If you ask anyone who knows football is a game played with your feet they’ll tell you Arsenal have been crying out for a no nonsense stopper at the back since Sol Campbell considerable back side shuffled out the door of the Ashburton Grove.
Bolton’s Gary Cahill, Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Blackburn Rovers’ Christopher Samba are three Premiership ready centre backs available this summer for the right price, but who will be best suited? We’ve put together a matrix, ran the players through it so we can find out once and for all.
1. Style Of Play
All three can be described as no nonsense. Gary Cahill is probably the most technically proficient which is a big thing when you play for Arsenal. Cahill is also very mobile, comfortable defending anywhere on the pitch. However he’s not as mobile s Phil Jagielka who’s the fastest of the three and is best suited to play ‘out of position’ able to do a sterling job at left back or midfield if called upon. As for Chris Samba he’s big, like Sol, powerful, like Sol and has decent pace, like Sol. He’s also more cultured than Campbell but I suspect he can’t do as many kick ups as the other two.
Gary Cahill: 9/10 Technical proficiency gives him the edge.
Phil Jagielka: 8/10 Speed is important to Arsene Wenger. The quickest of the three.
Samba: 8/10 Apes many of the qualities that made Sol Campbell so important to the Gunners.
2. The Team Around Them
They all play for teams that used to pride themselves on being hard to beat but Bolton and Blackburn are moving away from that. This time last year going on the way his team mates were set up to play Samba would be the least suitable to join Arsenal’s ranks. However since Steve Kean took over Blackburn try and keep it on the floor more often than Sam Allardyce’s midfield bypassing hoofs up field. Bolton are even further along in their rebranding. Owen Coyle has them playing the most expansive style closest to the way Arsenal play. Jagielka has enough quality players around him in the Everton squad but it’s rare more than a couple of them are fit at anyone time also these days the Toffees are set up to play the most agricultural football of the three.
Gary Cahill: 7/10 Of the three his team plays in a style closest to Arsenal.
Phil Jagielka: 6/10 Everton play the furthest from Arsenal’s style.
Christopher Samba: 6/10 The style of play may suit but the quality of teammates doesn’t.
None of them have played in a cup final or international tournament but all have had to step up during a relegation dogfight. Christopher Samba has played in three countries whereas the other two haven’t moved too far between clubs and have never played for a team south of Birmingham.
Gary Cahill: 6/10 Played 139 Premier League games over 7 seasons and has 3 International caps. The least experienced but at 25 he is the youngest.
Phil Jagielka: 7/10 Played 151 Premier League games over 5 seasons and has 8 International caps. The most Premier League appearances.
Christopher Samba: 8/10 Played 145 Premier League games over 5 seasons and has 20 international caps for the mighty Congo. Life experiences give him the edge he can also speak French.
4. Physical Attributes
They are all fit and tactically aware and communicate well with their back lines. They’re also good in the air. Their differences in make up are all much of a muchness. For example what Cahill makes up in technical ability Jagielka has in speed. But the chances are Samba could beat them both up.
Gary Cahill: 8/10 Skills
Phil Jagielka: 8/10 Pace
Christopher Samba: 9/10 Strength. Of the attributes that set them apart strength is the one Arsenal need most.
5. Attacking Prowess
Arsenal aren’t the biggest side so will need some help from their lumps at the back. This is where Samba has the edge. He’s the biggest threat at set pieces and generally causes mayhem whenever he ventures into the opponents box and of the three he’s best suited to play as an auxiliary or emergency striker, if Wenger ever considered using one. The stats don’t bear it out with Cahill and Samba lurking around the same number of goals, but big Chris sheer presence makes him more of a scoring threat. Jagielka on the other hand used to get amongst the goals in his midfield days but since moving to the back rarely scores. In fact he’s scored fewer goals for Everton than Phil Neville, which is frankly rubbish, although his only goal last season was the winner against Newcastle, which is pretty cool.
Gary Cahill: 7/10 3 goals last season including a brace of equalisers in 3-2 victory over his old side Villa in March.
Phil Jagielka: 6/10 1 goal and 1 assist last season. His goal was the winner against Newcastle way (where Arsenal drew in the same fixture).
Christopher Samba: 8/10 4 goals last season, no assists but often the catalyst in a way the stats don’t show.
6. Defensive Liability
All three have a ‘defend first double drag back later’ attitude to their job. Cahill, Jags and Samba are all solid defenders. You’d think playing in the most expansive side would leave Cahill vulnerable to mistakes, as he’s likely to have the ball at his feet the most, but fortunately for Bolton that’s not the case. Jagielka has the most clean sheets but unlike the other two has three own goals to his name including two last season.
Gary Cahill: 8/10 Kept the fewest clean sheets (5) but it’s harsh to penalise him on what is rarely directly his fault.
Phil Jagielka: 7/10 Presided over 9 clean sheets but scored more goals against his team than for them last season.
Christopher Samba: 8/10 No nonsense defending means he’s unlikely to put his team in trouble from being too cute. Also loves a block and has been a hero more than once with his goal line clearances.
All three are the senior defender at their clubs. Jagielka and Samba have experience as captains with both of them having worn the armband by the time they were Gary Cahill’s age.
Gary Cahill: 5/10 Will experience as the senior defender be enough for Arsenal’s back line?
Phil Jagilleka: 9/10 A captain at his previous club. Having overseen the most clean sheets suggests Jags knows how to marshal a defence.
Christopher Samba: 7/10 Has worn the armband when club captain and vice captain have been on the field. Was given the captaincy for Blackburn’s push for survival at the tail end of last season.
Gary Cahill: 50/70
Phil Jagielka: 52/70
Christopher Samba: 54/70
Despite there not being a great deal in it Christopher Samba is the best suited of our three auditionees to play in Arsenal’s defence next season. It’s hardly surprising as he is the most like Sol Campbell the man Arsene Wenger hasn’t been able to replace. All three would make an excellent partner for Vermaelen and are more than capable of bailing out Koscielny. Cahill has longevity on his side and if for whatever reason Wenger ignores this advise and goes for him would be a fixture in the Arsenal defence for years to come. Jagielka would contribute to the quickest back line in Premier League history and has the most Premier League experience of the trio. But there is something a bit tasty about the combination of style and steel in a Vermaelen Samba partnership. With that blend of skills it’s hard to think of too many strikers who’ll consistently get the better of them.
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