Arsenal fans were sure to be ruing Bacary Sagna's free transfer to Manchester City, but one month after watching his reliable right-back slip away, Arsene Wenger has replaced him with the proven quantity of Mathieu Debuchy.
The Gunners' official Twitter account confirmed the signing on Thursday:
While the £10 million fee is nearing the top end of what Arsenal could expect to pay for the right-back, reported by Charles Perrin of The Independent, Wenger can rest easy knowing he has switched one top quality Frenchman for another.
Debuchy is more than capable of filling the void left by one of the North London club's most consistent performers. He is also confident enough to apply himself right away, ensuring the changeover is a smooth one.
As recorded by WhoScored.com, the two defenders posted similar statistics throughout the 2013-14 season. Debuchy's overall Premier League player rating topples that of his countryman, coming in at 7.42 across 29 appearances, while Sagna lags just behind with a score of 7.2 in 35.
To assess the duo further, let's begin by analysing their most recent defensive statistics:
|Player||Tackles (avg. per match)||Interceptions||Fouls||Clearances||Dribbled Beyond||Shots Blocked|
The similarity between each stat is pretty remarkable here, especially considering Newcastle conceded 59 and Arsenal only let 41 goals in throughout the last campaign. Debuchy's tackling stat is impressive, yet unsurprising for those who regularly monitor the former Lille star's style of play.
He is someone who concentrates on the task at hand with great intensity. Even when beaten by a smart dribble, the 28-year-old is the type of player to continue hassling in order to shut down space. He doesn't give up the fight if beaten in a personal duel and is dogged enough to often sniff out a vital tackle or touch as his mark moves toward the area.
Sagna doesn't quite possess the same sort of intensity and is more reliant on his pace across a short distance than his ability to read play. This is by no means a belittling statement—many defensive legends, such as Rio Ferdinand, have excelled with the same technique—as Sagna's concentration doesn't quite match up to the intensity of his replacement.
OptaJoe offered a telling stat to hammer home this point:
6 - Mathieu Debuchy made more last-man saving tackles than any other Premier League player last season. Handy.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 17, 2014
Squawka also tweeted an interest tidbit:
Mathieu Debuchy won more aerial duels per 90 mins in the EPL last season (7.98) than any other defender (15+ apps). pic.twitter.com/vqmQ1zbfuG— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 17, 2014
Debuchy proved more likely to overstep the mark last season, racking up eight yellow cards and one red compared to Sagna's six yellows. Arsenal are likely to fall under less defensive pressure than Newcastle next season, so Wenger will hope Debuchy's record improves.
Attacking comparisons are also remarkably similar, as noted below:
|Player||Goals||Assists||Shots (avg. per match)||Key Passes||Completed Dribbles||Tackled||Turnovers|
One of Sagna's great downfalls is his inability to consistently hit accurate crosses. The experienced defender has the technique to curl absolutely perfect balls into the six-yard box, but it doesn't happen regularly enough. He completed 0.5 crosses per match last season, a stat echoed by Debuchy's output.
Both, in truth, will want to add further assists to their accounts. Debuchy managed just three, while Sagna posted two in six appearances more. According to WhoScored.com's stats, he also takes five matches to complete one dribble without the ball ending up at the opposition's feet, while Debuchy completes 1.2 every two matches.
Sagna's agility and energy often saw many of his offensive irritations overlooked at the Emirates. As his aforementioned stats show, this is not a player who can be considered an essential attacking outlet by his side. He offered width for Arsenal to move up the pitch, sure, but his end product is disappointing. This is likely to come to the fore at City, where Pablo Zabaleta posted one goal and six assists last season.
Debuchy's attacking stats underline a busybody. It's encouraging to see he averages at least one shot per match, as the Gunners' insistence on playing fast-paced, counter-attacking football means he can sprint into useful positions on the overlap. He can expect to improve his numbers with a stint in Arsenal's first team, while Sagna is likely to see his decrease in a rotational role at the Etihad.
Even so, Andrew Gibney of Club Metro suggests another option should have been selected over Debuchy:
Don't see Arsenal signing Aurier if they are spending £10m on Debuchy. Roughly same price. Aurier would have been my pick. #AFC— Andrew Gibney (@Gibney_A) July 11, 2014
Wenger believes his new signing's Premier League experience holds Arsenal in good stead. He also hints at the similarities previously mentioned between Debuchy and Sagna, per the Press Association and via Eurosport:
The obvious replacement for Sagna was Debuchy. He knows what to expect and that's of course a huge advantage. Debuchy is very good going forward, is very quick in transition. He is sharp in his marking, good with interceptions and quick to go from defence to attack.
Who is the better right-back?
Arsenal's future is looking on the up after the FA Cup win and signings of Alexis Sanchez and Debuchy. Sagna's exit will be rendered nothing more than a slight hiccup when the campaign begins, as Wenger's latest French addition possesses similar quality and greater potential to excel.
Considering 28-year-old Debuchy is three years younger than the man he replaces, it seems the Gunners have also swapped a fading entity for someone on the cusp of their peak. The proof will of course be in Debuchy's performances, but right now, he appears to be an extremely savvy addition to a squad that is rapidly improving.