Could Manuel Akanji Improve Arsenal’s Defence- Scout Report
In a question and answers session, David Ornstein revealed that Arsenal Football Club considered acquiring Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji. Furthermore, his compatriot Granit Xhaka endorsed and encouraged the club to make a move happen. He’s into his second season now as a regular starter with Borussia Dortmund and has featured heavily during the reign of Lucian Favre. There are a lot of talented and excellent young players throughout the Bundesliga and Akanji is certainly one of them. Throughout this scout report, we will use tactical analysis to breakdown Akanji’s game, looking at his profile, his play on the ball, his defensive actions and whether he would fit into Mikel Arteta’s new project at The Emirates Stadium.
- Height: 6’1
- Age: 24
- Weight: 187 lb
- Position: CB, RCB
- Transfermarkt Value: £18M
- Club: Borussia Dortmund
- Youth Club: FC Winterthur
- Nation: Switzerland
- Speaks English: Yes
Arsenal and Dortmund are teams that play a possession-based style of football and dominate the share of the ball in most games. Meaning the Swiss international’s ball skills must be of a high level. When Dortmund is in possession Akanji will primarily operate on the right side of the defensive line. Whether it be a back three, or four or even sometimes as a right back. Akanji almost exclusively uses his right foot, he is very hesitant to execute a pass with his weaker left foot and will sometimes take an extra touch or movement to avoid using it.
Lucien Favre in his tactics has his team move the ball at a slow tempo and use the center backs to circulate the ball side to side, which is why he has enjoyed deploying a 3-4-3 at times over a 4-2-3-1. This means, and especially in a back three, that his primary and secondary passing options are horizontal passes limiting his choices to be progressive through a vertical pass. He only makes 3.78 progressive passes per 90, compared to the likes of Upamecano who has 6.21 in this seasons Bundesliga.
Arsenal under Mikel Arteta has required center backs to execute vertical, line-breaking passes at a consistent rate. So is this a problem in Akanji’s game? No, when Dortmund is attacking in the opposition half Akanji has more time, space and freedom with the ball at his feet. As we can see below, he identifies Marco Reus in a pocket of space between the opposition defensive and midfield line. With this incisive pass, he eliminates five players out of the game. However, he does not showcase an extensive passing range as someone like David Luiz has in his skillset. His long-passes are usually under-hit and fail to meet their target.
Dortmund starts their play out the back at times with the goalkeeper to attract pressure. Arsenal has struggled with this at times with players being indecisive and slow when receiving the ball. When being pressed high Akanji remains cool, calm, and composed. Completing an impressive 9.54 passes under pressure, he knows where to look for solutions and does not have lapses in concentration during these sequences.
The analysis below is from a game against RB Leipzig, which in itself is a massive moment. Julian Nagelsmann set his team out to press Dortmund high during their buildup phase in a 4-3-3 shape. In this sequence, he has no immediate vertical or horizontal passing angle and as he realizes this he is being quickly closed down. Additionally, he cannot go back to the goalkeeper due to his body positioning. Instead of hitting the panic button, he continues to scan the pitch and executes a perfectly weighted pass to Julian Brandt who is intently moving to create a solution
Continuing with more of his play on the ball, we will explore how he moves the ball forward. He doesn’t particularly stand out in his agility, balance and ball control. His large frame goes against him in this case. But when there is space in front of him, he quickly and decisively will drive into it like a freight train carrying the ball forward. He will almost never take the risk of trying to dribble through pressure however he has only attempted 9 dribbles the whole season.
Below is a graph comparing his ball-carrying metrics to Arsenal’s other right-sided center backs. We can see he particularly excels here especially in comparison to Mustafi and Sokratis. You can see he’s attempted a decent amount more but has had large more success in his attempts as well.
At first glance, Akanji’s defensive metrics do not look very impressive. Surprisingly winning under a tackle a game with 0.87 tackles won per 90. But statistics can’t always tell the full story with a defender. Through analysis, we can see the details of what makes Akanji a great defender.
The best part of him defensively is his guarding of his goal inside of the penalty box. Whether in defensive transition or settled in shape, he is excellent at tracking the runs of the players around him. He doesn’t get caught staring at the ball and constantly checks over his shoulder ensuring a forward is not finding space in behind him or making a run to get onto a cross in front of him. This defensive awareness and solidity could be very welcome in an Arsenal team that at times, has conceded goals due to lapses of concentration inside their defensive third.
Dortmund plays with a high defensive line, meaning Akanji’s speed comes into play massively during defensive transition and when the opposition plays a ball in-behind as he plugs gaps of space and goes stride for stride with world-class forwards. In the example below, he’s tasked with coming up against one of Europe’s best forwards in Timo Werner. Werner gets sprung in-behind and Akanji has the pace to recover the ground. The Swiss defender as we see here likes to position his large frame in-between him and the goal in-turn pushing them away from the goal and giving them a more difficult angle to shoot from.
Furthermore, he’s very tenacious and enjoys imposing his figure on opposition forwards. Specifically, he commonly will pressure an opponent receiving the ball in-between the lines preventing them from turning. This can be seen in his pressure metrics as he makes 8.67 pressures per 90. Usually resulting in the opposition player being forced to make a backward pass like below or limit space in-between Dortmund’s defensive lines.
Manuel Akanji is an athletic and dynamic defender who has great qualities on and off the ball. He’s been a part of a good squad at Dortmund that has been challenging for the title in Germany. But maybe it’s time for him to take on a new challenge with a new manager who will demand more of him and his skillset. With Sokratis growing older, and many other squad options proving to be unreliable through their injury record we saw during this scout report that Akanji has the quality to anchor down the right-sided center back