It will not have escaped your notice that Arsenal are currently a right back short of a full picnic (go with me on that analogy). After a remarkable 7 years of service Sagna is deciding to up sticks and move on; whilst I certainly won’t be happy if the follicly challenged Frenchman ends up in Manchester as second choice to the admittedly excellent Zabaleta, I will understand. He is settled in England and the options for a big pay day are limited to City, PSG and a team in the Middle East. Given that Sagna is still capable of performing at the very top level, I’d be disappointed if he plied his final few years in the desert.
But as they say, when one door closes another opens and with the Sagna’s departure, it leaves us with an interesting void in the first 11. For the sake of argument I am going to presume that the name being touted in the tabloids, Serge Aurier, will turn out to be Wenger’s chosen successor for the departing Frenchman. The Ivorian is a strong, robust buccaneering right back who has a propensity for getting on the score sheet. Looking at his stats, there seems to be a disparity in both players’ playing styles with Sagna having greater defensive attributes and Aurier proving to be a more threatening attacking outlet. If this is the case then I think it could certainly add something to Arsenal’s game next season.
Firstly, it would offer an excellent balance to the outlet that Gibbs provides on the left. Gibbs has a great knack for playing one twos and finding areas in and around the left hand channel of the box. He is technically very strong and likes to keep the ball on the green. In contrast to this, it would seem that Aurier has an ability to get beyond the right winger and put in dangerous crosses from advanced positions. On occasions this year, when Walcott was injured, we relied on Sagna getting forward and posing a threat on the right flank, and although Sagna’s crossing has improved in the last few seasons, he really doesn’t offer much of a threat. He doesn’t like to cut inside and take on a shot when the opportunity is presented and often relies on getting his head up and trying to play in a cross. Aurier on the other hand averages 1.7 shots a game, compared to Sagna’s 0.5, and has an average of 1.1 crosses per game compared to Sagna’s 0.5.
Stats of course do not tell the full story but it is evident that Aurier offers a greater attacking threat than our dependable Frenchman.
It will be interesting to see if Aurier could provide the balance needed on the right hand side whilst working in conjunction with Walcott. The speed winger, when fit and confident, can provide an excellent attacking outlet, picking up space between the left back and centre back and making well timed runs to escape the offside trap. His preference to drift in from the touchline, whilst sometimes infuriating, can often be one of our most lethal assets. If he was to combine this attacking instinct with Aurier’s ability to get forward on the outside of the winger it could pose a double threat. Fullbacks would have a tortuous time having to mark Theo as he drifts in whilst being aware that a pass round the outside could result in a very dangerous ball being whipped in.
On occasion, Theo has been known to ignore his defensive duties which resulted in Sagna having to cover quite a lot of ground tracking back and getting forward in support of the winger; at the age of 31 and having suffered two broken legs in the last two years, it may have been quite a lot to expect Sagna to continue to cover as much ground as he currently does. Aurier, having youth on his side and seemingly great athleticism would be able to cover the ground necessary to operate as an attacking outlet and as part of a balanced back four.
Of course, we can’t expect a transition of this magnitude to go swimmingly. There will be teething problems; Aurier is young and inexperienced and despite his impressive performances this year in Ligue Un, he will have to get used to the ferocious pace of the PL. His potential acquisition is one of the reasons I don’t see us bringing back Cesc; with a new defensive recruit who will inevitably be caught out of position from time to time we will need a stable anchor in the midfield. I find that Flamini is excellent at shielding the fullbacks, covering the ground and recognizing when either fullback is out of position but alternatively the need for greater coverage in front of our defence could prompt Wenger to pursue a defensive midfielder that so many of our supporter base have called for.
If Aurier does become Sagna’s replacement, I think there will be days that we miss the Frenchman’s experience. Sagna has been one of our best and most consistent players for the last 6 years; I don’t think we’ll really know how important he was until he’s gone. But with that in mind, the prospect of bringing in someone new who could potentially add to our attacking repertoire is hugely exciting; let’s hope we get it right!
Til next time,
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