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Five left backs Arsenal could target in the summer amid growing fitness concerns


Arsenal remains in the thick of the fight for Champions League football next season after Mikel Arteta's Gunners put Chelsea to the sword in a 4-2 win away at Stamford Bridge in their midweek clash.

The club's Hale End academy was at the forefront of a big result once again as Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, and Bukayo Saka each found the back of the net against Thomas Tuchel's Blues, and that result could well spurn Arsenal on as they clash with rivals Manchester United in the midday kickoff tomorrow.

It can be argued that despite the club's targeting of reinforcements and/or upgrades across the forward line and in the center of the park, Arteta and Edu should look to also focus on bringing in a left-back in the summer in the wake of the severity of yet another injury concern surrounding key man Kieran Tierney.

As reported earlier this month by the ever-reliable David Ornstein, the Scottish international has been ruled out for the rest of the 2021-22 season and could even miss out on Scotland's World Cup Qualifying playoff clash against Ukraine set for June.

The current setback constitutes the sixth injury that the Scotsman has suffered since his arrival from Celtic in the summer of 2019 and has already missed a total of 48-matches as a result.

Arsenal sought to address these concerns in the summer when they purchased Portuguese youngster Nuno Tavares in the summer window, and though the former SL Benfica left-back has, at times, shown promise, he has also been painfully inconsistent while especially showing how raw he is in the defensive third of the pitch despite his impressive athletic qualities.

Should injury concerns persist with Tierney next season, especially if Scotland qualifies for Qatar 2022 in a tournament that would see him play a vital role for England's northern neighbors, the potential need for a left-back of true starting-caliber that could deputize if not replace him in the long term may end up becoming a bigger need for the club than many may have previously planned.

Tierney would hardly be easy to replicate or replace, however, given how well he has performed overall in the three seasons he has featured at Arsenal. Capable of being influential on both sides of the ball, and regularly a frustrating customer to deal with in the final third while having a work ethic and commitment on the pitch that was so difficult to match that many in the fanbase called for him to be named captain when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang departed, any player that Edu and Arteta could look to bring in must surely match a fairly lengthy list of criteria.

Beyond his fitness qualities combined with leadership on and off the pitch, Tierney was long utilized as an attacking outlet both in wide areas to deliver service, as well as a player who can tuck in and get into the eighteen-yard box to either supply others or have a look on frame himself.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five left-backs Arsenal could consider in the summer window if the position becomes a transfer focal point.

 

Borna Sosa (24; VfB Stuttgart | Valuation; £17million)

Long thought to be one of the better youth products to emerge from the vaunted Dinamo Zagreb youth setup, Croatia international Borna Sosa has been a standout performer for both his hometown club as well as current Bundesliga employers Stuttgart since his arrival in Baden-Württemberg in the summer of 2018. Brilliant going forward with a left-foot that provides sublime service both during the run of play as well as on set-pieces, his breakout season would come during the 2020-21 campaign where he would provide 10-assists in just 26-appearances in the league, and at the time of writing, has offered up another strong showing this term for Pellegrino Matarazzo's Die Schwaben to the tune of 1-goal and 7-assists in 24-appearances. With Stuttgart in a fight for their lives in the Bundesliga, Sosa could also be available for a more than reasonable fee should they fail to avoid the drop.

David Raum (24; TSG 1899 Hoffenheim |Valuation; £14million)

The second name to be put forth from the Bundesliga (and if you know me, you knew this was always the way), German international David Raum presents an outside of the box option for Arsenal after the Greuther Fürth youth product has exploded in Sinsheim this season after his summer arrival in the wake of helping Kleeblätter secure promotion from 2.Bundesliga when he logged 1-goal and 15-assists in their successful campaign to reach the German top flight. His attacking influence has transitioned well to life at Hoffenheim and has immediately become a key cog in the wheel under Sebastian Hoeneß that has seen him bag 3-goals and add a further 10-assists, which has seen him earn a place in the national team setup. The positional versatility that sees him capable as a left-back, as well as a wing-back or even a left midfielder, is a key indicator of his attacking influence.

