Last week I labelled Josip Sutalo as the “Croatian John Stones“. And the more I look into this lad, the more I think he will be the perfect man to add depth to Arsenal’s defence.
23-years-old, Sutalo reminds me a lot of Stones in his Everton days.
Comfortable on the ball, sometimes too comfortable. Great reader of the game, but does not always impose his physical presence.
Manchester City knew in Stones they had a player with the natural attributes to be one of the best in the world. He just had to iron out those kinks and fill out his frame. Sutalo is the same.
Sutalo is comfortable with the ball at his feet. A capable short and long passer , he is also very good when he drives forward with the ball.
For Croatia, Josko Gvardiol is becoming his countries Nemanja Vidic to Sutalo’s Rio Ferdinand.
Like Stones, Sutalo does not panic when he is being pressed. He trusts his first touch and technique to get him out of tight situations and find the right pass. He does not quickly become anxious and look to smash the ball forward just because he is under pressure.
Comfortable with both feet, he is also happy bringing the ball forward, breaking those lines between defence and midfield. Important when trying to get through a high press.
But what is his defending like? Again, he reminds me of a young John Stones.
A fantastic reader of the game, he is often in the right position to intercept play rather than having to get involved in a more physical battle against his opponent. Once he has intercepted, he is very good at moving his body shape to protect the ball which gives him the time and space to pick out a pass.
He can struggle physically at times, and certainly does not impose himself in the way someone who is 6ft 3in should. This can occasionally lead him to be too eager to get the ball and overcommit. Again, not unlike Stones at Everton.
What is impressive is when he is one-on-one, with an opponent facing him, he is equally as strong defending on both sides. He is not one of those who will always try and win the ball with his right (and therefore wrong) foot.
This means that when he wins the ball, he is able to escape from the duel quickly and start an attack. And again, his two-footedness means he can get a pass forward with less touches. He does not have to first move the ball from left to right before being comfortable passing.
Sutalo also has good positional awareness.
He is someone who recognises danger and is comfortable tracking runs in behind his full-back. William Saliba and Gabriel do a greatr job covering their full backs, which allos Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko to press into midfield.
In the games I have seen him, he is also confident coming out of his defensive line to make a tackle. Looking to press and tackle or intercept a forward moving attacked before they reach the dangerzone of the box.
His game does need polishing. Sutalo sometimes attempts passes which are too risky for the reward, and on occassion he does not get the pass right even though it was the right pass to attempt. But this is something he can learn. He often has the vision, but not always the execution.
His physical presence is also a concern, and this can lead him to be bullied and pinned by more physical forwards. He knows when to get tight to a defender and when to drop off, but he does struggle when he is touch tight and can be pinned and spun easily.
With a reported £20million price tag, he comes a lot cheaper than John Stones did back in 2016. Even though they players with similar attributes.
The step up from Croatia to England is a big one. And we already have a “project centre back” in Jakub Kiwor. But that is where Arsenal are at – making stars not buying them.
For those thinking “not another project”, think about this:
If we miss out on him this summer, and he joins a mid-table Premier League side, I would not be surprised if he moves again for £50million+ in a year or two time. And we will all be complaining that we turned down the opportunity to sign him for £20million.
I have often seen people praise Brighton for their recruitment. With some going as far as saying “we need to recruit their recruiters“. Well Sutalo is the sort of player Brighton would buy, stick next to Lewis Dunk for a year or 18 months, then treble their money on.
If Sutalo fills out his frame, he could become one of those central defenders that has it all – physical presence, great reader of the game, fabulous on the ball. A bit more maturing, like Stones, and he could become a top, top defender.
I am very excited that some outlets are now linking us to Sutalo, He ticks every box needed to replace Holding – and has the ceiling to replace Saliba further down the line if the Frenchman’s contract is not sorted.
The difference between Arsenal + Brighton is we’re trying to revolve into a team that produces 90- 100 point seasons.
We haven’t got 2 seasons to develop players, particularly in central areas of the pitch when the margins are so fine.
We desperately need to upgrade Holding with a versatile right sided defender and also tie down Saliba, but we need someone who’s ready to perform consistently straight off the bat.