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Was Dayot Upamecano the answer for Arsenal?

Saturday 10th August 2019
Dayot Upamecano was heavily linked to Arsenal but the Gunners settled for David Luiz at the deadline.
Dayot Upamecano was heavily linked to Arsenal but the Gunners settled for David Luiz at the deadline.

Arsenal was desperate for a quality centre-back before Laurent Koscielny's departure to Bordeaux. With their disenchanted captain gone, the urgency increased. Reportedly, the Gunners inquired after RB Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano. While the young Frenchman would have added depth to the ranks, he wasn't an impact signing who would walk into the starting XI and make Gooners forget their troubles.

Despite failing to reach another Champions League, Arsenal's summer business was shrewd. The Gunners stayed within a modest immediate budget by staggering payments for record signing Nicolas Pepe from Lille. With that £72 million to be paid in instalments, an additional £27 million was available for William Saliba who, like Naby Keita for Liverpool and Christian Pulisic for Chelsea, was loaned back to sellers Saint-Etienne. As well, loanee Dani Ceballos is expected to fill the void left by Aaron Ramsey. Emery should enjoy his young compatriot’s creative hunch, dynamism and unpredictability for a year.

Nevertheless, a solid centre-half was the Spanish manager's first priority and it didn't get done. David Luiz will help in the transition to attack with his 30 and 40-yard passes that nestle in the arch of his target's boot. He'll contribute some dead ball magic too. But he is not Virgil van Dyk or Toby Alderwereild. The Belgian was available on the cheap for nearly the entire window but no one, let alone Spurs' North London rivals, kicked the tyres on him. If you want to talk about a player who could have filled Koscielny's boots and even donned the armband from day one, well.

Arsenal exhibited frailties at the back in the vast majority of games last term. They conceded 50 Premier League goals for the second consecutive campaign, the most by any team in the top six. Although Koscielny’s best days are behind him, his exit is a blow given the delay before Saliba's arrival.

Emery is left with a promising albeit unfit Rob Holding, inexperienced Konstantinos Mavropanos, calamitous Shkodran Mustafi and the ageing Greek warrior Sokratis. While young  Zech Medley showed promise in pre-season, the 20-year-old isn't ready for the Premier League. A new face was expected.

Upamecano was Arsenal's chosen target. The Gunners had a bid in the region of £55 million turned down by the German side. It is understandable. Upamecano continued to defy his age. Just 20, the French youth international has already racked up 4,439 Bundesliga minutes in Germany's since transferring from RB Salzburg in 2017. 

Upamecano's positional sense is a fine-tuned radar. Better, he recognises the right choice in pressure situations. He always takes the angle on an attacker that leaves the fewest options. That should be enough but his ability on the ball separates him from the pack.

He can beat a defence with a pass or mazy run. His passing accuracy averaged out to 86.2% last season. He completed 1.47 dribbles with a success rate of 63.6%. Matthijs de Ligt performed 0.78 dribbles for Ajax while Harry Maguire registered 0.87 for Leicester. 

Although 6' 1", his weakness is in the air. Leipzig conceded too many goals from high, sweeping crosses in 2018/19.

The 20-year-old held so much promise even if he would have needed time to adapt to the Premier League's intensity and pace. That can only come with experience, however.

Leipzig reportedly values him at £92 million, making him the most expensive defender in history. For such a price, you expect the player to hit the ground running. 

When you compare Upamecano to Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker, Virgil van Dijk's switch and Maguire, he comes up short on experience. In the short term, Arsenal should have no regrets over passing up the Frenchman. In the long term? The price for quality will only increase.

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Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 


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