David Luiz has long been a divisive figure. If your idea of a good centre-back is someone who is solid, consistent and reliable than the Brazilian probably isn’t your man. Arsenal’s veteran defender is famed for his occasional eye-catching errors and moments of madness.
Conversely, the 33-year-old has many of the attributes that are increasingly desirable in a modern-day defender. He is comfortable carrying the ball out from the back, has the vision to spot a pass that can kick start an attacking move and his distribution is excellent.
Much like Marmite and Nicholas Cage movies, the ‘Luiz conundrum’ is one that has polarised opinion for some time. But never has it been more relevant, after news broke this week that the man from São Paulo could leave the Emirates Stadium at the end of this season.
It was widely reported Luiz had penned a two-year deal with the Gunners when he arrived in North London last summer. But it’s emerged in recent days it was actually a one-year contract with the club holding the option to extend it for a further 12 months.
Some of the figures involved in that transfer are extraordinary, for a player who was 32 at the time. The Athletic believes that the cost of Luiz’s move from Chelsea breaks down as an £8million transfer fee, up to £6million in payments to intermediaries (though Arsenal refute this and have suggested it was less than £1million) and a £10million annual salary for the player himself.
Whether Luiz has justified that kind of outlay is highly debatable. But it is worth remembering Arsenal found themselves in a tricky situation in August 2019, after Laurent Koscielny forced a move away from the club towards the end of the transfer window. The Gunners had to act fast and needed a player to plug a gap at the back for a season until new signing William Saliba was available to play for Arsenal.
The £30million defender’s arrival from Saint-Étienne (after spending the 2019/20 campaign on loan at his former club) is key to the argument Luiz’s time at the Emirates should come to an end when this season concludes.
Arsenal are now overloaded with centre-backs. Their current squad includes Rob Holding, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí (on loan from Flamengo but expected to sign in the summer) and Konstantinos Mavropanos (currently gaining experience at Nürnberg), as well as Saliba and Luiz.
Something has to give, especially due to the impact COVID-19 is expected to have on the Gunners’ finances and a probable lack of Champions League football. Unless Mikel Arteta can pull off a miracle when the Premier League season gets underway again later this month.
Luiz is far from Arsenal’s worst defender and has improved significantly under Arteta’s guidance. While Mustafi and Sokratis are also playing better since Unai Emery’s departure, there is little doubt Arsenal would rather shift either of those centre-backs than the Brazilian.
Alas, the coronavirus outbreak makes that a somewhat difficult task. The duo are on sizeable wages at the Emirates and it’s increasingly hard to see a situation where potential suitors will have the financial capability to match what Arsenal are paying.
There is no such problem with Luiz and his release would be a convenient way of slashing £10million a year off the Gunners’ costs next season, while reducing the team’s excessive number of central defenders in the process.
There are arguments why it would make to retain the 57-cap Seleção international. He is a strong dressing room presence, popular with his team-mates and his ball-playing ability fits well with the style that Arteta is trying to implement at the club. Arsenal have also sunk so much money into bringing Luiz to the club it may represent better value to keep him for another year.
But ushering in next season without the experienced defender isn’t too terrifying a prospect either. Marí and Saliba could form the basis of a new-look backline, while Holding has the potential to become a regular starter now his injury issues are hopefully behind him. With Mustafi and Sokratis making strides under Arteta too, it may just be that Luiz is expendable.
Ultimately, Arsenal are entering a new financial reality and have to tighten their belts somewhere. In an ideal world, it would probably make sense to keep Luiz for one more year. But this isn’t an ideal situation. Releasing the high-earning defender is the wisest course of action for the Gunners, without seriously denting their chances of breaking back into the top four next season.