Arsene Wenger believes that Thomas Vermaelen will remain at Arsenal beyond the end of the season with the Belgian among the best defenders in English football.
Vermaelen has begun from the bench in four of The Gunners' last five games thanks to the successful defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
His infrequent appearances of late have worked to swell speculation that he might be on the way out in the summer as Wenger looks to overhaul the squad.
But the Frenchman insists that keeping hold of one of Arsenal's best players will be a top priority as the summer transfer window edges closer.
"Thomas is one of the best defenders in England, like the two others," he said, according to Metro. "I told them at the start of the season we have three outstanding central defenders.
"It is about game by game that I make a decision, and it is about partnership as well. Vermaelen has been a substitute for quite a few games and he still plays a big part in the game. I don't see him as a substitute at all."
The abilities of Koscielny and Mertesacker have provided Arsenal with some much needed stability at the back, with their failures in past years often down to inconsistencies in their defence.
With the attacking line-up clicking into gear also, Arsenal have won eight of their last 10 matches, boasting the same win-loss record as league leaders Manchester United over the same period, to give their Champions League qualification hopes a significant boost.
Though they faltered last week against Everton, they possess a distinct advantage going into the end of the season with top four rivals Chelsea and Tottenham still to face each other in May.
Even if Arsenal do qualify for Europe's premier club competition, Wenger faces a tough task this summer to build a squad capable of preventing a ninth year without a trophy.