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Could this Spaniard be Arsenal’s backup to Kieran Tierney?

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Following the news that Kieran Tierney will be out for between four and six weeks, capable cover for the Scotsman must be high up the summer targets list. Cedric Soares has deputised their at times this season, but his preference for his right foot narrows the pitch significantly for the Gunners, especially when paired with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left-hand side. The result is slow, predictable football through an overly congested middle of the pitch. A left-footed left-back is a must for manager Mikel Arteta

Despite rumoured interest in late January moves for both Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Van Aanholt, nothing materialised and Tierney remained the only left-sided defender at the club. The full-back has been instrumental in Mikel Arteta’s tactical system, rampaging forwards from left-back with a ferocious drive that has seen him placed firmly in the conversation for the Gunners’ player of the season. With the 23-year-old one of the first names on the team sheet, and with no signs of that changing any time soon, Arsenal need a competent back up that won’t demand consistent first-team action. On the other hand, the player needs to be able to fill in ably when required. On top of all of that, he must be cheap. Finances are rumoured to be tight at The Emirates this summer, and with several areas of the first team to strengthen, Edu will not be looking to spend too much on a backup player.

There is, of course, the chance that Arsenal return to Ryan Bertrand or Patrick van Aanholt. After all, they would be available on free transfers, a route that Arsenal have trodden previously for cover on the other flank, signing Cedric upon his contract expiry. However, both would start the 2021/22 season the wrong side of 30, making both seem like decidedly short-sighted moves for a club in the middle of a transition. Moreover, this would be prolonging the need to find longer-term cover for Tierney, whilst probably taking up a large chunk of available space on the wage bill at the Emirates Stadium. Rather, Arsenal should be looking for players approaching their prime, who would likely be available for a small transfer fee and could cover the increasingly injury-prone Tierney for a number of years to come.

Enter, Javi Galan.

Currently plying his trade at Spanish side Huesca, 26-year-old Javi Galan does not immediately spring to mind when one thinks about top left-backs. Galan, however, has had an incredibly impressive campaign to date, despite his side’s poor results. Playing in a back four or at left-wing-back in a back three, the Spaniard has provided two goals and one assist, the same number of goal contributions as Tierney. Galan ranks second (behind Lionel Messi) across the entirety of La Liga for successful dribbles per 90 minutes too, completing 3.3 per game, and his 80% dribble success rate is the highest in the division.

 

Javi Galan by comparison to other left-backs in world football this season, taken from FBRef

 

Galan is no slouch defensively either. He has won the joint-most tackles in La Liga so far this season, with 42 (as of March 31st). Of course, Huesca’s poor league position (and the implication that he has to defend more than most other sides) mean that this statistic must be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that despite playing much of the season as a wing-back, he is more than willing to pitch in in his own third as well.

 

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Javi Galan vs Kieran Tierney in 2020/21 via Understat.

As can be seen above, Galan is not at the same level as Kieran Tierney. However, he is not too far off. The Spaniard produces just 0.05 key passes per 90 fewer than Tierney, a real-world translation of 1 key pass across the entire season. He has been brilliantly consistent too, starting 27 of his side’s 29 La Liga games so far this season, and playing the fifth-most minutes for any outfield player in the division. Whilst doing so, Galan has maintained the highest average rating for Huesca, as per WhoScored. He is certainly a better fit for the Gunners than either Bertrand or van Aanholt stylistically, as can be seen below. Additionally, he is a much better age profile to target for the longer term, while he won’t break the bank if his side are relegated as predicted.

Kieran Tierney vs Ryan Bertrand in 2020/21 via Understat.

Kieran Tierney vs Patrick van Aanholt in 2020/21 via Understat.

The Liverpool Method?

In recent history, it has been Liverpool that took advantage of relegated sides by pinching the likes of Andrew Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum from Hull City and Newcastle United respectively. It could now be Arsenal’s turn. Huesca sit 18th in the Spanish top tier, two points from safety, and having won only four games so far this season look destined for relegation. A mixture of bad luck and poor finishing has let the Aragonese side down, as by expected goals they should be sitting eleven points and six places better off. It is a testament to Galan’s quality that despite such a poor side around him, he has provided such impressive statistics across the campaign.

If Huesca were to find themselves relegated to the second tier of Spanish football, Galan would be one of several on the way out. He would probably not command too high a fee either; Huesca’s current record sale is a mere £5.4 million for Enric Gallego, who joined Getafe in the summer of 2019. The only drawback for Mikel Arteta may be the competition he faces from Spanish clubs, many of whom are supposedly interested in signing the left-back. Galan could provide a long-term solution for cover at left-back, able to rotate with Kieran Tierney when the need arises. The similarity of profile will ensure that the Gunners won’t have to change too much stylistically depending on which one starts, an improvement on the current predicament. Whether they can secure the deal is another matter entirely, but Javi Galan is certainly a player that merits significant consideration by the Gunners for next season. 

 

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