Monaco were one of the most entertaining sides in European football throughout the 2016/17 season, thrilling the masses with their swashbuckling attacking style. They did for Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, while on route to winning Ligue 1 they averaged just under three goals per game. Djibril Sidibé was a vital component in these achievements.
The French right-back joined the Monégasques from Lille for a transfer fee of around £13million last summer, reportedly shunning Arsenal in the process. However, if recent reports are to be believed, the Gunners were unperturbed by the purported knock-back.
According to L’Équipe, the Premier League side have once again shown interest in signing Sidibé having learned of Monaco’s willingness to sell the player. However, the speculation prompts some intriguing questions regarding how Arsène Wenger’s team will be set up next term.
One of the more persistent Arsenal transfer rumours of recent months has been that linking Héctor Bellerín with a move back to Barcelona. The 22-year-old spent his formative years as part of the Catalan giants’ famed youth academy and could soon return, Cesc Fábregas style.
Outwardly, the signing of Sidibé would appear a way of replacing the outgoing right-back. But would the Frenchman be an upgrade in this position?
Bellerín’s form has been questioned at times this season. Defensively, he has appeared suspect, something hinted at statistically by the fact he has averaged fewer tackles and interceptions per game compared to last term.
He has also been comparatively less productive in an attacking sense, contributing four assists compared to five in 2015/16, and completing fewer dribbles per game. By contrast, Sidibé’s star has been on the rise throughout this campaign.
Monaco’s attacking and counter-attacking game is often wing-oriented, with plenty of emphasis on the full-backs – also including the left-sided Benjamin Mendy – to attack their respective flanks and supply quality balls for the strikers, particularly Radamel Falcao, to finish. Indeed, only one Ligue 1 team – Caen – have put in more crosses than the 25 per game averaged by Leonardo Jardim’s outfit.
With this in mind, the technical, tactical and athletic capacity of Sidibé has been integral to his side’s overall strategy in most matches. His energy allows him to patrol the touchline and make overlapping runs, while his crossing – while perhaps not as accurate as his left-sided team-mate – is effective.
His combination with Portuguese winger Bernardo Silva down Monaco’s right-hand side has been integral to the team’s penetrative attacking. By attacking or simply occupying the right flank, Sidibé allows his left-footed team-mate to move inward and take up more central spaces from where his close control, dribbling and vision can trouble opposition back lines.
Wenger’s desire for attack-minded full-backs has been an unwavering commitment throughout his tenure at Arsenal, and that doesn’t look likely to change with the recent switch in formation from the more conventional 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-2-1 shape perhaps inspired by Antonio Conte’s title-winning Chelsea side.
Assuming Bellerín were to move on in the summer, Sidibé would be a sound successor. While two years the Spaniard’s senior, he has plenty of upside and is arguably a more consistent and stable all-round performer as it stands.
While the incumbent Arsenal right-back wins more duels on average and has a higher pass completion rate, the Monaco man contributes more assists and wins more than twice as many tackles per 90 minutes.
In the attacking phase, Sidibé would support build-up well, holding a wide position and occasionally coming backward or inside in order to ensure safe progression of the ball. And, in the defensive phase, he is quick to press.
An additional benefit of the seven-cap France internationalist’s game, however, is his ability to alternate between the right and left flank.
Sidibé has frequently featured in the left-back position for Monaco this term, playing well enough to suggest that – while this is not his natural side – he is more than able to fill this role.
There are some noticeable tactical differences to his game on the opposite touchline, namely his being more inclined to drive inward rather than overlap on his weaker left foot, but he nonetheless remains an astute full-back.
This opens up another possibility.
While Sidibé would be a fine replacement for Bellerín should the Arsenal star move on this summer, calling him an upgrade is, at best, a short-term assessment. A more exciting possibility is that he could be brought in to succeed Nacho Monreal on the left.
At 31 years of age, the Spanish left-back is coming to the latter stages of his career. And with Kieran Gibbs yet to fulfil his early promise, the Gunners must now look to identify their long-term option for the left of their back four or five.
Sidibé, having shown his quality on the left as well as the right, could slot in on the left-hand side of Arsenal’s defensive line in either the 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 depending on which formation Wenger decides to go with in future.