Many questioned the decision of Barcelona to let go of Dani Alves on a free back in 2016. It’s a choice that has come back to bite them in a big way.
For the following six years at right-back, only two of them could be described as adequately covered. The first two seasons of Sergi Roberto at right-back saw an unorthodox solution work well for Barcelona, but with his declining athleticism, it became clear that he was not a permanent answer.
However the likes of Nelson Semedo, Emerson Royale, Aleix Vidal and even Alves himself again have failed to convince, with Hector Bellerin the latest to leave mixed reviews.
Barcelona may have finally found the answer they were looking for however. They have been linked in recent weeks with Girona’s Arnau Martinez, a converted central defender, who at just 19 has been highly impressive in his debut La Liga season.
Martinez had actually passed through the La Masia academy for six years, before being released in 2016, crossing paths with Alejandro Balde and Xavi Simons. After two years at Hospitalet, Arnau was spotted by Girona then and after debuting at 17, it has been a steady upward trajectory since.
Neat on the ball, tall and intelligent, Arnau has thrived both as part of a back four and as a right wing-back this season under Michel Sanchez. Scoring twice and assisting once in his 11 games, Arnau ranks in the top 10% for his position in the big five European leagues for shot-creating actions, touches in the opposition third and key passes.
Although he is not known as an unpassable defender, Arnau uses his body well and fights hard for the ball. In recent weeks he has kept the likes of Alex Berenguer and Vinicius Junior quiet.
Going forward, he has good appreciation of timing and where to make the run, providing a constant threat for Girona this season.
With a release clause of €20m, it is an operation Barcelona will see as affordable given his age. Equally, he has already admitted this season that it would be ‘a dream’ to represent Barcelona, as per Sport.
Arnau is unlikely to be the next Dani Alves, but the Catalan youngster does have the potential provide a reliable option for Barcelona on the right, particularly if paired with a more technical left-back. It was well-documented that Barcelona wanted to sign Cesar Azpilicueta in the summer. This might the closest suggestion since, only Arnau is a little more dynamic in attack.