Following Granit Xhaka‘s mistake in the North London derby against Tottenham. Arsenal fans’ relationship with the current club captain reached a tipping point. Immediately talk arose over who could potentially be an option to take Xhaka’s role in Arsenal’s starting eleven. One popular one is Ibrahim Sangaré of Toulouse.
Sangaré an Ivorian midfielder from Ligue 1. Many top-quality midfielders have come out of France recently, Tanguy Ndombele and N’golo Kante to name a couple. According to Transfermarkt, Sangaré is currently valued at $17M.
He’s made his mark primarily as a defensive midfielder, most recently making great strides in influencing the opposition half as much as his own. Through this scout report, we will see why his skill set not only makes him perfect for the new Arsenal but one the best midfield talents in Europe.
What Emery wants from Xhaka
Before we learn everything about Sangaré it is important to understand the profile of player that is required for what Emery is demanding. Starting Grant Xhaka as a deep-lying playmaker rather than Lucas Torreria as a ball-winning defensive midfielder, Emery is looking for a player who is going to influence the game more on the ball than off it. This was evident during the North London derby.
Below is an image showing all of Xhaka’s play in the middle third against Spurs. He attempted 32 passes in this zone, the most of any other, as you can see from where he is passing from and too. He was deployed as a deep-lying playmaker looking to spread play to wide players and look for players in between the lines, primarily operating in front of the centre-backs.
Press resistant dribbling
There are many talented dribblers in football. In my opinion, what makes a great dribbler is not their level of skill or flair but effectiveness. A player who beats pressing lines 100% of the time is more impressive, for me; he is effectively progressing his team up the pitch, rather than someone who will complete four out of five of his dribbles with that one failed dribble giving the ball away in a dangerous area leading to a goal-scoring opportunity for the opposition.
What’s most impressive about Sangaré’s dribbling ability is its execution. His close control, cleverness and and burst of speed makes him a serious ball carrier. Let’s compare him statistically to Tanguy Ndombele who has been widely praised for his dribbling ability. Ndombele made 1.9 tackles per game and Sangaré impressively made 1.8 per game in the 2018/19 season.
Granit Xhaka, on the other hand, is not a top-level ball carrier. Thus, Emery has had to accommodate this inefficiency by tactically adjusting Matteo Guendouzi‘s position during the buildup phases. This invites pressure into Arsenal’s own half in which some of the personnel in the squad have struggled with even against relatively simply pressing schemes.
Below is a scenario where Toulouse are intensely being pressed. Sangaré drops deep creating a 3v3 and leaving himself in a 3v1 as his passing options are limited moving forward but he still wants to move his team forward. So he takes on the oncoming player and beats him with a clever nutmeg and carries the ball forward into the opposition half.
Passing ability and range
So now that we know what role Emery is demanding from a player in this position, let’s delve into the Ivorian’s skillset. To be a top-level midfielder of course your passing quality is crucial. At the base of the midfield, he acted as Toulouse’s deepest midfielder. From here he is able to use his biggest strength which is his passing range. His long passing technique is perfect and the delivery is precise. He completed 3.9 long passes per game last season. From the base of midfield, he is able to pull the strings and spray these passes to wide players in space.
His ability to influence the game in this position makes him perfect for the mould of player Emery is looking for. Below are examples of him at the base of midfield in Toulouse’s possession structure showcasing his passing range. His passing range can be a very useful tool as he can bypass the middle third putting the team straight into the final third with one pass. He often looks for attackers in space in wide areas.
Sangaré’s passing range can also influence the middle channels. Below is one example where he uses his passing range to play his striker in behind a relatively high line. With pace and runs in-behind being exceptional attributes of Arsenal forwards this can be seen as a great weapon to add. Opposition teams would have to player deeper lines to counter such a tool.
One aspect of Sangaré is very apparent; that he is athletically imposing. Performing at the highest levels being athletically elite provides a great advantage. Sangaré being 6’3 takes full advantage of his athleticism. His frame makes him extremely hard to dribble past. This was perfect for him when defending central areas, preventing shots and attacking actions at the top of his box. Through statistics we can see in the 2018/19 season he was only dribbled past 1 time per game played. In comparison to Grant Xhaka, who has been dribbled past 47 times since the start of 2017/18 up until last season; the most of any active Arsenal player.
His long legs improve his tackling ability. He is mobile despite his height. Defensively, he was usually tasked with covering the space in-behind his fullbacks. Below is an image where his long legs and intelligent tackling allow him to prevent a significant attack.
Marseille win the ball and Toulouse are completely exposed with their whole team caught up the field. Sangaré is the last man between his two centre-backs and a wave of oncoming attackers. His long legs allow him to make great strides covering large amounts of space and then make a challenge from the player’s blind side.
Ibrahim Sangaré has improved every season and could become a part of the long line of excellent midfield players to come out of France very soon. In this scout report, we detailed his skillset and abilities that make him an excellent deep-lying playmaker. Seeing Sangaré link up with his Ivorian international teammate Nicolas Pepe in North London could be yet another addition in the right direction for the Gunners.