Imagine a player who likes to hug the touchline, who can break his opponent’s ankles with a dribble, destroys back lines with his throughball vision, but who predictably always cuts in on his favored foot, can’t really cross, shoot or dribble with his off foot, and who tends to like to receive the ball, stop, take on his man, work the ball onto his favored foot, stop his opponent again, and then cross. Arsenal supporters don’t have to imagine, they know that I am talking about Malcom, the left-footed Brazilian right-winger who plays for Bordeaux in Ligue Un.
Let’s talk about stats (first), Baby. Malcom is 20 and this is his third season in european football after making the move to France from Corinthians in 2015. His main skill is ball control and at 20 years old already averages 3.1 successful dribbles per90. He’s a 70% dribbler which is excellent for a player who mainly operates in the wide attacking area. When Walcott was 20 years old, he averaged 1.5 per90 with a 33% success rate and when Alexis was 21 (I don’t have his dribbles data from the year prior) he averaged 2.7 per90 with a flat 50-50 chance of beating his man. So, Malcom is already way ahead of both players.
Malcom is a creative type. He’s not really using his dribble to create a shot for himself but rather looking to free up teammates. This season he’s averaging 2.6 key passes per90, Alexis at 21 was 2.7 and Theo 1.8. As for crossing, despite being entirely one-legged, Malcom is right there with Walcott (1.5/4.9) and Alexis (1.3/4.9) with his 1.5/4.7 accurate crosses.
Malcom also takes corners for his team. He’s already averaging 1.3 accurate corners of 2.2 attempts per90, Theo didn’t really take corners at that age but Malcom is already more prolific than Alexis was: Sanchez only averaged 0.6/1.6 per90 when he was at Udinese.
One key feature of Malcom’s game, though, isn’t just the fact that he creates for his teammates it’s that he looks for the throughball. It doesn’t really show up in his key passes stats but when you watch him play you see almost immediately how much he likes that splitting pass. The reason his throughball stats don’t show up (for me) is because his teammates don’t always take shots off his through passes.
Malcom does offer some problems for potential suitors (Arsenal). First, as good as his left foot cross is, his right foot cross is very poor. That means that in order to play in a cross, he has to do exactly what Arsenal supporters hate about Alexis Sanchez: he has to stop his man and get the ball onto his favored foot.
Second, he slows play down. When he collects the ball he’s often stopping play, like Alexis does, and sizing up the situation with his opponents, taking them on, and trying to get a ball in for his teammates. This is frustrating and will allow opposition defenses time to recombine like the Terminator in Terminator 2.
He’s also insanely predictable with his dribbles in that he always goes left. He’s explosive enough going left that he’s able to get away with it (like Alexis and Robben) for right now.
That sounds like a complaint (and it is) but he uses his left-foot dribble on the right side to create space for himself to get that throughball in for a runner behind. That is his actual killer move. And he’s truly magical when he makes that pass. The problem is that if you play him as a right-side forward, he’ll most-likely be making that pass to a fullback (hence the low throughball KP numbers). Watching a number of his videos I thought it would be interesting to see him through the middle for Arsenal, rather than out wide. His on-ball technique is impeccable and he could be an interesting Cazorla-type player through the middle. It would be a massive upgrade for him and possibly not something he could take on in his career but I salivate at the thought of him drifting left in the middle of the park and finding Lacazette with one of those through balls that Lacazette is looking for.*
The thing is, though, why wait to sign Malcom? He’s good enough right now to take a chance on him. He’s at least as good as Alexis was and miles better than Walcott was when he was 20 years old. Just buy him. Don’t wait for Alexis to leave. Alexis is leaving no matter what. If Malcom is available, you take him.
*This is one of the biggest problems at Arsenal right now. Alexis’ final ball tends to be that looping pass over the top and that’s not Lacazette’s best pass (nor anyone’s really). Lacazette’s runs are designed for those throughballs but he’s just not getting them. If Wenger could get a player through the middle who was looking to make that incisive pass, rather than mostly camped out on the wings, Arsenal could maximize Lacazette.