With Bacary Sagna ready for showdown talks with Arsenal, per Hannah Duncan at the Metro, one potential replacement the Gunners might target is Toulouse's Serge Aurier, so here is a scouting report on the 21-year-old 5'9" and 168-pound Ivorian international.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was not surprised with right-back Sagna's capability as an emergency centre-back last year, per Arsenal's official website.
Wenger outlined how he had "pushed" Sagna into centre-back at training and the "encouraging" signs foreshadowed strong performances at the heart of the Gunners' defence.
Aurier's advantage over Sagna is having a more extensive playing style.
This is why Aurier is so versatile: He has played as a right-back in a 4-4-2, a left sided centre-back in a 3-5-2, a right sided centre-back in a 3-5-2 and a right wing-back in a 3-5-2.
From an offensive perspective: There is no competition.
Sagna is a diligent, hard-working and defensively solid footballer, but he is not a lively threat going forward.
Whereas, Aurier has better technical ability and is more productive in the attacking half.
|League Only||Aurier 13-14||Sagna 11-12, 12-13, 13-14*|
The goal Aurier scored in a 2-1 defeat to Evian Thonon Gaillard was a display of world-class athleticism: He was airborne when he acrobatically kicked the ball past Evian goalkeeper Jesper Hansen.
Aurier's high-flying approach to winning the ball has seen him register headed goals in Toulouse's 3-2 win over Reims and a 2-2 draw against Marseille.
He has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time like when he ghosted in to score in Toulouse's 3-2 win over Rennes.
In Ligue 1 this season, despite being burdened with defensive duties, Aurier has scored more goals (five) than Paris Saint-Germain's £37.7 [€45] million signing Lucas Moura (three).
Another bonus in Aurier's game is being a dual-threat: He can score and assist.
During Toulouse's 2-1 win over Saint-Etienne, he shredded its back line with speed and provided a low cross to Toulouse left wing-back Issiaga Sylla, who scored the decisive second goal.
Aurier's accurate through ball to Toulouse centre-forward Wissam Ben Yedder shows Aurier is not a one-dimensional, run-to-the-byline-and-cross type of player.
It was a play in Toulouse's 2-0 win over Nice when Aurier received the ball and pierced Nice's defence with a smart ball that curled straight into the path of Ben Yedder's run.
Who in their right mind would play such an attack-driven, explosive and special offensive talent at centre-back?
Toulouse manager Alain Casanova, a former professional goalkeeper.
When he referenced Aurier as a player, who provided Toulouse confidence, per Ligue1.com, you presume Casanova was not talking about Aurier's tackling, rather the Ivorian's spark in the attacking half.
However, Casanova may point to the fact that Aurier is a prolific ball-winner: Second (75) behind Sylla (76) in tackles and has registered the most interceptions (55) this season for Toulouse.
Yet, Aurier's defending is an area he needs to work on.
He tends to appeal for offside, rather than being in position to win the ball.
If a linesperson makes the wrong call, then Aurier cannot contest the play, as evident when Bordeaux centre-forward Cheick Diabate scored in a 1-1 draw against Toulouse.
Here are three reasons why Aurier should not give up on a play hoping to be bailed out by a linesperson:
- The linesperson will always give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker meaning he could be offside.
- Aurier is not great at playing the offside trap (has only been credited with winning one offside call, compared to Cedric Mongongu's 50 for Evian).
- Aurier has recovery speed, is a strong tackler and could just win back possession even if an opposing player has the advantage of being marginally offside.
With the Diabate goal, all Aurier needed to do was slide over and the Bordeaux No. 9 may not have scored.
An additional aspect of Aurier's game he needs to consider is jockeying rather than overcommitting in the tackle, as was the case when Marseille left attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet skipped away.
Aurier's overzealous tackling is why he leads Ligue 1 in yellow cards (nine).
Is Aurier a like-for-like replacement for Sagna? No. They are polar opposites.
What Arsenal need to do is renew Sagna's contract, who has shown loyalty and made a successful return from two leg breaks.
Once the Gunners re-sign Sagna, they should buy Aurier and find a way to incorporate him into the first team.
At right-back? No.
It is incomprehensible to play Aurier, a freakish attacking player, at the back so he should be converted into a midfielder (some will say he is already a midfielder as a wing-back).
He is more productive offensively than most attackers in Europe's elite leagues, even though he has split his time mainly between centre-back and right wing-back (can play right-back, though Casanova prefers to use a 3-5-2).
In 2007, this Chilean player said his goal was to be the best centre-back in the world, per Tim Vickery at BBC Sport.
Can you name that player?
It was Arturo Vidal, who is now a world-class box-to-box midfielder.
Aurier has unparalleled athleticism combined with an all-round game, therefore he will make it to the top as a midfielder, barring unforeseeable circumstances.
There is an adage in sports management: Do not overrate need over talent.
The Gunners may not desperately need Aurier in a more advanced role, but he has world-class upside.
He could turn into a midfielder, who scores and creates a combined 15-20 goals per season, while also being a world-class ball-winner.
Statistics via WhoScored