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Who is new Arsenal transfer target Nicolas Tagliafico?


The story of a young boy from Buenos Aires in Argentina who dreamt of following in the footsteps of Banfield and Argentina legend Javier Zanetti and is finally getting the recognition he deserves. He now plies his trade for Ajax in the Eredivisie, where the Dutch giants currently find themselves in second place behind PSV.

A slow rise

Nicolás Tagliafico combines a technical skillset not dissimilar of more of a central midfielder with impressive work-rate and crossing ability.

He has long gone under the radar but since winning the Copa Sudamericana for Independiente he was rewarded with a debut for Argentina in late 2017 and since then his stock has risen dramatically.

Immediately following his first International cap came a move to Dutch giants Ajax for a modest £4m. Ajax has given him the platform to really show Europe why he was one of the highest rated wingbacks in Argentina.

How does he play?

Tagliafico is a front-footed wingback. He’s not content with just affecting his own position, he has no fear about running into central areas to tackle, intercept and create turnovers for his team.

He has good running power and when you match that with his stamina you get a wingback that is constantly making lung-bursting runs up and down the left-hand side of the pitch.

He’s a defender that’s adept at both overlapping and underlapping. A comfortable receiver of the ball in tight areas and has that kind of composure that often feels like his first touch and quickness of thought allows him to almost slow time down.

Tagliafico is also not a player that pulls out of a tackle – he has a rapid, pressing nature about his natural game and will enter 50/50 challenges with real intent to win the ball back.

His impressive timing of challenges is especially noticeable in this regard.

The numbers that back the interest

The stats back up Tagliafico’s impressive season, too. He averages 2.4 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1.1 key passes and 84.2% pass percentage of an average of 50 passes a game in all competitions.

In comparison, this is better than Kolasinac’s 1.4 tackles, 0.9 interceptions, and 77.3% pass percentage of an average of 39.5 passes a game but doesn’t match Kolasinac’s impressive 1.8 key passes a game.

He also has limited experience as a centre-half. At a modest 5’7,” it would be unlikely he would be considered as a centreback in a back 4 but he could easily fill in as a left-sided centre-back in a back 3 a similar way to how Monreal has over the last few seasons.

The modern-day wing-back

Pep Guardiola talks a lot about wing backs that have the intelligence to know when to invert their movements narrow and make runs both on the outside and inside of the winger depending on the movements of the opposition team and this is a style that Tagliafico excels at.

He is a great example of how to deal with the demands of a present-day wing back who is expected to do so much more than just defend their flank.

When in advanced positions he has proven to have a good footballing brain, too. He has a variety of crosses in his locker and is consistently able to get his head up and pick out the right cross or pass instead of throwing the ball into the danger area and hoping for the best.

Previously underestimated

Nicolás Tagliafico also joins Serge Gnabry on the list of obviously talented players Tony Pulis has under-rated in recent history.

Pulis had previously suggested that while Gnabry was on loan at West Bromwich Albion that he wasn’t good enough to make the team, a campaign that saw Gnabry only make 1 appearance for The Baggies.

Gnabry is now currently a first-team regular at German giants Bayern Munich and in a similar style, it was reported that Pulis rejected Tagliafico whilst he was at Stoke for the simple reason of being too short,  according to The Independent’s Ed Malyon – Pulis’ loss has certainly been Ajax’s gain.

Emery’s preference in the past

It does seem that Unai Emery is on the hunt for a left wing-back to compete with Kolasinac as Monreal is not getting any younger. Other names that have been thrown around have been Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Benfica’s Grimaldo.

Out of the three, it would be reasonable to suggest that Nicolás Tagliafico would represent a much better value, something that would leave Arsenal more money to address other areas of the team.

Does the hype match the price-tag

If the price is right it seems that Tagliafico could be an astute acquisition for Arsenal. There have always been plenty of ups and downs when it comes to players that perform well in the Dutch league trying to carry that form over to the Premier League.

On the one hand, success stories such as Luís Suarez’ move from Ajax to Liverpool might encourage some teams to take the plunge into the Eredivisie market, but for every Suarez there is a Vincent Janssen, who signed on with Tottenham from AZ Alkmaar in 2016 only to fail to make a lasting impact in his time with the club. Memphis Depay’s move from PSV to Manchester United in 2015 provided yet another cautionary tale of the inconsistent projection between the two leagues, though he has rediscovered his best form since departing for Lyon in January of 2017.

Arsenal could presumably gain an advantage in the race for his signature because of the club’s existing relationship with Ajax’s Director of Football and Arsenal legend Marc Overmars.

Overmars has recently signed a new deal at Ajax despite reported mutual interest between he and Arsenal to take the Technical Director role that Monchi turned down himself to return to Sevilla.

Emery has favoured young, enthusiastic wing-backs at times in the past with Alberto Moreno being a great example of this. Nicolás Tagliafico certainly seems like a player that matches Emery’s style for a high-intensity pressing and possession style football, and I suspect it’s not a name we’ve heard the last of in the Arsenal transfer rumour mill.

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