Arsenal could have another Kolo Touré on their hands if they can sign £19m stunning young centre-half

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Arsenal have been linked with a move for a top quality young defender

Arsenal have long been a club that prize strong, physical defenders. From Tony Adams and Martin Keown through to William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães via Sol Campbel, Per Mertesacker and countless others, the Gunners have often had one of the Premier League’s toughest and tallest back lines. What they haven’t always had are centre-halves who lean into the more technical side of defensive play, who can pass and carry the ball out from the back with the best of them. Kolo Touré stands out as an exception to that rule – but they could be about to break it once again.

A new report from The Evening Standard lends further credence to old rumours that Arsenal are interested in signing 17-year-old centre-back Jorrel Hato from Ajax. Although young, Hato is already an established member of the Amsterdam outfit’s starting eleven and a full international, making his Netherlands debut as a substitute for Virgil van Dijk against Gibraltar last year.

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Like former Invincible Touré, who stands out as one of the best centre-backs Arsenal have had this century, he is strong but not sizeable, and is comfortable with the ball at his feet under any amount of pressure. He also reads the game beautifully and has a natural sense of timing, both with his tackles and his off-ball movement, that stands out. He may only turn 18 in March, but he already looks like an exceptional defender.

The physical comparison is unquestionably relevant. Both Hato and Touré are powerful but compact, under six feet tall and not capable of being truly dominant in the air. He stands around five inches shorter than Saliba and four shorter than Gabriel. Happily, he has an impressive burst of pace that helps him to cover dangerous situations and press effectively in a high line and has the muscle to lever strikers out of the way even if he can’t get above them.

His defensive work is superb, too. His tackling is precise and he has the knack of going in for his challenges at the right time when attacked at pace, which means he doesn’t concede many fouls. He marks well and reads opponents’ runs, which enables him to make a healthy number of interceptions and blocks. His only apparent weakness as a defender is in his positioning, and he can be caught out of place by direct passes – but if that’s your only obvious issue at the age of 17, you’re going down a pretty impressive path as a player.

His work on the ball is arguably his best attribute, however. His short-range passing is crisp and economical, he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet and seldom risks being tackled, and he has the vision to pick out through balls and quick vertical passes down the middle of the field. He can take the wrong option at times and perhaps attempts slightly too many killer balls when a more economical ball would be better, but he’s developing beautifully as a creative presence in deep areas.

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Although a centre-back, Ajax use him to cover the left wing-back slot when the man outside him pushes forward as well, and he would suit a system which aims to play as a 3-2-5 when in possession. Arsenal did just that in the first half of the season, although they have since moved to a 2-3-5 system, pushing both wing-backs up towards midfield to support the attack. One could easily imagine Hato, who is thought to worth around £19m, becoming either a left-back in the long run, as he has the pace and ball skills, or as a defender who takes the John Stones role and steps into midfield when required.

If Arsenal are serious about signing Hato, then now is the time to move. Hato will have just one year remaining on his Ajax contract when the season ends, and his club are pushing hard to tie him down to a long-term extension. Either Arsenal persuade him to move this summer, or they will face a long wait and a much higher price tag to sign him.

The question then becomes whether Hato is ready to start in the Premier League. He’s already a regular in the Eredivisie and an international, so there’s every indication that he’s at least very close to being at a point where he could be a first-team option for a Champions League-level side. The only issue is that, as a left-sided centre-half, he would be directly competing for a slot with Saliba, which is a distinctly difficult battle to win.

But Mikel Arteta is clearly keen to add depth and quality at centre-half, and the possibility that he could cover left-back as well means there could be plenty of opportunities for him to get minutes in the first team. Perhaps Saliba could shift to the right side of the defence, or Hato could adjust his game slightly to take up a slightly more conservative role alongside Saliba and in place of Gabriel, whose place seems under the most immediate threat as Arteta expands and improves the squad.

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If there is a whiff of a chance to sign Hato, Arsenal should probably take it. Every indication is that he has the class, quality and temperament to become a world-class defender, and his development has been frighteningly fast. If Arteta wants to add a defender to the ranks who can play with the ball at his feet under pressure, then Hato would be a very good signing indeed – and signing someone whose playing profile resembles Touré, one of the best defenders Arsenal have had since the turn of the millennium, in many ways feels like a no-brainer.

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