Ligue 1

Why Arsenal and Newcastle Flop Deserves World Cup Place

 • by Andrew Gibney
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It is one of the biggest derbies in European football and without doubt it’s a spectacle in France whenever’s it’s played.

When Mathieu Debuchy popped up to score a late equaliser for Saint-Étienne against Lyon at the Groupama Stadium, he pushed himself back into the minds of the French public.

There is now a very good chance he could be set for a very unlikely return to the national team fold. Just in time for the 2018 World Cup.

Arsenal and Newcastle United fans, you don’t need to refresh the page, yes, you read that properly.

France have one of the strongest squads going to Russia this summer, but any mention of Debuchy’s name a mere two or three months ago would have been met with a baulk.

Ever since the well-publicised issues in South Africa eight years ago, Les Blues have been rebuilding their reputation with each passing tournament.

Now, with an excellent blend of youth and experience, plus competition for places, they are rightly one of the favourites to go all the way.

They had to pick themselves up off the floor following their final defeat to Portugal at Euro 2016, a tournament held in their own country.

Qualification wasn’t easy, but wins over Bulgaria and Belarus at the end of the campaign sealed first place, now Didier Deschamps will be putting the final touches and thoughts into his 23-man squad.

There are many questions to be answered. Which forwards make the cut? Has Alexandre Lacazette’s move to Arsenal hurt his chances? Which of the impressive centre-backs to add to the list and what four full-backs will be on the plan to the east?

If Benjamin Mendy can prove his fitness before the end of the season, he’ll be on the plane, otherwise, Paris Saint-Germain’s Layvin Kurzawa is the odds-on favourite to start at left-back, with Lucas Digne, although not getting minutes with Barcelona, picked as back-up.

Right-back has been an issue in the French team for years. Bacary Sagna never fully convinced and no one has showed themselves to be at the required level since Willy Sagnol hung up his boots.

Debuchy fought with the former Manchester City defender for the role and they often split the duties. Christophe Jallet, when he was playing for Lyon and PSG found minutes in the team, but as a defender he was always found lacking.

The 34-year-old is set to miss the next six weeks with an injury, which could rule out the Nice veteran.

Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé, with experience in the Champions League and 14 caps for France, will get the nod, but it’s worrying that in the last eight years no one else has broken through and made a claim for the spot.

After completing a league and cup double with Lille in 2011, Debuchy wanted to move on, but he didn’t manage it until Newcastle United snapped him up in 2013.

It took him a few months to fully settle, but eventually he began to impress in the North East. When Yohan Cabaye left the Magpies, the full-back wanted out and eventually getting his way and joining Arsenal.

In the end, he only played 30 games for the Gunners after joining for £13.5million; injuries to his ankle, shoulder, thigh and hamstring saw him miss 49 fixtures, according to Transfermrkt.

An initial loan deal to Bordeaux in January 2016 failed to spark life into the defender and he returned to England with his tail between his legs.

He was due to join Nice in the summer, but his wage demands priced him out of a move. Eventually a deal was done this winter; Arsenal terminated his contract, allowing the 32-year-old to make his move back to France, joining Saint-Étienne on deadline day.

Although he’s no stranger to scoring goals in Ligue 1 – he managed 16 in 242 games for Lille – Debuchy has already found the net twice in four games for Les Verts.

He’s averaging 3.3 tackles per 90 minutes, winning 69.6 per cent, and is making 2.3 interceptions. He’s getting on the ball too, making 47.3 passes, rolling back to clock to help his new club climb back up the table.

There are other contenders for the place in the France squad, but no one stands out.

Marseille’s Bouna Sarr was mentioned, but he, like Debuchy in his early days, used to be a winger. Kevin Malcuit of Lille hasn’t played well enough and the man he replaced, Sebastien Corchia, has struggled for minutes at Sevilla and is currently injured.

You then drop down towards the inexperienced players without an international cap: Nordi Mukiele, Ruben Aguilar or Frédéric Guilbert; none of whom have done enough to get in ahead of Debuchy.

Which takes you all the way back to the former Arsenal defender. With 27 caps under his belt and part of the squads both in 2012 and 2014, he has tournament experience.

If the former Lille full-back can finish the season strongly, continue to impress back in Ligue 1, then, unthinkable as it was two months ago, Debuchy will be the favourite to make Deschamps’ squad and win a place on the plane going to Russia.

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