Finding the “Right” fit

Sandipani Basu
7 min readMay 31, 2021

Hector Bellerin is set to leave The Arsenal this summer. Mikel Arteta has played Cedric Soares, a traditional RB, only thrice this season in that position. Calum Chambers has filled in for whenever Hector was injured or just not preferred. Though that worked as a hotfix, it ideally should not be a permanent solution to the team’s defensive woes. The club needs to find a replacement and find it soon.

Achraf Hakimi, with 15 goal contributions (G+A) for two seasons in a row, Dortmund first and Inter this season is the golden boy right now. An attacking fullback who loves to carry the ball forward is being tipped at more than 60 mil euros. PSG are the front runners in this race.

Arsenal have a big summer ahead, with reinforcements needed for almost all positions of the field. Having looked at the manager and the management’s approach to resolve the right back issue for a while now, it is highly unlikely that they would try and shell massive sums of money to bolster the defensive flank. There are massive gaps elsewhere to fill anyways.

I have compiled a list of three right backs who have a reasonable market value and can be used in the “Arsenal” setup we have seen thus far in the 2020–21 season.

Takehiro Tomiyasu — Bologna (Serie A)

A 22 year old fullback from Fukaku, Japan seemed like an improbable option at first. With 2 goals and 0 assists this season, he would not be the first choice of many coaches. An xG Assisted of 0.5 also does not help his cause.

A look at few of his games and we can clearly see he has been used at the club as a third CB on the right rather than a full back, which clearly explains him being in the 14th percentile of assists across Europe’s(top 5 leagues) fullbacks.

Arsenal’s defense on the right has been shaky at times with fullbacks committing forward and being caught off position to make tackles or interceptions. Takehiro has done a good job in exactly not doing that.

With a 56.7% success in tackling dribblers, the young fullback has been one of the best tacklers for his club having played 2715 minutes of top flight Italian football. He is miles ahead of fellow attacking full backs, Hakimi, Lazzari, Theo Hernandez and Gosens.

In attack, owing to the teams setup, Takehiro sends a lot of balls into the final third of the pitch. 4 of every 26 passes he makes in a 90 minute match enters the final third of the pitch.

The 22 year old though not an attacking full back, times his progressive runs to gain positive distances in attack. As we see below, Hakimi and Lazzari lead in terms of carrying the ball forward, whereas Takehiro tries to ensure more ball time compromising on forward bursts. A full back who likes to keep the ball at his feet, Arsenal shouldn’t mind right?

Takehiro Tomiyasu is a young prospect, with a strong defensive acumen and an eye for attack.

Stefan Lainer — Borussia Monchengladbach (Bundesliga)

The 28 year old Austrian has been at Gladbach for 2 years now. 4 time Austrian league winner with Salzburg, Lainer had his best season with the Red Bull team aged 23, with 5 goals and 7 assists in the 16–17 season. Post that Stefan has found it really tough to get going again, managing 3–4 assists each season.

Marco Rose brought Lainer with him to Monchengladbach during the 19–20 season. The German manager used the right flank alot during the team’s attacks and Stefan has been pivotal in this role having played close to 2768 minutes of Bundesliga football.

One of the top full backs in the league in carrying the ball forward, Stefan Lainer has completed 19 of his 36 dribbles attempted this season.

His ball carrying and passing has led him to average 1.89 shot creating actions per 90 in the Bundesliga this season. To give you an idea of his game, Stefan had created 34 shot creating actions in 10 Europa league matches with Salzburg in the 18–19 campaign.

Ranked 7th in progressive passes in the Bundesliga, and in completed crosses into penalty area, Stefan has really impressed in attack this season.

Stefan’s forward game means he presses a lot. The numbers tell us the same story. Though not at par with Filip Kostic, Lainer maintains a good 31% success rate while pressuring the opposition in the mid third of the pitch.

With Rose leaving the club this summer, Stefan has less of an incentive to stay back in the manager’s absence, and Dortmund too does not look like it is in search of right backs at this moment. His defensive capabilities can be a point of concern, though not all bad, Stefan is an average defender to say the least.

Average defense

Will he be a welcome addition to the Arsenal squad, with his forward pacey runs? I think yes.

Some sauce at RB, why not?

Fabien Centonze — FC Metz (Ligue 1)

That brings us to the third and my most preferred candidate. 25 year old right back at FC Metz. This French full back has given an all round performance in Ligue 1 this season.

His attacking runs, defensive hold and flair for the brilliant has been really impressive. Centonze is not the one for goals having scored only one in Ligue 1 over his two seasons at the club.

The rest of the numbers say otherwise.

One of the top top carriers of the ball, Fabien has excelled his progression stats this season. Having played 3221 minutes in the Ligue 1 this season, he is also in the top 10 of dribblers in the French top tier league, sharing it with the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, Depay and the Ben Arfa(the streets remember him).

As compared to Ligue 1 defenders, miles ahead

Centonze’s gap in the numbers arise in completing progressive passes this season. FC Metz are second lowest in the league in terms of receiving progressive passes this season. Below is where the young French stands amongst his defensive peers.

This can be a comment on the FC Metz forwards receiving capabilities or his long passing. Up for debate.

Apart from this aberration, the full back has surprised everyone with his defensive capabilities as well, topping Ligue 1 charts in the number of blocks by an player. Averaging 4.86 tackles + interceptions per 90, he is undoubtedly the most important player at Metz

Leading Metz defenses

A pivotal man in defense, Fabien also averages 4.86 clearances per 90, putting him in the 99th percentile of all fullbacks in Europe’s top 5. It is really exciting to see such young players be involved in the game, both in attack and defense. Fabien Centonze will be a prized addition at this Arsenal club or any club for that matter.

The meteoric rise in the importance of full -backs across Europe cannot be understated. The roles, Reece James and Ben Chillwell played in Chelsea’s CL final triumph is proof enough. The rush to sign Achraf Hakimi is obvious.

Arsenal need a good right back too, one that fits in their system. These three do, in one way or the other and they are affordable.

Big summer for Arsenal FC up ahead.

Data credits- https://fbref.com/en/

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Sandipani Basu

An aspiring data geek with a keen interest in sports analytics, primarily soccer. I am on a gradual learning curve. But as they say good things take time.