When Debuchy arrived at Arsenal, he was a solid right back, with some attacking potential. Today, he’s the slightly shaky backup to Hector Bellerin. What does he need to do to ensure his spot in Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad?
Mathieu Debuchy is in trouble of letting his career disappear, without so much as a swansong.
After a quite poor showing against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup, the French international has been on those harsh wooden benches for quite some time, as he watches new Arsenal fan favourite Hector Bellerin usurp his position for the probable foreseeable future. With EURO 2016 approaching rapidly and his French competitor – Bacary Sagna – providing a much healthier tussle to his club senior Pablo Zabaleta, Debuchy could let perhaps his final opportunity for glory slip away before it truly begins.
Few would deny Debuchy deserves the chance, in fairness. The 30-year-old spent more time than he could remember with Lille, putting in consistent performances for Les Dogues, yet not showing up on the radar of Europe’s elite. Initially beginning his professional career as a deep-lying playmaker, Debuchy used his physicality and adapted to a role Lille were more in need of – an attacking fullback.
The decision ended in a bed of roses – for despite his current predicament, one can still see shades of Debuchy’s attacking instincts in his play. His already immaculate crossing abilities became a bonus trait in his locker, and between attacking and defending, Debuchy involuntarily studied up on his positioning skills quite well. With an intimidating physique and a natural dominance in the air, the young lad from Union Sportive Frétin ticked lots of boxes an adept defender seeks.
However, not until the turn of the decade did Mathieu’s profile gained credence, and his traits laid bare for the world to admire. He was a vital cog in Lille’s double winning season of 2011, notably providing the title-deciding assist with a typically exemplary cross for Moussa Sow to score. The Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double would turn out to be the first accolades of Debuchy’s career, and ones he could proudly say he earned.
Debuchy might feel a little affronted for being left out in England’s raid of Lille, when Eden Hazard and Gervinho left for Chelsea and Arsenal, but the unsung hero was left unnoticed. However, in the season to follow, Debuchy would go on to establish himself as a defensive rock for his side, earning himself a ticket to Poland for EURO 2012.
It turned out to be a huge break in his career, as Mathieu became part of Alan Pardew’s French Revolution when he signed for Newcastle United in the January to follow. In an otherwise mediocre Toon Army, Debuchy stood as a silver lining among the black (and white) Newcastle cloud. Another impressive showing for France in the World Cup – where he started every game bar one – meant that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal came calling.
But alas, it was not to be. After initially endearing himself to the Arsenal support, Debuchy suffered two ridiculously unfortunate long-term injuries, erasing away most of his 2014/15 season. He would return from the injury camp to find himself deputize 19-year-old Bellerin, putting himself in a dilemma he had hitherto never experienced.
After the summer transfer window, Debuchy perhaps acted out when he said, “At the Community Shield against Chelsea, Wenger chose him, Bellerin. It was a surprise and a disappointment. Let’s say it [leaving] crossed my mind. But I want to be at Arsenal and to take my place.”
Well over a month on, his haphazard showing at Hillsborough means that Debuchy is no closer to retaining his spot, as he was when injured. With the 2016 European Championships in his home nation scarcely seven months from now, the 30-year-old would know his best chance for international silverware is rapidly approaching. And if he doesn’t do something about it soon, Debuchy could be left out of all the action.
Unless Christophe Jallet starts playing like Marius Tresor in his prime, Debuchy has a rather good chance of making the cut for what could be his final international tournament. However, the recent form of Bacary Sagna would worry him. During Pablo Zabaleta’s knee injury, Sagna produced a string of impressive performances for the Citizens – most notably against Bournemouth, where he was forced to be deployed as a left-back and gave a good account of himself.
One would yet suspect Manuel Pellegrini to give Zabaleta the nod, but Didier Deschamps would notice Sagna’s hungrier response to competition than Mathieu’s. As it currently stands, the quandary does not augur well for Debuchy, who is finding limited opportunities to prove his worth to Deschamps and Wenger, and making hot water of it when given. There is little doubt that on his day, Debuchy is capable of being one of the finest defenders in the Premier League. However, it seems that his “day” is coming in increasingly infrequent quantities.
Where does Debuchy go from here? He could follow-up on his claim to “take his place” at Arsenal, but that statement seemed more borne out of a PR stunt than a genuine war cry to Bellerin. Some may call his decision to stay at Arsenal gallant, but others may label it equally foolhardy. If Debuchy wants a starting berth for his eventual showdown next June, it would be reasonable – if not wise – to look for clubs in January.
It won’t be easy, of course. Arsenal would be loath to let a player leave unplanned neck-deep into their Premier League assault, but Debuchy didn’t account for Bellerin’s rise either. Mathieu probably realizes that Sagna is fighting a similar battle for pole position at right-back, and that he could have the edge over Bacary should he move to a club where playing time would be easier to get.
If Debuchy fails to make the most out the opportunities handed to him at his possible new club, then that’s his culpability. Even so, at the very least, he could say with complete confidence that he tried his hardest to give himself the best hand possible, in the game of poker he’s engaged with Sagna right now.
Written by Freddy Denis.