, three interceptions, gained possession three times and made one block.

It all added up to a solid showing on his return to the first team and was a reminder to everyone that perhaps Arsenal don’t need to scour the European market for a new centre-back when the transfer window opens.

There is a lot of talk that Emery could make a big-money move for Samuel Umtiti, who appears to be on his way out at the Camp Nou having fallen out of favour.

But with concern over his long-term fitness due to a troublesome knee injury, do Arsenal really need to look at the likes of Umtiti when it comes to improving their defence?

It’s well known that transfer funds will once again be tight this summer, despite the new commercial deals with Emirates and Adidas kicking in.

Even if Champions League football is secured, the budget will be around £75m ($98m) – which doesn’t stretch to much when you are already looking to bring in a new left-back, a wide attacker and a replacement for Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey.

So sticking with Mavropanos and nurturing his undoubted potential could save Arsenal millions in the transfer market.

He’s strong, good in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet and at just 21 his ceiling for development is huge – as Sokratis has already gone on record as saying.

Understandably, there are many back in Greece who have dubbed Mavropanos as the ‘next Sokratis’ given both now play together at the Emirates.

Mavropanos Arsenal 2018/19

But Sokratis believes his team-mate should not be using him as a barometer for future success, despite his decade-long career playing with clubs such as AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal.

''Dinos can become much better than me and it will be bad for him to have Papastathopoulos as a ceiling," said the 30-year-old. "I am telling you that Mavropanos has all the assets to become better than Papastathopoulos."

Big praise indeed, but no real surprise given the way Sokratis has taken his young compatriot under his wing since his summer move to north London - offering him advice both on and off the pitch.

Away from football, the pair are like brothers – with Mavropanos spending lots of time with Sokratis' family throughout the week.

And the youngster’s dedication to improving has impressed many behind the scenes at London Colney – he has even hired a private osteopath who comes over from Germany to work with him every three weeks to try to get him in peak condition.

Mavropanos has all the attributes to succeed at the top level, we’ve seen that already during his fleeting appearances with the first-team and he now has a good opportunity to start showing that on a regular basis.

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Laurent Koscielny, despite his superb recent form, is 33 and approaching the end of his excellent career, while it would not be a surprise to see Arsenal attempt to move Shkodran Mustafi on this summer – should a buyer be found.

Rob Holding is not expected back from injury until a couple of months into next season while doubts remain over where exactly Calum Chambers fits into Emery’s plans.

So with some solid performances in the summer, Mavropanos could give himself a real opportunity of some substantial game time during 2019-20 and persuade the Arsenal hierarchy to spend their money elsewhere.

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