Djed Spence: Worth the pence?
By Sumaiya Vawda
Arsenal bowed out of this season's FA Cup against Nottingham Forest in one of the few lows of the season. Donned in all-white to support the anti-knife crime movement, Arteta's men were slow in build-up and wayward in front of goal. While Lewis Grabban's goal sealed a fourth-round spot, Djed Spence grabbed the plaudits for Forest. And so began the transfer rumours...
21-year old Spence is a right-back who loves a mazy dribble, is strong at interceptions and handy with shots from range. Such was his cup run exploits that the Englishman has been linked with a move to Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Borrusia Dortmund and Arsenal. Spence ranks highest of all players in the Championship for take-ons attempted, final third passes attempted and overall touches (per Sky Sports). He is also not a pushover in defence, with the second most duels won in the league. In fact, when compared to all players in the top five leagues and the Championship, Spence ranks 11th for dribbles, on a list boasting Mbappe, Saint-Maximin and Adama Traore.
Takehiro Tomiyasu's extended absence from the side has seen Cedric start a string of games in the Premier League. The Portuguese has performed ably but is often defensively outdone in critical moments. Arteta has even played Ben White in the position over Cedric at times this season. The return of Tomiyasu will be a welcome sight, but there are moments when Cedric's timing of the overlap just feels more natural. In a season with European football, squad depth will be integral. Is a young attacking full-back the answer?
Arteta's side has evolved to a point where isolating its centre backs does not spell doom. Ben White can sweep up in the wide areas, especially when aided by Thomas Partey. Thus, against low-block opposition, the London outfit could afford a more attacking outlet on the right. Of greater significance is ensuring that any player signed to deputise at right-back is technically adept at functioning in the positional play system currently blossoming.
David Ornstein recently reported that Arsenal are ready to offer a new contract to another young right-back, Hale-End's Brooke Norton-Cuffy. The 18-year old has shown promise on loan at Lincoln City and scored his first senior professional goal this month. However, his playing style still prominently features a kick down the line and give chase that needs refinement. While he develops, Arsenal could do worse than acquiring an affordable maturing prospect.
Djed Spence could be to Tomiyasu what Tavares is to Tierney. Under Arteta's tutelage, the player may develop beyond his current labels. Many believe he is more tactically suited as a wing-back in Conte's Tottenham side than to the Arsenal set-up. Their Director of Football, Fabio Paratici, has been spotted scouting Spence in person.
It is rumoured that Middlesborough are seeking in the region of 12 million pounds for their on-loan star. Slap on the English premium and he could be a real fool-proof asset for the future. Of course, there is the little matter of the biggest clubs in Europe tracking him, but that is up to the player and Arteta's transfer charm. After all, he has a bigger chance of displacing Tomiyasu than Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.