After investing heavily in their midfield and attacking departments with the signings of Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal will focus their attentions on solidifying their backline from now until Thursday’s transfer deadline.
The Gunners’ summer business has certainly been eye-catching but Unai Emery’s squad currently has a top-heavy feel to it as the first weekend of the Premier League season approaches, particularly with the recent departure of Laurent Koscielny.
Arsenal’s front duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had an impressive 50 goals between them last season. You’re probably wondering why the Gunners couldn’t even make top four with that abundance of goals.
The problem therein is the Gunners’ disorganized backline.
Manchester United were the only club in the top-six to concede more league goals than Arsenal last term and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has set about rectifying that issue by splashing out a combined £130m on Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
In contrast, Arsenal are yet to improve their defensive options with £27m signing William Saliba heading straight back to Saint-Etienne on loan.
With Koscielny’s departure to Bordeaux and Shkodran Mustafi being available to the highest bidder, Arsenal’s need to recruit a new centre-back is paramount.
RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano is seemingly the club’s top target to come in with reports emerging on Monday that they have tabled a £55m offer to bring him to north London following a couple of impressive campaigns in the Bundesliga.
At 20, the defender is considered a top prospect and is rated highly by a host of many clubs.
Here’s why Upamecano features so prominently on Arsenal’s centre-back wishlist.
Furthermore, this statistical analysis shows a comparison between the 20-year-old and Mustafi’s performances from last season. An understanding of how he could well be an upgrade and a possible solution to Arsenal’s backline.
Upamecano’s standout talent is his ability with the ball at his feet. The Frenchman played 42.98 successful passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga last season, the highest of any Leipzig defender, and is well-grounded at breaking opposition lines with his distribution, as well as carrying the ball out himself.
He isn’t one to get himself into too many physical confrontations but his positional awareness and anticipation allowed him to make 2.37 interceptions per 90 minutes last season – a number only topped at Leipzig by Arsenal loanee, Emile Smith Rowe (3.21), who was playing much further forward and was involved in a high-press system. In contrast, Mustafi could only make 1.94 interceptions per game.
Arsenal were one of the most defensively woeful sides in the English top-flight last season, sitting level with relegated Fulham on 12 errors leading to goals and 28 errors leading to shots, both league highs.
Upamecano should help snuff out those errors, given that he didn’t actually make any leading to a shot or goal in the Bundesliga at all during 2018/19.
Upamecano’s passing accuracy of 82.49% was the third-highest of any Leipzig player last season and the highest of any of their defenders. It sits just 0.82% behind Arsenal’s backline average of 83.1% and Mustafi’s average of 83.56%.
This though is understandable as Arsenal’s style of play allow them to retain more of the ball and play out from the back compared to a more physical Leipzig side who will rather look to pick out spaces and make overhead through balls.
From a physical perspective, Upamecano is quicker than any of Arsenal’s current central defenders and he uses his pace to close down attackers quickly as well to chase back balls launched over the top of the defensive line.
Despite standing at a relatively small 6’1, Upamecano has a great leap and is strong in aerial duels, winning 65% in total last season, which was only bettered in Arsenal’s defensive options by Mustafi with 66%.
In-depth though, a majority of the 20-year-old’s aerial duels were more significant as they prevented 12 possible scoring chances and prevented a set-piece going in on many occasions.
Mustafi, for all of his aerial duels still ranked third for defensive errors and situations leading to goal. An area Arsenal must address deeply if they are to stand any chance of a formidable challenge this season.
The “questionable” departure of Koscielny has left Arsenal lacking bodies in an area of their squad that was already short-staffed.
Unless Arsenal can manage to get someone in, they face the prospect of entering the new campaign with a centre back pool consisting of Sokratis, Mustafi, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers. That doesn’t look solid; even on paper.
Signing Upamecano would, therefore, increase competition for places while adding much-needed quality. At Leipzig, Upamecano has established himself as one of the best young defenders in Europe and will be a great addition to the Arsenal squad.