26th August 2021 – Reports hint that a particular Premier League club could make a move worth around £17 Million to secure the services of Takehiro Tomiyasu. Presently in Italy, Tomiyasu had spent the last 2 years at Bologna, equally impressive as a right-back or a centre-back. Reports now suggested his solid showing could earn him a big move, that a club from London, having already spent around £50m to sign a centre-back, needed further reinforcements in the defence.
“I thought I was going to Spurs. On deadline day, the move broke down. Arsenal asked me to join them and I did immediately.” Tomiyasu told DAZN Japan (via Goal) in November.
Drama in the final days of the transfer window meant Takehiro Tomiyasu, who had been linked to Spurs for over a year by then, suddenly found himself signing a contract with bitter rivals Arsenal instead. By putting Brazilian Emerson Royal up for sale, FC Barcelona lured Tottenham away from the Bologna defender. A fee of £25.8 Million was enough to guarantee the signature of the Copa America finalist.
Journalist Paul Brown noted Emerson’s attacking capabilities as the difference-maker. Arsenal up to that point had no solid links to a right-back. Tomiyasu’s sudden ability not only provided the Gunners with renewed depth at right-back and centre-back, but it also allowed them to offload Hector Bellerin to Real Betis.
More than 4 months after the deal, the real winner of the whole transfer saga is clear. Tomiyasu has consolidated himself as an undisputable starter and a crucial cog in Mikel Arteta’s side. The full-back has made 16 starts out of a possible 17.
Arsenal’s defence of Tierney, Gabriel, White, Tomiyasu and Ramsdale is a very competent force. All the players are currently below 25 and have clearly defined roles well-suited to their individual profiles. Let us take a look at how the Japanese defender sets into this Arsenal set-up:
Mikel Arteta has always shown an inclination to play with full-backs of contrasting profiles. In the past, Chambers has been used as a right-back, or conservative full-back on the left to compliment Tierney. Managers like Roberto Mancini and Pep Guardiola have used asymmetric full-backs to great success in the past. This is because it provides certain advantages:
- Flexibility in Shape: Allow transitions between a 4-man-back or a 3-man-back shape. This provides the team with added dimensions during an attack.
- Defensive Solidity: Having a 3-man back in transitions provides the team with greater defensive security. It also provides the team with an additional man in the build-up.
Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes are all players comfortable with the ball at their feet. Dropping Tomiyasu deeper into this back-line creates a 4v2 situation against the opposition forwards. On the other flank, Kieran Tierney pushes higher up. In essence, Arsenal maintain only one line of width in either flank: Tierney and Saka.
This provides a 2-fold benefit:
- The wings are always accessible as the wide players maintain their position at all times. This allows the Gunners to stretch the field out wider.
- Numerical superiority in the centre of the field. This allows Arsenal to control the middle of the field and progress the ball more effectively.
Tomiyasu doesn’t play as a pseudo-full back solely, however, he does have the license to attack down the flank. Arsenal do this without compromising their back-3 shape. Thomas Partey generally drops into the defence allowing Tomiyasu to push higher up.
On the flank, Tomiyasu helps to create a triangle on the wings with Odegaard and Saka. The trio has flexibility in positioning and can swap roles with one another. This helps Arsenal to create effective 2v1 situations on the wings.
38% of all Arsenal’s attacks originate from the right-wing. However, he is not the most proficient player in attack. This season, he has only 1 assist and no goals to his name so far. He ranks only 38th percentile for shot-creating actions among all Premier League full-backs. However, he has proved to be a more than able support in the final third to Odegaard and Saka, arguably among the two most technical members of the squad.
Defensively, Takehiro Tomiyasu has been a rock. He has the most recoveries and aerial duels won in the squad. Arsenal tend to press higher up against opponents. He maintains a 4-man-back shape with the defence. Deep in the defensive third, he is often drawn out wider to track the opposition winger. Thomas Partey often covers up the space abandoned by the Japanese defender.
Unlike Hector Bellerin, Tomiyasu isn’t a player with blinding speed. He makes up for this, however, with an outstanding work rate and great positional awareness. The full-back almost always finds himself in the right place at the right time to make a clearance, intercept a pass or force a tackle. He has held his ground against some of the league’s best wingers like Mane, Sancho and Cucurella.
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Takehiro Tomiyasu has been a perfect signing for Arsenal. His profile exactly suits all the requirements. His performances have also been of the highest order. By working on his crossing ability and decision-making in the final third, Tomiyasu could go on to establish himself as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League.