Earlier this summer I was 100% certain that Ivorian wunderkind Serge Aurier was set to join Arsenal but recent quotes from French international Mathieu Debuchy have proven that the transfer winds blow swift and if you’re not alert you can get caught with your pants down. What kind of metaphor is that? Mixed and terrible. The point is that somewhere along the line and for some unknown reason Arsenal changed tack away from Aurier and on to Debuchy.
Arsenal had made contact with Aurier and were in talks with the Ivorian but apparently Debuchy came up as a cheaper and more ready made replacement for Sagna and Arsene has jumped at the chance to get the Newcastle man. I was asked on twitter how it is possible that Arsenal are negotiating with players before the team that holds their contract, isn’t that against some kind of rule? The reality is that’s how transfers work these days. I’m not saying Arsenal were tapping up either player, I’m sure they got permission from their respective teams, but rather I’m reminding everyone that players have all the power, which is why Arsenal are negotiating with the player before negotiating a transfer fee.
So, why would Arsene go after Debuchy when he basically had Aurier nailed on? In many ways, Aurier and Debuchy are very similar to Sagna and in one critical way they are different.
First, size wise all three right backs are almost exactly the same.
Debuchy is 1cm taller than the other guys and also outweighs Sagna by 4kg which is, like, 30lbs, (or 8.8lbs) right? As you can see all three players are very close in every category except age and average appearances. 22 year old players still have much to learn and especially in defense, positioning, and learning to sense when to go forward and when to stay back are all important skills that you develop with experience.
Toulouse leveraged Aurier’s tremendous physical stamina and as a result Serge Aurier was given a more free role down the right than he would probably have at Arsenal, especially with outright forwards Theo Walcott and/or Alexis Sanchez in front of him. The result of all of Aurier’s forward play is that he ended up carrying a significant portion of Toulouse’s attack. For a fullback to take 13% of his team’s shots, and not only that but most of his shots were in the opposition 18 yard box, indicates that the fullback is getting way further forward than we are used to seeing from our fullbacks at Arsenal. Imagine Stewart Robson’s apoplectic rage seeing Aurier constantly in the opposition final third?
As you can see from both graphics at this point, Debuchy is more Sagna than Aurier: that is to say that he’s older and more conservative in his play. Not entirely conservative but Sagna did take about half as many shots as Debuchy and less than 1/3 as many shots as Aurier and Aurier carried a lot of Toulouse’s attack.
If you watched any of the Ivory Coast’s World Cup matches then you know that Aurier puts in some wicked crosses. His two assists in their opening game came from crosses and those two weren’t even his best crosses on the day. As we saw earlier, Aurier gets forward a lot for Toulouse and as a result has ample chances to put in crosses. He attempted an astounding 191 crosses for the French team while Debuchy tried just 96. Overall, Aurier and Sagna attempted more passes, more crosses, and more long passes than Debuchy. This is a key role at Arsenal for the fullbacks. They provide width to the three-man midfield often acting as a 4th or 5th midfielder and outlet for the creative players when they are under pressure. At Newcastle, Debuchy was used in the more traditional way that fullbacks are deployed so his passing numbers are low. But problematically, he played in a 4-3-3 with France in the World Cup and really didn’t up his passing numbers much, going from 34.9 for Newcastle to 35.8 for France. France averaged about the same number of passes per game as Newcastle (about 180 fewer PER GAME than Arsenal) so perhaps that explains why his numbers remained low.
Despite the freedom to roam forward, Aurier was still required to defend and he did so with aplomb, posting great tackle and interceptions numbers for Toulouse:
That said, Debuchy is one of the Premier League’s most prolific tackling fullbacks. He won 17% of Newcastle’s tackles while only committing 10% of their fouls. His high foul number, however, in part comes from the fact that he is a 55% tackler. Sagna is a 57% tackler and Aurier is the most efficient of the three at 65%. Aurier still posted high foul numbers because (DUHHHH) not all fouls come from bad tackles. All three players were very good in terms of errors, with Aurier topping the bunch with 2, though, that’s not a bad number. A bad number would be 6, that’s how many defensive errors Thomas Vermaelen made two seasons ago.
As you can see t this point, Sagna and Debuchy are very similar in terms of defending and in their attacking responsibilities. I have to wonder if Debuchy can pick up Sagna’s passing numbers but I’m not overly concerned there either because he isn’t a terrible passer by any stretch.
But there’s one other area that is crucial at Arsenal for the right back and that is in aerial duels. Bacary Sagna is only 5’8′ but he has an uncanny knack for winning headers. Winning headers isn’t all about size; determination, timing, and leaping ability all play a huge part and Bac had that part down pat. In fact, Bac was so strong in the air that he was often used as an outlet for Szczesny’s long kicks. As a result, before Giroud showed up, Sagna led Arsenal in aerial duels won per game and in aerial duel percentage and he is still #1 and 2 in those departments.
Aurier is the same size as Sagna and plays in France, which is a less “headlier” league than England, and yet his aerial duels percentage is 7 points lower than Bac. He’s getting about the same number of tries (150 for Aurier, 180 for Bac) but just isn’t winning as many.
What’s incredible is Debuchy’s aerial ability. I have watched him play a number of times over the last year and a half and can’t say I remember him being so good in the air but apparently he is. According to the Opta stats, the Frenchman wins 4/5.7 aerial duels per game. That’s so odd that I had to go back and look at individual games and sure enough the guy makes a ton of headed clearances and wins 70% of his aerial battles.
In the end, I still like Aurier because I’m a sucker for good offensive fullback but Arsene switching to Debuchy is a no brainer. The Newcastle man costs half as much and is in almost every way a ready-made replacement for Bacary Sagna. In fact, he might even be a slight upgrade. There is a reason why Debuchy got the nod over Sagna for France in the World Cup.