The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at David Luiz’s situation at Arsenal amid reports suggesting yet another contract extension for the defender.
When Arsenal announced the contract extension for David Luiz last summer, the move drew mixed opinions from fans and experts alike, with many questioning the defender’s lack of temperament and leadership qualities. Others defended his experience and ability to distribute the ball out from the back.
Six months into the new campaign, it is fair to say that Luiz hasn’t had the opportunity to make his mark in his second season at Emirates. The centre-back has found himself trailing the likes of Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding in the pecking order, which has restricted his overall game-time to under 1,000 minutes in the Premier League so far.
Things have taken quite a sharp turn in recent weeks, however. The absence of Gabriel and Pablo Mari, combined with the January departures of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis, paved the way for the centre-back to return to the Arsenal first-team earlier this year.
The Brazilian didn’t quite disappoint either, helping Arsenal register three clean sheets in the four matches he was involved in, before picking up an almost customary red card against Wolves that saw him miss the next game, which Arsenal lost.
Luiz was immediately reinstated to the Arsenal backline in the recent game against Leeds United, with the former Chelsea defender starring once again in a 4-2. This recent period of form now seems to have convinced Arsenal to offer another contract extension for their experienced defender – once again raising the eyebrows of the onlookers.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a deep dive into Arsenal’s situation in the defensive unit and whether a potential contract extension for Luiz makes any sense in regards to the club’s progress and aspirations.
An Answer To Radical January Moves?
Arsenal’s reported desire to tie David Luiz down to a new contract can be perceived as a response to a chaotic January transfer window that saw them offload both Mustafi and Sokratis, while as well as several other stars including Sead Kolasinac, Willian Saliba, Mesut Ozil, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, though three of them left the club on a loan deal.
The departures of Sokratis and Mustafi did make sense, with the former not even being included in Arsenal’s initial 25-man squad for the Premier League. Mustafi, on the other hand, was a misfit in Mikel Arteta’s setup and a victim of a stacked central defensive unit that stretched as far as Kolasinac, though the Bosnian also left the club – rejoining FC Schalke on loan.
Arsenal also offloaded another player in Saliba, who was loaned back to Ligue 1. And although none of these three central defenders played a key role, it has left Arteta devoid of central defensive options, especially with the fitness issues surrounding Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari.
Kolasinac does return in the summer but faces an uncertain future at Emirates, alongside Chambers. The decision to extend Luiz’s contract gives them a bit of breathing space in regards to overall depth, at least in the short term.
Regressive to Arsenal’s long-term plans?
David Luiz’s prolonged stay at the Emirates could certainly pose problems for Arsenal, in their long-term plans in the defensive unit. The 33-year-old is not a sporadic player in the first-team and is destined to demand some play-time, which, in turn, could be regressive for the team, in general.
Indeed, his presence in the team could emerge as a stumbling block for younger individuals in their route to the first-team. Saliba, for one, has raised a lot of eyebrows with his performances at OGC Nice.
The Frenchman will return to Emirates in the summer with a lot of hype and expectations, only for Luiz to prevent him from getting a more prominent place in the first-team. The same can be equally applied to the up and coming defensive talents from the Arsenal academy, which has yielded quality players like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe in recent years.
The Final World: A Defensive Stalwart or a Tactical Misfit?
The improvement in the Arsenal defence, following the return of Luiz to the teamsheet, has been noticeable. Especially from a tactical perspective, the Brazilian has offered some groundbreaking ball-progression in the build-up play that was particularly crucial in the win over Leeds United.
While Gabriel and Mari are also identified as ball-playing centre-backs, they are barely equipped with the quality to move forward with the ball. As for their passing ability, it can be rendered useless if the opposition marks the wide players well, leaving the two defenders devoid of any useful options in regards to their forward balls.
That is where Luiz provides a new dimension in the Arsenal backline. The 33-year-old isn’t afraid to move forward with the ball, taking on the presser, and though he is prone to losing possession, he does release the ball more often than not. It is a risky approach but one that certainly offers an edge to Arsenal’s build-up game.
In addition, Luiz is far more accurate with his long diagonal balls, which are usually the number one alternative for any defender who gets devoid of passing options at the back. The Brazilian, therefore, certainly isn’t a tactical misfit under Mikel Arteta, but he does need to be more solid in marking the opposing defenders, especially from set-piece situations.
In that regard, Luis perhaps isn’t so much of a defensive stalwart as he barely offers any solidity at the back. His qualities in the build-up, however, is certainly something to admire, meaning the veteran does bring variety to the table for Arteta and will keep doing so in the upcoming season.