With Arsenal looking light at the back during the opening games of pre-season, and Calum Chambers expected to leave the club, Arsene Wenger is reportedly chasing a long-term Chelsea target to shore up his defence.
Napoli’s Senegalese powerhouse Kalidou Koulibaly has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge for the past few transfer window’s now, only for the Blues to be priced out of a move by the Italian club.
However, if reports are to be believed, Arsenal now have their sights set on Koulibaly, with Arsene Wenger rumoured to have reached out to the player’s representatives regarding a move to North London.
So who is the 26-year-old and what would Arsenal be getting should they make a move?
Born in France to Senegalese parents, Koulibaly drifted between the academies of hometown club Saint Die and professional side Metz from 1999 to 2010, before finally making his professional debut for the latter.
He stayed with Metz for two years, making 42 appearances, scoring once for the club before departing after their relegation from Ligue 2 in 2012.
Belgian outfit Racing Genk paid just over £1 million to bring the 6ft 5in defender to the club, with the defender signing a four-year deal.
Koulibaly played 46 games across all competitions in his first season, including all but one tie as Genk won the Belgian Cup, his only trophy with the club. He played the same number of in his second and final season in Belgium, earning himself a move to Napoli following an impressive campaign.
The Naples club paid £6.5 million to bring him to Serie A and he has gone from strength to strength in Italy.
Making 119 appearances since his 2014 arrival, scoring three goals, Koulibaly has picked up both team and individual trophies, winning the Supercoppa Italiana in his first season, while also being named in both the Serie A and African team of the year for 2016.
It’s these kind of awards and performances that have drawn the admiring gaze of Europe’s elite clubs but Napoli are determined to hold on to one of their prized assets, slapping a price tag of £60 million on Koulibaly, who has a contract running till 2021.
The quick, tall and powerful defender has been valued highly by the Napoli hierarchy, and when looking at his Serie A stats from last season, it is easy to see why.
In his 28 league appearances last season, Koulibaly made 27 blocks, 64 interceptions, and a whopping 123 clearances. This equates to a highly impressive 2.33 interceptions and 4.48 clearances per 90 mins in the Italian top flight.
The 26-year-old is also very good in the tackle. The trend with most modern defenders is losing more tackles than they win, with a bigger focus on interceptions and clearances, but Koulibaly bucks that trend.
Of 90 attempted tackles in the league last campaign, the Napoli man won 49 of them compared to 41 lost. The margin between the two may not be that great but, it shows his defensive capability, especially when coupled with his clearances and interceptions.
Standing at 6ft 5in tall, Koulibaly is a towering presence at the back and you would expect him to win a fair amount of his aerial duels. His 57.43% won is okay but I expected a higher percentage.
With his height in mind, you would also expect him to be a defender who isn’t too good with his feet, but this could not be further from the truth. The former Genk man has an 83% take on success rate, with 1909 passes – the fifth highest in Serie A last season – and a success rate of 89%. This confident ball playing style would perfectly suit Arsenal.
Koulibaly is clearly a top defender and would add quality at the back, solidifying The Gunners and pushing us closer to a Premier League title challenge.
However, there are some issues.
One is his three defensive errors, two of which led directly to goals last season. I loathe defensive errors, as do most fans, and I would prefer a defender who is more assured and less prone to costly errors.
The second issue is the price tag. Yes, he is a top defender. Yes, he would improve the team and yes, the transfer market has become even more inflated than ever before this summer, but, Koulibaly is not worth £60 million. Plain and simple.
If Koulibaly cost Arsenal £30 to £40 million then I would be more than happy for the club to splash the cash to see him at The Emirates. However, I would rather have a player like Chris Smalling, who has Premier League experience, is available and for a lot cheaper. Or someone like Aymeric Laporte of Athletic Bilbao or Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, players who might still be quite expensive but have a few more years on Koulibaly.
Saying this, if Arsene Wenger does decide to shell out the £60 million to sign the Senegalese, can we really complain?
We have berated Wenger for years about not spending money to bring in quality, so spending that much on a top quality defender with his prime just around the corner is something we can moan about.
We shall wait and see what happens.