Could Issa Diop be the long term answer to Arsenal’s defence?
Issa Diop is a player who I personally think must rank as a top defensive target for Arsenal. The West Ham centre-back had arrived from Toulouse in 2018 for a reported £22 million and has played 54 games for the Hammers. Mikel Arteta will be looking for a defender who has a blend of youth and experience, he will want someone who can learn his positional defence whilst also showing knowledge of the league. Diop fits this and at 23, could well form a bastion of defence with William Saliba for many years to come.
Issa Diop primarily plays as a right-sided centre back in a back four, however, is adept at playing on the left side. Despite a torrid campaign with West Ham, Issa Diop has remained a prize jewel for the Hammers. His confidence on the ball and desire to continue to pass out from the back, despite numerous mistakes from his teammates, truly show that this style of playing is ingrained into him. This is an attribute which many centre-backs don’t have and something which Mikel Arteta will admire. In fact, this season, 68% of Diop’s contributions have been revolving around passing and playing out from the back. In perspective, 22% of Diop’s game has been about defending.
Passing and Playing Out From The Back
Regarding Diop’s ability on the ball, he averages 32.77 simple passes per 90 minutes, with 73.5% of these passes being forward. In terms of total simple passes made so far this season, Diop has made 2594. A total of 31.9% have come in the opposition half.
Diop is also very strong regarding long passes and the switch of play. He averages 2.44 long passes per game with an accuracy of 66.3% from his total 193 attempts. His long-range passing could be a real weapon for Arsenal, given that of his 193, 105 have come in the opposition’s half with a success rate of 69.5%.
At West Ham, Diop is often positioned deep and this can be reflected in positions where he losses the ball. Of his 460 total ball losses, 62.2% have come in his own half, with 14.3% being down to errors and mistakes. Compared to Diop, Luiz averages 53.28 simple passes per 90 minutes. Of his 4474 simple passes so far this season, 70.6% of them are forward into the opposition’s half.
Due to Diop’s 6ft 4in frame, he is very adept in the air. This season he has won 63.1 % of his 295 duels. On average, Diop attempts 3.73 aerial duels per game, and of his total duels this season he has attempted 55.3% in his own half and a further 18% in the opponent’s half. Unsurprisingly, 32-year-old David Luiz has only won 49% of his 306 aerial duels this season despite being 6ft 2in. He averages 3.64 duels per 90 minutes and has lost 48.9% of his 92 duels with players ranging between 6ft and 6ft 2in. Issa Diop, meanwhile, has won 62.6% of his 99 duels with players in this height bracket. In aerial challenges, Issa Diop would be a major improvement on David Luiz.
1 v 1 Defending
David Luiz remarkedly wins 40.7% of 54 1 v 1 situations with opposition strikers. Issa Diop wins only 25% of his 64 1 v 1 duels with opposition strikers. In a team which plays with a high line such as Arsenal, being able to win these 1 v 1 situations with strikers, who are often seen as the out ball depending on their profile and the style of the opponents, is vital. In total, David Luiz has won 29.6% of his 135 1 v 1 duels. Luiz has lost 55.6% of his 1 v 1 duels, with 14.8% of his challenges being neutral outcomes. He averages 1.61 1 v 1 challenges per 90 minutes. Diop averages 2.21 1 v 1 challenges per 90 minutes and wins 25.7% of his total 175 1 v 1 challenges. Diop has lost 62.9% of his 1 v 1 duels and therefore will definitely require lots of coaching in regards to becoming comfortable defending the space behind him and effectively neutralising counter attacks.
In terms of defensive duels, David Luiz has won 31.1% of his 339 defensive duels, whilst Issa Diop has won 28.3% of his 434 defensive duels. Obviously, Diop is playing in a team which is underperforming and has very little defensive stability, however, the same could be said about Arsenal for large parts of the season. It is commonplace that a team that plays with a high defensive line will often find their centre-backs isolated against the opposition’s strikers. Diop has won 25.4% of his defensive duels with strikers, whilst Luiz has won 38.3% of duels.
Diop is rather much better at defending against opposition wingers. He has won 31.4% of battles against an opposition winger, while Luiz has won 24% of his. This could largely be down to the athleticism of Diop and the physical decline of David Luiz with age.
One of Diop’s strengths is his interceptions. Per 90 minutes, Diop makes 6.6 interceptions, whilst Luiz makes 4.94. Something which will impress Arteta will be that 321 of Diop’s 488 total interceptions have been intercepted passes. David Luiz has intercepted a total of 415 times, with 265 of them being cut passes. It’s important that the modern centre-back can analyse and predict passes, which he can then look to cut. With the style of play Arteta wants to enforce, having players who are comfortable stepping out and intercepting passes and getting the team going forward is very important.
As to be expected with a player who is 6ft 4in, Issa Diop is not the most agile. This has been exposed many times over the course of the season and often sees him being caught square or with a poor body position. Against players with a low centre of gravity and good skill and technique, Diop can find himself in trouble. Diop is good in 1 v 1 situations in face-on situations. This means that stepping out from a flat back four is comfortable for him, however, when he is caught out wide in a 1 v 1 situation, side-on, he can be caught out. This is generally down to his large frame and the difficulties that all taller players have against those with a low centre of gravity. When the opposition player can isolate him with time and space, Diop can be exposed.
In conclusion, Issa Diop seems as though he is the sort of player that would fit Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. He’s strong, quick, and intelligent on and off the ball, as well as having all the tackling proficiencies needed by a top centre-back. An important note must be about his age – at 23, he has many years ahead of him and is of an age where he can still learn and develop.
It is hard to analyse and compare him against David Luiz given the changes both players have endured over their respective seasons. David Moyes has a very different style to Manuel Pellegrini, as has Mikel Arteta to Unai Emery. The numbers do show that despite Diop playing for a team who sit in the relegation zone and who are in somewhat of a crisis, he isn’t far off the levels of David Luiz. You would expect his statistics to dramatically improve should he make the move to Arsenal. I believe with good coaching and mentoring, he could be a very astute signing for the Gunners.