Wild American Gooner

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Evaluating Arsenal’s Latest Signing – Welcome Mathieu Debuchy

Many names have been tossed around in the last two years as potential replacements for Bacary Sagna when he left Arsenal. Sagna’s shoes were a big fill, and it didn’t seem like Carl Jenkinson was going to be ready quite yet. We heard about Serge Aurier, Micah Richards and Callum Chambers. But it was always going to Mathieu Debuchy. It just made too much sense. And the former Newcastle man became Arsene Wenger’s second signing of the summer yesterday, confirming a transfer story that had lost all suspense weeks ago.

Debuchy is as close as it comes to a like-for-like replacement for Sagna at right back. Whether or not he is an upgrade is up for debate, but he is certainly a suitable replacement. The similarities start with the obvious fact that the two of them are French internationals, with Debuchy starting over Sagna at the World Cup. That fact right there should leave Arsenal fans satisfied with the move, even if they are not overly excited. He showed himself well in Brazil, and didn’t look out of place in the quarterfinal against the eventual champion Germany.

But the biggest similarity between the two French right backs is their style of play. At this stage in their careers, both are above average going forward, having the ability to make runs down the flank. And while Sagna might be a better crosser of the ball, Debuchy has a little more pace at the moment. They are also above average defenders, capable of winning balls in the air and defending one-on-one situations. One negative of Debuchy is that he won’t be able to fill in at right back like Sagna could, but that shouldn’t be a factor unless Wenger allows Thomas Vermaelen to leave without replacing him.

Tactically, Debuchy will slot directly into Sagna’s role in Arsene Wenger’s plans. He and Theo Walcott should make for a terrorizing duo on the right, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a majority of Arsenal’s crosses coming from that side once again. With French teammate Olivier Giroud to aim at in the middle, Debuchy should have little trouble fitting in offensively. He might struggle at first with his defending though, as he won’t get much help from Walcott. He’ll have to quickly learn to be extra disciplined so as not to leave himself and Per Mertesacker exposed. Sagna was excellent next to the big German, and it will be vital for Debuchy to develop a good relationship with Mertesacker from the start.

Where Debuchy’s experience could help the most is on Arsenal’s goal kicks. A pattern had developed in recent years of Wojciech Szczesny aiming his kicks at the head of Sagna up the field. And Sagna was pretty good at winning those first balls, getting Arsenal up the field in an efficient manner. Debuchy will offer the same sort of outlet. At Newcastle, the former Lille star won a high percentage of his aerial duels, and he should be able to do much of the same at Arsenal.

And as Debuchy is 28 years old, he’s a known commodity. What you see is what you’ll get. Playing with the pressure that comes from the Arsenal fans sometimes can be tough. But someone who’s been involved in the France national team setup should have no problem with pressure. He’s also had experience playing in the Champions League in the past. And as he’s been in the Premier League for the last 18 months, he should be able to settle in quickly.

I won’t lie. I’m not overwhelmed with excitement over the Debuchy signing. He doesn’t make us title-winning threats all by himself by any means. But Arsenal needed to find a replacement for Sagna and Carl Jenkinson didn’t seem ready. So signing a veteran international who can bring stability to the position while Arsenal search for the right back of the future signing over the next few years makes a lot of sense.

There was a hole at right back, and Arsene Wenger filled it swiftly and appropriately. And while Debuchy obviously won’t bring the same spark to the team that Alexis Sanchez will, he is a valuable signing nonetheless. Arsenal now has a starting lineup that rivals any in the Premiership, and further signings this summer will only serve to strengthen the campaign. I can’t wait to see this team take the field in less than a month.



Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen Problem

Two summers ago, Thomas Vermaelen was heading towards being one of the world’s best defenders. Already a regular in Belgium’s side, one that seemed to have a golden generation arising, Vermaelen had locked down a place in Arsenal’s back four after some injury problems and was awarded the earned the Arsenal captaincy. But just twenty-two months later, Vermaelen has seen his career come to a crashing halt, both for club and for country. As he sat on the bench and watched his Belgian teammates struggle for much of their 2-1 win over Algeria today in the World Cup, Vermaelen had to be wondering where it all went wrong.

When Robin Van Persie left for Manchester United, Arsene Wenger didn’t have an obvious successor in his squad for the role of Arsenal captain. It’s a big job, as the player must take on added pressure both on and off the field as the official spokesman for the players. Wenger’s choice of Vermaelen seemed smart, if a little unexpected. A leader on the pitch, and a well-spoken gentleman off it, the Verminator  seemed well suited for the job.

But as the 2012-2013 season wore on, Vermaelen’s form took a serious dip. Having kept Laurent Koscielny out of the side for months, Vermaelen struggled to defend suddenly. His marauding runs up the field were unwanted, as they left the slower Per Mertesacker exposed behind him. Long known for timely goal-scoring, Vermaelen also stopped finding the net. So when Arsenal traveled to Bayern Munich for the second leg of the Champions League tie that year, it was no surprise to see the captain left on the bench along with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after a series of poor performances. But while Szczesny won his job back after a few weeks, Vermaelen did not.

Last year was an awkward one for Vermaelen. Still the Arsenal captain, he rarely saw the field. He had some minor injury issues, but those weren’t the reason he wasn’t playing. And as he watched, the duo of Koscielny and Mertesacker were hailed as Arsenal’s best in years. While this was going on, Belgian coach Marc Wilmots dropped Vermaelen due to his lack of playing time, and on account of the quality in that side, Vermaelen hasn’t won his place back.

Thomas Vermaelen is now at a pivotal moment in his career. Still 28, he should be in the prime of his career. But after an  empty year, he needs a new start. This World Cup should make him realize that if he hasn’t already, because he could be a huge part of this dark-horse Belgian side were he in better form. However, Arsenal won’t let him go easily, because they need a third center-back in the squad, having lost the versatile Bacary Sagna to Manchester City. Needing a right-back, a forward and a winger, finding another center-back to replace Vermaelen is not a priority for Wenger, and until he finds cover, he shouldn’t let his captain go.

I’ve always admired Vermaelen for how he handled his being left out of the side. Knowing he wouldn’t play against Bayern, not many players would have been as professional as he was during his pre-match press conference that day. And last year, he hardly complained, doing his duties as captain while acting as one of Arsenal’s biggest cheerleaders. He got to lift the FA Cup last month as Arsenal’s captain, and you could see the joy in his face as he raised it. Clearly, he loves Arsenal, which is part of what made him such a great choice for the captaincy.

But for his sake, he needs a new start. I would hate to see this wonderfully talented player lose multiple years of his prime, and that is how it would be if he stays. Wenger should try and negotiate a swap-deal for another center-back to make his job easier in finding a necessary replacement, but he owes his captain a chance to see the field this year. If that’s not going to be at Arsenal, Wenger must let him find somewhere else to play. Ideally, he wouldn’t join a rival, and Wenger shouldn’t let him do that. But if Vermaelen wants a new start, he should get one.

What do you think of the Arsenal captain? Please comment below.