Caio Henrique (24; AS Monaco | Valuation; £15million)

When you come through the ranks at Santos, chances are you have a future ahead of you and that has very much been the case regarding former Brazilian youth international Caio Henrique. After spending eight years in the Santos academy ranks, he moved to Atlético Madrid in 2016 but failed to make the grade in the Spanish capital, resulting in a series of loans in his native Brazil before principality outfit AS Monaco snapped him up in the summer of 2020. He has come on strong since his move, becoming a key member for The Monégasques in the last two seasons, highlighted by a strong showing this term which has seen him return 2-goals and 7-assists in Ligue 1 in a player profile that indicated he is fully capable of contributing at both ends of the pitch at a consistent level.

Kyle Walker-Peters (25; Southampton |Valuation; £15million)

Arsenal fans will be far more familiar with former Tottenham youth product Kyle Walker-Peters, especially recently after the full England international put in an excellent display when Southampton dispatched the Gunners recently in a 1-0 win at St. Mary's. He is ay not possess the outright attacking threat as the three names above him, but Walker-Peters is arguably the best defensive option of any option on the list - including Tierney - when it comes to his ability to sustain himself in a pressing system under Ralph Hasenhüttl while also showing strength in both the tackling and interception departments. Quick on his feet and capable of progressing play when on the ball, perhaps his biggest highlight is his capability of performing at both right-back and left-back, which would afford Arsenal a key depth option across a season that is likely to see the club feature in 50+ matches.

Marc Cucurella (23; Brighton |Valuation; £17million)

Catalan-born and a product of both the Espanyol and Barcelona academy institutions, Marc Cucurella was unable to make a name for himself at Barça but his highly successful loan spells as SD Eibar (2018-19) and Getafe CF (2019-20) would see him earn a full move to the Azulones for the 2020 season where he shone once again, prompting south coast outfit Brighton to secure his services this past summer. The full Spanish international has been an instant hit at the American Express Community Stadium under Graham Potter where his "two-way" profile on the pitch and tireless work rate (highlighted by excellent contributions in the defensive third) in a system that does often require pressing work has seen him arguably put his name in contention for a player of the season nomination. His recent performance against Arsenal was a key influence in Brighton's 2-1 win at the Emirates.

How they stack up against Tierney with contextualized data

Note: All data collated from FBRef (npxG + xA = non-penalty expected goals + expected assists, SCA = shot-creating actions, PP = progressive passes, PPR = progressive passes received, PC = progressive carries, Touches (18) = touches in the 18-yard-box)

To contextualize the data and provide more talking points than just the notion that numbers paint a full picture, it stands to note that not every player on this list is deployed in a system - or in a manner - that is identical to how Mikel Arteta utilizes Kieran Tierney.

With Arsenal banking on the creativity of Martin Ødegaard and link-up play through the likes of Alexandre Lacazette who seeks to bring Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli into the attacking fold, it is unclear just how the Gunners manager will continue to tweak the role of left-back especially if the club bring in another central player in the summer.

But what is clear, however, is that Tierney is the worst presser of any of the mentioned options and the same can be said for his struggles in the tackle. He is not called on to progress play on the ball nearly as much as someone like Borna Sosa or Kyle Walker-Peters, and that comes down to how - and where - Arsenal creates their chances.

What is perhaps most telling, however, is that Tierney boasts the worst shot-creating actions, and it can be argued that the value of a full-back that is a serious threat in the build-up as well as combination play in the attacking third is something that Arsenal have been missing since arguably Ashley Cole.

Whether or not the club will look to bring in competition for Kieran Tierney in the summer remains to be seen, but for base value, some of the data points potentially direct opinion to the notion that it could be time for the club to review its stance on the position, the player, and what may be needed if they are to successfully close the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool in the near future.




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