Arsène Wenger says that Mathieu Debuchy can play at centre-back, now that he’s fully recovered from his injury troubles, but should he?
Debuchy has played centre-back in his only two appearances of the season so far. Mathieu only made one appearance last season, so it’s been a long time since he was playing right-back consistently. However, that was the position the French international was bought for originally, so does he have the capability to play in the back-three now instead?
Wenger’s record of converting full-backs to centre-back has been very good in the past, in my opinion. We saw Bacary Sagna move to the middle and performed very well before he left, Calum Chambers was better at the back last season than when he last played full-back, and Nacho Monreal has been the Gunners’ most reliable centre-back this year if you ask most fans.
Just because other players could do it, doesn’t mean Debuchy can too though, of course.
Looking at where he’s played under Wenger so far, he’s made 25 appearances for Arsenal’s senior side, and four of those have been at centre-back, so he’s not completely new to the position. Also, it appears that the 32-year-old was being trained for the position change, as his last three games for the u23s were all played at centre-back as well.
In the four senior games, Arsenal beat Newcastle, Red Star Belgrade and Norwich City, and drew with Liverpool, which isn’t bad going. Although, the three teams they beat weren’t exactly top level opposition, and the Gunners only kept one clean sheet.
In terms of whether Debuchy has the basic attributes to succeed at the back, I think he does. He’s not the fastest player in the team, but he’s no slouch, and he’s top quality in the air.
On his return to the side against Red Star Belgrade, Mathieu won more than half as many aerial duels as the rest of the team combined, and didn’t lose a single one throughout the match. As for Norwich, I don’t have statistics because they’re a lot harder to find for League Cup games, but from watching the game I can say it was a similar story.
So the only question I’d have is whether he can hold a disciplined defensive line and make tackles consistently well. When he was first in the side back in 2014/15, he used to commit to a lot of tackles, but his success rate was only around 50%. That’s not awful (50% would be better than the likes of Koscielny, David Luiz and Alderweireld this season), but at centre-back it does become a lot more important to know when you can dive in.
If Debuchy can allay those fears against Red Star Belgrade and in future appearances, then I think he should continue to play centre-back.
The Gunners need some good backups to avoid Elneny being called in every other week, and I’d rather see young players given a chance at right wing-back when Hector is unavailable, because Debuchy is unlikely to get any better out wide.