Arsenal’s ‘Gladiator’ and Saliba conundrums as club target RB Leipzig transfer

Arsenal are reportedly targeting defender Ibrahima Konate – but Mikel Arteta has tough calls to make over William Saliba and ‘gladiator’ Konstantinos Mavropanos.

Konate is tracked by top clubs across Europe in the hope he could be available this summer following an injury-ravaged season for RB Leipzig.

The France under-21 centre-back is highly rated but has missed much of the season through an ankle injury – with Leipzig unbeaten whenever he has played.

Arsenal boss Arteta is weighing up a swoop for £30m man Konate as he plots a summer rebuild, according to the Evening Standard.

But his decision has been made more difficult by the impressive form of Saliba and forgotten man Mavropanos during their current loan spells.

Ibrahima Konate, pictured battling Mason Greenwood, is reportedly an Arsenal target

Both players struggled for game time at the Emirates, but Saliba has been virtually ever present since joining Nice, while Mavropanos has enjoyed a resurgence at Stuttgart.

Saliba has played every minute of every Ligue 1 game for Nice since making his debut, barring a 3-2 defeat to Marseille when he was not in the squad.

He has helped Nice to four wins from the 11 games he has played, keeping two clean sheets.

It’s a mediocre record of results, but stats have emerged which underline the importance of the 19-year-old’s contribution to mid-table team’s cause.

William Saliba has impressed at the back for Nice at the age of just 19

During his 11 games he has enjoyed a 95% passing accuracy, finding his target with five out of eight long balls.

He has won three out of three duels, blocked three shots, made five interceptions and three clearances.

They are stats which begin to show why Arsenal paid £27million to land the teenager from Saint-Etienne in 2019.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, Mavropanos has been described as a ‘gladiator’ by Stuttgart boss Pellegrino Matarazzo following a string of solid Bundesliga displays.

Konstantinos Mavropanos has been hailed as ‘a monster’ and a gladiator’ at Stuttgart

After injury problems following his capture by Arsene Wenger in 2018, the Greek centre-back was sent on loan to Nurnberg last season.

After a mixed spell there, Mavropanos was shipped out to Stuttgart at the start of this campaign. But he suffered further injuries, missing September and most of November.

However, after coming on as a half-time substitute in a defeat to Freiburg, the 23-year-old has started six games in succession – including wins over Mainz, Koln and Schalke in the Bundesliga.

Matarazzo has been full of praise for the defender, hailing him as “a tough dog” and “a monster”.

Gabriel Magalhaes joined the Gunners for £23m last summer
Gabriel Magalhaes joined the Gunners for £23m last summer

“He’s our gladiator! He’s a monster in terms of physique,” said the Stuttgart boss.

“And when he makes a mistake, he hums around some Greek swear words. I like that. He’s just a tough dog.”

The pair’s impressive form gives Arteta a headache ahead of the summer transfer window.

Arteta signed Gabriel Magalhaes for £23m last summer as well as making Pablo Mari’s loan move permanent – so the manager must decide whether to spend again on his defence.

Rob Holding has established himself in the first team under Mikel Arteta

Rob Holding has established himself as a regular first-team choice after overcoming his past injury problems, while David Luiz could also stay for another season if the Gunners offer him a new contract.

Arsenal also have Calum Chambers, who is likely to attract suitors if he continues to struggle for minutes.

Arteta is likely to offload more defenders, having already ditched Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis.

But who he can recruit is likely to depend on whether the Gunners can qualify for the Champions League, with the most likely route being through the Europa League.

Arsenal are in transitional season this term, but much will be expected next season.

And the form of both Saliba and Mavropanos – as well as the potential availability of Konate – gives Arteta plenty to ponder as he figures out who should be the bedrock of his defence going forward.

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