Arsenal centre-back targets analysed (1) – Rugani v Koulibaly

Rumoured Strongly Linked Centre-back targets by Aidan

I guess the most important thing is for Arsenal to find a partnership that works. The stats show that Gabriel is a far superior individual defending unit to Mertesacker. Despite this, there seems to be a consensus that the Mertesacker/Koscielny partnership offers more as a collective than Gabriel/Koscielny. We had a similar issue with the Verminator- Vermaelen & Koscielny were too similar in style. Something seems wrong there, Mertesacker is a fading force- I know we can do better, and the BFG now only has one year left on his contract. Along with centre forward, this is where we can improve personnel most dramatically. Yes, we conceded only one more goal than the best defences this season- Spurs & Man Utd- and the same amount as champions Leicester, but the defence was rarely trustworthy when it really mattered; looking amateur in crucial matches- as our title challenge fell apart. Nothing epitomises this more for me than Andy Carroll’s hat-trick.

Some fantastic CB partnerships IMO have been Ferdinand/Vidic, Pique/Puyol, Leboeuf/Desailly, Nesta/Maldini – the stylish ball-player & the enforcer. I cannot think of two “Koscielnys” or ball-playing types that have looked effective partnered together, longterm. This season we’ve seen Morgan & Huth be phenomenally effective for Leicester- and they are both big lumps. We’ve seen that before too- Adams/ Bould /Keown for example!!!!

So first of al let’s compare Koulibaly and Rugani

Kalidou Koulibaly

Nicknamed K2- after the second largest mountain in the world- that’s never been climbed successfully in winter, with a 1 in 5 death rate for those who attempt to scale it. That is a fully gangster nickname.

This moniker derives from his 6 foot 5 height & bulky frame- this alone is a promising surface indication he could do the Mertesacker role in a partnership with Koscielny.

Koulibaly started out for his hometown amateur level club Saint-Die, in Lorraine, France. He played for two seasons in the Championnat de France amateur 2- then joined Lorraine’s big club- FC Metz in July ‘09, aged 17. His progression was fairly slow and steady in truth- he was never a phenom, unlike most of the others on this list. He played for the U19s & the reserve team, then was given professional terms ahead of the 10/11 season. He went on to make 41 Ligue 2 appearances for Metz over two seasons, before signing for Belgian side Racing Genk for £975k. K2 made 64 appearances over two seasons in Belgium and was sold for £5.25 million to Napoli in May 2014, making another step up in class. Unfortunately his debut season didn’t go fantastically. He featured in 27 matches as part of a porous defence that leaked 54 goals. He looked clumsy, undisciplined and inelegant and was tipped to move on after Rafa Benitez left for (Newcastle via a quick stop off in) Madrid.

The Napoli defender has arguably improved just as much as Gonzalo Higuain under new manager Maurizio Sarri. The Italian came in and said, “The transfer market is for people who don’t want to talk about football…… “It’s something that bad coaches seek refuge in.” I love this guy! #maverick.

Sarri utilised Koulibaly’s physical attributes, energy, and authority- while also working hard to improve his focus and concentration. Napoli finished the season as runners up, conceding just 32 goals (a decrease of 22 on the previous season) and K2’s development was key to this. Napoli hero Diego Maradona made the claim, “He is phenomenal, the best defender in Serie A. There is a lot of racism around him,” …… “if he was white, he’d be playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona!”

Rather comically, France manager Didier Deschamps revealed he was monitoring him, not realising he’d already debuted for the Senegalese national team.

The truth is, still aged 24, he should continue to improve. His decision making and reading of the game have taken a quantum leap forward under Sarri, but he remains somewhat ungainly on occasion and commits unnecessary fouls- no defender in Serie A committed more last season in fact.

Daniele Rugani
Rugani spent his entire youth career at Empoli, joining them at age 6 and working his way through the youth ranks, also progressing with the Italian National youth teams. He is tall at 6 foot 3 and good in the air- defensively and offensively, and very physically strong. He is renowned for his intelligence – avoiding committing to challenges if unnecessary, for his marking ability, and his positioning, while he is capable of playing the ball out from the back-line. Weaker areas would perhaps be his lack of mobility and a poor left foot.

Juventus took him on loan in 2012 and he helped them win the Primavera (Under-19s) Coppa Italia in 2012/13. He performed well enough that he was permanently signed by Juventus in 2013, then immediately loaned back to Empoli. Under the tutelage of Maurizio ‘If Higuain doesn’t win the Ballon d’Or, he’s a d**khead,’ Sarri- the manager responsible for getting Gonzalo Higuain to meet his potential and become record Serie A goalscorer this season at Napoli- Empoli were promoted to Serie A, ending a 6 year spell in the second flight for the Tuscans. Rugani was the only outfield player on the pitch every minute of the campaign; he notably did not receive a single yellow card. Rugani was awarded the Serie B young player of the year award. He stayed on loan with Empoli for the following 14/15 Serie A season- widely considered as a massive factor in their avoiding the drop, (like Marquinhos for Roma- with whom the comparisons in situation are obvious) making the Serie A team of the year. Juve stalwart Leonardo Bonucci said, “Rugani is a player of great promise and is such a good professional. We already noted his quality when he was in the Primavera youth team. He doesn’t pull back and is humble, so over these last few years his growth at Empoli has been exponential.” Sarri meanwhile has said, “He has excellent capabilities and concentration. He will be a very important player for the future of Italian football”….. “He’s ready for any club at European level,” …. “He’s a star in the making, he’s got everything.”

Herein lies the problem. He returned to Juventus for the 15/16 season just passed, but featured in less than half of all Serie A matches- a sharp drop off for a player in the previous team of the season, no doubt hard to accept- and for that reason he is linked with a move. Fellow Juve centre-back and club legend Giorgio Chiellini has said, “Daniele arrived as a 21-year-old, has come on a great deal and is on the right track for a guy who has 10 to 15 seasons at Juventus ahead of him,” … “When you arrive here you can’t expect to play every game in your first season, that’s also how it was for me. He’s developing steadily and he just needs to keep on going.” With Andrea Barzagli now 35 and Chiellini 32 in August, I expect Rugani to stick it out at Juve and for the Turin club to dismiss any offers- to be honest; barring a monster transfer fee.

Which of those two would you prefer to see at Arsenal?

Here is the original article with all the statistics for each target (and comparison with ours)


Tags Koulibaly Rugani


  1. I wish it mattered what we thought as fans.
    If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

    However, I’ll pick K. Koulibaly.

    1. A coach who actually gets the best out of his players? I don’t want Coulibaly nor Rugani, I want that coach!

  2. Defence is not really my thing,although I know its a foundation to win trophies…

    I’d rather we strengthen our attack more and more…
    Let’s give Chambers more chance at CB…..he will do well!

  3. Let’s raid Napoli for both K2 and Higuan.
    As for the 2nd (gonzalo) he don’t even needs Medical because he has already passed it at colney before. Lolx

  4. You say Rugani is likely
    to stay in Juve and K2
    is somewhat clumsy so I
    doubt either will come.
    But there do seem to be plenty of quality CB’s around
    and even accounting for other big clubs interest
    we should land a decent one.

  5. I seen an outrageous clip of him blowing past players from the back with some dazzling footwork, amazing stuff from a CB, esp one considered to be a beast. But the reason I bring it up is because from my recollection he did not look 6 foot 5 inches tall. I looked it up, not sure if am wrong but I got a little over 6.1.

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