When the signing of Cedric Soares was announced in January of 2020, it’s safe to say that a few eyebrows were raised among the Arsenal fan base.
The Portuguese full back was suffering with a knee injury and had fallen out of favour at Southampton, while the involvement of ‘superagents’ Kia Joorabchian and Jorge Mendes in the deal led many to question contacts-led direction that Raul Sanllehi seemed to be taking the Gunners’ transfer policy in.
Those eyebrows reached heights only Carlo Ancelotti could match after the decision was taken to give him a four-year contract despite the fact that he had played just five times for Arsenal who already had Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles available in the squad.
But just over a year later, the Portuguese international’s consistently solid performance are seeing the unexpected calls for him to become the Gunners’ first choice right back grow stronger every day.
Admittedly he was rarely tested by Spurs, particularly after Son Heung-min went off injured so early, but the Portuguese full-back went about his defensive duties with the high level of competency that we’ve become used to in recent months.
On the day he made two tackles and recovered possession eight times, a figure bettered only by Granit Xhaka
What he was brought into the Arsenal squad for though was what he can do going forward.
Speaking back in June, Mikel Arteta revealed it was this that made the 29-year-old such an attractive addition to his side.
“He’s a different quality in the full-back area than what we have,” Arteta said. “He’s a gifted, technical player and is probably the best we have in the final third to make the right decision and attack the box as well.”
Against Spurs he more than showed that yet again playing four accurate progressive passes and contributing a further five high value attacking passes (defined by Goal Point as passes successfully delivered to a teammate less than 25 metres from the opposition goal).
The only thing missing from his performance was a goal as his first half effort bounced agonisingly off the post after Alexandre Lacazette had let Emile Smith Rowe ‘s pull back slide between his legs.
His ability to get the ball up the pitch for the Gunners is something that is unparalleled in the squad.
For Arteta the key to his style of play is quick transitions from defence into attack and the Portuguese right back’s proficiency when it comes to this is excellent.
When it comes to progressive carries (defined by by fbRef as taking the ball at least five yards further up the field not including carries within the defensive 40% of the pitch) Cedric ranks in the 91st percentile among players in his position over the past year with an average of 7.77 per 90.
Against Spurs that figure stood at 6 which was only beaten by four other players in the Arsenal side. When you analyse who those players were though – Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney – that number becomes a lot more impressive.
There are of course weak points to his game. For example his average pass completion rate over the past year of 77.8% ranks only in the 47th percentile among players in his position across the big five leagues in Europe, while Bellerin’s average accuracy of 82.7% puts him up in the 81st.
But with each passing match the Portuguese international is showing that he could be ready to make the step to first team right back if his Spanish teammate does leave this summer.
The players Arsenal have been linked to so far in that position – the likes of Tariq Lamptey, Achraf Hakimi and Max Aarons – are all likely to cost in the region of £30-40million pounds. When you consider that the Gunners announced a loss of £47.8million a couple of weeks ago, such a figure may be out of their reach given the transfer priorities elsewhere in the squad.
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Calum Chambers is someone who could deputise in the position, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles is set to come back from his loan at West Brom so Arteta would not be short of options at right back.
It seems as though the surprise signing very few expected to work, may just be someone who can save Arsenal millions in the transfer market this summer.