What would Arsenal gain from Nice Center Back Malang Sarr?
Malang Sarr is another player being linked with Arsenal this summer. The Frenchman’s contract expires on the 30th of June 2020. This therefore presents himself as very realistic transfer for Arsenal, as a very affordable option.
Malang Sarr is a 21-year-old French left-footed central defender who plays for OGC Nice. This season under former Arsenal player, Patrick Viera; Nice finished the Ligue 1 season in 5th place. Malang Sarr has been a fixture in Viera’s side, starting 16 league games, coming off the bench a further 3 times. Sarr isn’t the most traditional of centre backs and Viera often has to manage Sarr’s weaknesses in accordance with his own personnel and that of his opponents. Standing at 5ft 9in, Sarr primarily plays as a left-sided centre-back and on occasion has played as a left-back. His current market value per Transfermarkt, stands at £14.40 million.
This season, before the season’s premature conclusion, Sarr had played 1558 minutes across 19 league games. The French youth international who has been capped at every level from under 16 to under 21, has gone onto make 119 appearances for Nice, coming through their youth setup and making his debut in the 2016/2017 season.
This season in Ligue 1, Sarr has ranked 4th for passes per 90 minutes amongst Ligue 1 centre backs, with an impressive 63.08. These passes have been executed with a similarly impressive 91.39% success rate. Of his 63.43 passes per 90 minutes, 22.96 of them (36.1%) are forward. Moreover, 10.9% of his passes per 90 minutes are to the oppositions final third. Sarr makes on average, 11.38 progressive passes per 90 minutes, which ranks him 9th. Additionally, Sarr executes 81.2% of his progressive passes. This emphasises Sarr’s ability to pass the ball precisely through midfield and open up opponents. This also implies a notion that he is comfortable playing his progressive passes into highly congested areas.
Sarr has an expected goals build-up per 90 of 0.29. This shows that in possession sequences (which do not result in shots or key passes), that Sarr is relatively active in progressing the ball upfield and into dangerous areas. Regarding expected goals chain per 90 minutes, Sarr records a number of 0.31. This implies Sarr is largely involved in moves and sequences which finish in shots and key passes, enhancing his deep-lying playmaking abilities. Nicolas Elvedi records an expected goals build-up of 0.36 and an expected chain of 0.39. This increase in comparison to Sarr, could be down to Borussia Monchengladbach outscoring Nice by 16 goals this season. Disasi ranks with an expected goals build-up of 0.10 and an expected goals chain of 0.11. Again, Reims have been outperformed by Nice, by 15 goals, (despite being one position lower than them), which may explain a lower tally.
Malang Sarr is less impressive defensively than he is building-up play. His 7.74 recoveries per 90 minutes, ranks him 51st in the league and his counter-pressing recoveries of 2.6 per 90, leaves him 63rd. Sarr averages 5.08 defensive duels per 90 minutes which is 83rd in the league, with a 65.91% success rate. Of the 4.89 defensive duels executed in his own half, Sarr has won 63.16%. Aerially, at 5ft 9in, Sarr tends to stay away from aerial battles, only competing in 26 this season, winning 38.4%. It’s hard to see him not struggling in the Premier League with these statistics.
Sarr does execute a lot of “invisible defending”. Due to his role as the covering centre back, he will often look to come across and meet the forward runs of opponents and disarm them by getting in between man and ball. Sarr wins a lot of these challenges, thanks to his positional sense and physicality. This helps him win many goal kicks and throw-ins. A lot of Sarr’s defensive work comes out wide in the left-back position. Thanks to the regularity of playing as a left-back, he executes these battles well. This could be very useful for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta. Many teams counter-attack against Arsenal and play the ball into the wide channels, where often defenders look uncomfortable defending. Having a centre back who can comfortably dispatch any attack out there, would be useful.
Malang Sarr’s relatively poor defensive output could largely be down to his role. Due to Sarr’s height and phenomenal passing ability, he plays a more reserved role, with his centre back partner Dante being more of the stopper. Sarr could well change Arsenal’s dynamics. If Arteta was to use Sarr as a left back, Arteta would gain great flexibility. He could potentially tuck Sarr in to form a back 3 or into midfield similarly to Manchester City’s fullbacks. This may allow Arteta to find a way in which he could maximise Sarr’s on the ball strengths and deep-lying playmaker abilities, whilst managing his defensive frailties, with adequate support around him. Sarr would be much more effective in the build-up phase than some of Arsenal’s current defenders and would give Arsenal an added edge.
Arsenal couldn’t expect Sarr to carry the ball forward out from defence and into midfield as this isn’t his strength. This shows in his 0.46 dribbles per 90 minutes. He wants to stay in areas of the pitch which aren’t under a great deal of defensive pressure and play penetrative passes through the opponents defensive organisation. Sarr’s average pass length of 21.36 meters, which is the 12th furthest in the league, shows this. He looks to spray the ball around the pitch. This could become a real commodity for Arteta when looking to exploit the width of the pitch and maximising a player such as Pepe’s impact on a game.
In conclusion, Sarr is very progressive and possession orientated player who fits Mikel Arteta’s philosophy. I think no doubt, Sarr would get exploited defensively, not just aerially, but in all defensive duels. Few teams would allow him the time and space on the ball, that he has in France. Many teams in France focus on remaining tight and compact, allowing him time on the ball until he reaches the halfway line. They prefer he plays the ball wide of their shape, rather than offer any gap through it. In the Premier League, against certain teams, he won’t have this time and this would greatly affect his input in the game.
For a free transfer however, it’s hard to argue against him, especially given the uncertainty of the market. This is dependent upon his wages of course. Sarr would give Arteta new dynamics and options, however accommodations for his deficiencies would have to be made. He is young so improvements in certain areas could be made, however the initial framework of his game needs a lot of fine-tuning. I feel as though if Elvedi is too expensive at roughly £25 million, then Disasi at around £15 million should be Arsenal’s go-to choice in defence. Disasi has a similar profile to Sarr, but seems more rounded and there are less questions about his defensive capabilities.