Arsenal have always been a team that lacks defensively. Be it now or under Arsene Wenger in the previous decade, attacking was never exactly a problem – Wenger liked to attack as much on the field as punters do in live casino games online. They could always score lovely goals. But their soft underbelly came out at the worst of times. And that problem is still very much there.
This is why adding quality defenders will make sense for Mikel Arteta’s men. In that sense, a potential move for Merih Demiral would help the side a lot in their bid for Champions League football next season.
About 18 months ago, the Turkish international was at lesser-known Super Lig side Alanyaspor. Pretty much nobody knew who he was until Sassuolo made the move to sign the central defender on an initial loan deal with the obligation to buy. The idea was to shore up Roberto De Zerbi’s backline and become the defensive lynchpin.
In his first spell in Serie A, Demiral proved to be a brilliant signing for the neroverdi. He made only 14 Serie A appearances, but got two goals. He showed his ability to read the game brilliantly and possessed one strength that works in Serie A- heading.
Demiral won 3.9 aerial duels per game and also picked up a tally of 1.7 tackles per game. He was dribbled past only 0.2 times per game- a sign of how tough it is to get past the 21-year-old.
In the summer of 2019, Juventus came calling. After Sassuolo made their move permanent, they pocketed a fee of €18 million from the bianconeri. There was confusion about how Juve would use him. The club didn’t sell Daniele Rugani and brought in another defender in Matthijs de Ligt. His fee was meant to command a first-team spot.
The beginning of the campaign saw Giorgio Chiellini sustain a knee injury. It didn’t give Demiral the chance. As Maurizio Sarri gave De Ligt that chance to build his attacks from the back. There was a brief period when Demiral wasn’t playing at all, but De Ligt’s struggles beside Leonardo Bonucci gave him a chance.
His debut came against Hellas Verona. It wasn’t the prettiest one, strangely. He gave away a penalty to Verona and it wasn’t the best of showings. De Ligt’s return followed and out went Demiral again. In a game against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League though, Demiral got a chance.
Juve had already made it to the next round. It was a free throw. And Demiral didn’t let anyone down. He didn’t get dribbled past even once, winning two tackles and making four clearances. He won 100 percent of his aerial duels and was unbeatable on the day. This convinced Sarri that maybe, was wrong to make a swift judgement.
There was also pressure on him, as rumours about a potential Juve exit were swirling around for Demiral. Against Udinese some days later, Demiral was impressive again. He won five aerial duels, completing seven clearances on the day. He didn’t get dribbled past even once in that game too.
This was the impetus the Turkish international needed. He impressed against Cagliari and Sampdoria. The tie against Roma was the biggest game of his career. It would have said a lot about him. Sadly enough, he succumbed to an ACL injury after scoring Juve’s opener against Paulo Fonseca’s men.
Whether he plays for Turkey in the Euros is still doubtful. But Demiral has done a lot to come leaps and bounds in such a less time. He took his minimum chances and won over Sarri, who has praised him already.
“I am the first to be convinced that he will become the best defender in the world,” Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.
“He had five difficult months playing every three days and having to settle in a new country, a new league with a new language.”
If that isn’t good enough for Arsenal and Arteta, Demiral is very good on the ball too. At Sassuolo, he played 50 passes per game with an accuracy of 87 percent. While that can be higher, Demiral is still 22 and can develop a lot.
The ACL injury might have hindered his progress. But he has shown the tenacity to grab the chances and come back up. That is the sort of character Arsenal need. If they get a chance, they have to cash in on Demiral.