DE-RISKING AT LEFT-BACK AND INNOVATING THE FIX – Le Grove – The Arsenal Opinion Blog

Let’s talk about left-backs today because we’re at the fans phase of the transfer window when Arsenal start to get flustered about fees and who we’re buying.

David Ornstein said Arsenal is going to the mat with Manchester United over the signing of Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez. The fee is around £40m, the player likes both clubs, and the decision is up in the air. I think most of us reckon he’s going to take the United move, but who knows, he might fancy a more adventurous/pivotal/trendy position in the Arteta system as a left-back that builds play.

The fee is big. Arteta loves defenders that have specialist moves. Lisandro is one of them.

‘BUT HE’S NOT A PRIORITY’ is something I keep reading.

Firstly, as humans, we derive much pleasure from the idea that things happen in order. It’s easier on our primitive brains to imagine the thing we see as the most important is the thing that is addressed first. We like dinner served in order, no ice cream as a starter, sustenance before a sugar coma. The milk goes into the cup after the hot water has been served when making a tea unless you are a psycho. No one puts a shirt on before their socks. Simple things.

I guess from an evolutionary perspective, when we were hanging out in caves, prioritizing things like food and fresh water over a new cave couch were probably beneficial to our survival. We might not worry about catching food now, and plenty of folk will buy a new DFS couch over more important things, but our desire for order is still the same: but now, we layer that quirk over football transfers.

This is wrong.

The order of transfers doesn’t matter. Arsenal will be working on lots of deals, with lots of clubs, all at the same time. If you worked in order, you would miss out on players, and it would be incredibly inefficient. Teams of people work on these things. Teams are collections of people built to withstand the burden of multiple tasks. A left-back moving up the queue doesn’t mean we’re ignoring other positions.

There are people that don’t think we need a left-back at that price, again, I would disagree. Kieran Tierney is a monster player, we love him, his attitude, his character, and his Tesco bag for holding training gear.

… but, we need to think in a more ruthless manner because we have struggled at left-back over the last 3 seasons.

Firstly, the numbers. The last 4 seasons (one from Celtic) have not been good for Kieran Tierney in the league. He has only played 48.5% of the league minutes available. His best haul was his second season at Arsenal where he clocked 2300 minutes. Joao Cancelo clocked 3200 EPL minutes last season in the league, 4200 overall. Trent managed 2800 last season, 4200 overall. KTs best minutes total over the last 4 seasons has been 2900 in 20/21.

What makes his injury issues even more problematic is that in 2 of his 3 seasons, there has been more than one breakdown a season. Take last season, he missed the first batch of games, which went to Nuno Tavares. Came back for a chunk, imposed himself on the style again, made himself important, then we lost him on international duty. Why is this important? Because our back-up players haven’t been ready to go because they’re either not at the level (Kola) or too young (Nuno). When KT breaks, so does the team, has tended to be the pattern.

If you want to be like the best two teams in the league, you have to find full-back solutions that can hit 3800+ minutes. Trent 4200, Robertson 4000, Cancelo 4600, even Kyle Walker at 32 is delivering 2700 minutes. 4 seasons’ worth of data would suggest it’s going to be unlikely that Kieran will be that player.

Arsenal has a history of not making moves when it’s clear there are weaknesses in players. I remember Arsenal waiting year after year for Abou Diaby to recover so he could replace Patrick Vieira. It never happened. We suffered for it.

The need is clear, you have to have a left-back at Arsenal that can manage more than 48% of the Premier League minutes. Would Arsenal have found an extra 3 points if we’d had Kieran T available for those 51.5% of the minutes? Absolutely.

… but, key with this window is that we are making the mini-crisis work for us. The question going around at Arsenal will surely be: ‘Do we need to find a like-for-like backup, or could we do something more innovative?’

Arsenal is doing the latter. Don’t listen to those that think a setpiece obsessive manager is signing a 5ft9 centre-back, no, Martinez is a left-back option for Arsenal. What is the motive? We’re a little one-dimensional with Kieran Tierney at left-back. We have a power move where we catch him on the overlap and the delivery isn’t always to level we need. Lisandro Martinez is a full-back more in the shape of Joao Cancelo. He’s a build-up player. Signing him will mean Xhaka doesn’t need to drop into a deeper position to build the play. It means we have a player that can invert, join the midfield, and contribute to our attacking play. It means we have someone that can find long accurate balls to release our pacy frontline. He’s also a monster in the air, which adds an additional shield of cover if the opposition counter with hoofs over the top. If your fullback can step into midfield, you can blitz with your forwards.

Now, is this move a guaranteed win? Absolutely not. There’s a huge difference between the Premier League and the Dutch one. There are a lot of examples of players that looked the real deal, only for them to land in our league, and totally tank. Just look at Donny, he looked like Ramsey on steroids, but he’s been dreadful. It ain’t the system, it’s the reality that it’s hard to adapt here.

The price is high because there aren’t many defenders that can do what Martinez does. If Arsenal are moving for him, with the money they have at the ready, it’s because he’s been heavily scouted and analyzed and the club think he’s a gem. There are too many people that spill their views into the ether when they don’t watch anything bar youtube clips. Unless you have an Ajax avatar in your bio, or you’ve been talking about Dutch football consistently, I can’t listen to your views on the player.

Let’s see where the deal goes, if we don’t get him, there will be other targets, and if one of them looks like Zinchenko, I’m not going to be sad, because we know he can do it in the Premier League .

Right, that’s all I have, I’ll see you in the comments.

Later on today, we’ll be rolling with a Sunday Post-Season special with a special guest appearance from Sophie over at the excellent Highbury Squad Youtube Channel. Subscribe to the channel below, click the little bell, and tune in, it’ll be a cracker!

  • LONDON: 9PM
  • NEW YORK: 4PM
  • MIDWEST: 3PM
  • CALI: 1PM

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