Arsene Wenger might have to cope without two of his first choice back three this weekend. Laurent Koscielny is awaiting the results of a fitness test on his troublesome Achilles, and Shkodran Mustafi is certain to miss the next few weeks with a thigh problem. Arsenal are about to embark on a run of seven fixtures in 23 days, so the English pair of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers surely will be asked to step in on occasion. The young defenders are an important component of Arsenal's present squad, and key to preserving defensive stability in the future.
Life does not tend to be easy for a young centre-half at Arsenal. The defenders who've fared best under Wenger generally have been those who have arrived at the club with considerable experience. Sol Campbell, for example, was a readymade centre-half who managed to plug the gap created by the departures of Steve Bould, Tony Adams and eventually Martin Keown.
The centre-half role at Arsenal is a crucible that has been unkind to the development of several talented youngsters. Wenger's rotten run of bringing through central defenders stretches right back to Matthew Upson, who shone in patches before ultimately being sold off after a succession of injuries. The Swiss pair of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou briefly looked like potential world-beaters but failed to convert their promise into permanent spots in the team.
It's interesting that while Wenger has built a fantastic reputation for honing attacking talent, his hit-rate is far lower when it comes to centre-backs. That's partly down to the fact that defence is not his coaching specialism. He is more drawn to combination play and encouraging self-expression than drilling an offside trap.
However, it's also a question of the team's emphasis. Fundamentally, Wenger sets out his side to attack. The shift to a back three has altered that somewhat, but essentially Arsenal remain a difficult place for a defender to thrive. Too often centre-halves are left outnumbered, isolated, and lacking in instruction.
Adams made the breakthrough at Arsenal as a teenager, but he was playing in a far more robust side. Realistically, Arsenal fans must know they're unlikely to see Adams' ilk come through again, especially under Wenger. However, the supporters would love to see either Chambers or Holding make the grade and blossom into a regular first-team player.
Since arriving from Bolton in the summer of 2016, Holding has appeared the more likely. He immediately impressed with his calm presence and intelligent positioning, and he actually was integrated into the first XI when Wenger first switched to the back three back in the spring.
Holding's rise saw Chambers temporarily rehoused at Middlesbrough. Many took this as a sign his Arsenal career was over; under Wenger, a loan move tends to be a precursor to a permanent departure. However, Chambers acquitted himself well in a difficult campaign, and the sale of Gabriel Paulista this summer was the first indicator that Wenger had not yet lost faith in the former Southampton man. That was confirmed this week, when Chambers was granted a two-year contract extension.
That's a sensible move for a squad on the precipice of a period of considerable churn. The likes of Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal are not getting any younger, and Arsenal need promising defenders to fill out the roster. A British core is also important, if only to help meet homegrown quotas. Wenger doubtless will have noticed the way the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones -- both Arsenal targets in the past -- have matured into useful squad members at Manchester United and will be looking to emulate that trajectory with his own pair of English proteges.
It seems Wenger recognises that at a time when Arsenal's squad appears set to enter a period of tumultuous transition, Chambers and Holding represent an invaluable chance to maintain some continuity.