Are Arsenal’s surviving centre-backs good enough to sustain a tilt at the title?

Discussion of the Arsenal’s shortcomings often sees their lack of defensive cover overlooked, with the focus instead on Arsene Wenger’s well-documented reluctance/inability to bring in a top class goalkeeper. That is unlikely to change in the wake of Manuel Almunia’s latest disaster on Saturday, which saw the Gunners drop valuable points at struggling West Brom. However, the goalkeeping sideshow is only part of a larger defensive problem.

Last week, Wenger revealed that neither one of injured central defensive duo Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou would play again this season. Without Djourou, the Gunners look far less secure at the back, regardless of who is between the sticks. The opening goal at the Hawthorns offers a case in point – Steven Reid had a free header from a corner just three minutes in to open the scoring, giving the visitors a mountain to climb almost from the outset.

If anything, Djourou’s influence has been understated. The statistic that Arsenal have not lost a league game that the Swiss defender has started since November 2008 is a well-known one, but a look at this season’s stats are all the more revealing. In 10 of the 14 Premier League games Djourou has started in 2010/11, Arsenal have kept a clean sheet. They have only managed to keep one clean sheet without him. Seven goals have been conceded in league games he has started, but four of those – all coming in the 4-4 draw at Newcastle, came after the Swiss had limped off after 48 minutes.

Are Arsenal paying the price for failing to adequately replace William Gallas? Few tears were shed at the Frenchman’s departure, but it must be uncomfortable for Wenger to see his former captain excelling across North London at White Hart Lane, while Gallas’ compatriots, Laurent Koscielny and S

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