It sure did ruffle a few feathers, but in the end, a decision was made to extend David Luiz‘s stay at Arsenal for a further 12 months. It sparked internal uproar, and public shaming from other clubs. Didn’t matterthough, the central defender was here to stay.
Having clumsily allowed Kevin De Bruyne‘s cross to find its way into the path of Raheem Sterling, then to see red, literally, with a cynical, foolish foul on Riyad Mahrez in the Manchester City penalty box, Project Restart kicked off with the same old Arsenal. Same old David Luiz, too.
Supporters were yearning for one final push toward the Premier League top four after the lengthy break, with victory over the Cityzens pretty paramount in ensuring that dream could remain within sight.
Crushing 3-0 defeat and Luiz horror show later, those aspirations were over. Fanatic fans bayed for the Brazilian’s blood. They couldn’t stand for it, and Mikel Arteta shouldn’t have needed to either. That night ignited an almighty fire, one that even if put out, would leave a noticeable mark.
So, what better way to follow that up than to offer the 33-year-old a brand spanking new one-year deal, eh? Reward him for giving away 6,000 penalties! Keep him on for the countless head fart moments that resulted in the conceding of a preventable goal! Yay!
It didn’t sit well with the supporters. Like, at all. But it happened. Nothing anyone can do about it now.
Fast forward to present day and the centre-half has put in his best performance in an Arsenal shirt to date, in the 2-1 win over those very same opponents in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. A titanic display of man against ball, armed with no more than his head.
Of course, in between that were some pretty turgid outings, too. He conceded his fifth penalty of the 2019/20 season on the final day against Watford and looked unsure in the defeat to Aston Villa.
All of the above begs the question, why? Why hand him a new deal, especially with Arteta bolstering his central defensive ranks this summer? Well, it boils down to experience, really. With the arrival of William Saliba and incoming Gabriel Magalhães, Luiz’s role in being a mentor for the newcomers will have been at the forefront of the manager’s thinking heading into the new campaign.
While his experience doesn’t always transfer onto the pitch – it rarely does – his words off it carry weight. A respected and much-loved member of the squad who is always lending his ear and advice to the younger players, there are few other players at Arteta’s disposal who can provide such a service.
Initially, this was to be his primary objective with Saliba, a highly thought of young Frenchman who’s earned glowing praise from not just those who’ve worked alongside him. However, with Gabriel en route (eventually), Luiz can pass on his knowledge with a fellow countryman, one who will take some time adjusting to the rigours of English football, not to mention the language.
It’s easy to get swept up in the notion that Luiz is staying to act as some form of carer or additional coach, totally bypassing his actual role of being a professional footballer. With injuries to Shkodran Mustafi, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers, the likelihood is that Luiz will be a starter when the season begins.
Whether Arteta opts to switch to a back four or persist with the three central defenders will depend on how successful Arsenal are in the recruitment department this summer. On first glance, and based on the MK Dons clash, it appears as if he won’t disrupt the status quo just yet.
Therefore, there is every chance that Luiz could play with Gabriel to his left and Saliba to his right. The glue in between. A cry of ‘bora’ to one side, a bellow of ‘allez’ to the other.
In theory, it’s fool proof. Two exciting talents being guided and nurtured by the old guard in the middle. But we all know, especially with Arsenal, it never runs quite so smoothly. Luiz is still, after all, the same Luiz who had us tearing our hair out at points last season, punching furiously into our keyboards to moan on Twitter, and shouting expletives into the Emirates Stadium air after bearing witness to another defensive debacle.
Could that stunt the incoming centre-backs, or may they even help him? That’s not an avenue to delve too deep into, because no Premier League newbie should be tasked with improving the overall quality of a 33-year-old on their maiden plight in English football.
It will, however, be interesting to witness it all unfold. That could be seeing Gabriel and Saliba bed in sooner than expected and hit the ground running, or, such integration may be overshadowed when Luiz hauls Aleksandar Mitrović down in the box eight minutes into the curtain-raiser against Fulham on September 12th. Ignoring the club for a moment, Luiz himself has a point to prove.
We wait with bated breath.