Nabil Fekir – Scout Report
After selling Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal last summer (and letting Maxime Gonalons leave for Roma), Lyon promoted academy graduate and fellow French international midfielder Nabil Fekir to club captain. Now the club’s new poster boy, he has gone on to lead the team in every sense; both on and off the pitch. Currently enjoying a stellar season, Arsenal have recently been linked with a move for the left-footed midfield man with reports saying that the Gunners are keen to re-establish his on-pitch relationship with Lacazette. In this scout report, we address Fekir’s strengths, weaknesses and potential suitability to Arsenal and the forward steps the club so desperately craves.
Who is Nabil Fekir?
Born on the 18th July 1993 not far from the city of Lyon itself, Nabil Fekir endured two stints of youth football at Lyon after being dropped by the academy in 2007 but re-signing again in 2011. He also had two youth team spells at Vaulx-en-Velin as well as one year stays at AC Villeurbanne and Saint-Priest, and another two years at SC Caluire before committing to Lyon for the second time. Coming from a sporadic football upbringing that encompassed multiple levels of ability, he delivered enough to ensure that Lyon didn’t let him slip again. He made his Lyon B debut almost right away in 2011 followed by a first team debut in August 2013. After missing most of the 2015-16 season with knee ligament trouble, he returned to the team for the 2016-17 season and struck a highlight-reel relationship with then star striker Alex Lacazette.
Of Algerian ancestry, Fekir was named in the Algerian senior squad in March 2015 for two friendlies. Controversially, he withdraw to play a part in the French senior squad instead, in two of their friendlies. Having already been capped for France U21s earlier in 2015, he saw fit that playing for France instead of Algeria was the path to take. A few other friendly call-ups were marred by injury that such jeopardised Fekir’s place in the squad for the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. However, impressive domestic and Europa League performances for Lyon meant that Deschamps recalled him to the national team in October 2017 where he finally made a first competitive appearance for Les Bleus in a 4-1 win over Bulgaria.
In 147 total appearances for Lyon, Fekir has scored 55 goals and created a further 35 across all competitions. Better than a goal every three games is no mean feat at all, especially for a midfielder. Still only 24, the only place for Nabil Fekir is up.
Still four or five years away from his peak, Nabil Fekir is able to operate as a mid-pitch playmaker or as an orthodox number ten. He likes to be the hub of all creativity and everything seems to go through him; whether it’s the final ball, a mazy dribble or the finishing goal, he is always involved. An accomplished set-piece taker too, Fekir is fundamental to everything Lyon does. When fit and playing, he takes almost every free kick and penalty which have no doubt helped him to amass such impressive records.
Capable of pin-point accuracy in both short and long ball passing, he loves to dictate Lyon’s tempo and manage the game, from whichever position he is in. Being one of maybe three ‘superstars’ in the Lyon dressing room, Fekir has much of everything his way, as well as being the controller of it all. As a result, defenders passing out from the back and midfielders sliding one forward or dropping one inside are always looking for him. This enables him to deliver excellent through balls, precision crosses and accurate long shots, with teammates always looking to create space for their talisman.
A lover of quick one-twos and short passes too, Fekir would undoubtedly suit the Arsenal style of football. With 3.4 successful dribbles a game this season, he is keen to take players on, as well as shooting from almost any range. Wenger would traditionally pull the shooting side from his game but perhaps that’s where Mislintat and Arsenal’s other recruiters are now looking; capable and dynamic attacking players who are prepared to shoot first, and pass later. His style of play would be very familiar to Arsenal fans as he’s most comparable to a 22 year old Cesc Fabregas; a goal getter, a midfield maestro of almost any position, and a leader. Maybe not as polished as Cesc but just as capable and that polish would ultimately come by playing in the Premier League week in, week out. Due to Fekir’s versatility, he is a counter-attacking threat and with a surprising turn of speed and acceleration, he can keep up and stay involved with Lyon’s counter, which is a vital piece of the style they play. Due to his desire to dictate and control, he does hold onto the ball a lot and therefore gets fouled a fair amount (3.8 fouls against a game, this season). Holding onto the ball for that split second longer enables him to find that cross-field ball or a devastating slide pass that he is so renowned for. All suitable assets for any potential Arsenal midfielder.
His link-up and relationship with Alex Lacazette is one strength very few others possess. Together, the two were absolutely lethal in combining goals and assists for each other, as well as for others. Playing together as orthodox number 9 and number 10, the two had a fantastic friendship (and still do), something that without doubt interests Arsenal. The chance to join up with your best mate in one of the best cities in the world, in the best league in the world – who wouldn’t be tempted!
At 24 and only having played in the French league with very few meaningful international appearances, Fekir’s experience and ability to handle the big occasion is the first potential weakness of his game. Although Lyon have rivalries and big games against Marseille, PSG and Monaco, they often come off worse in these game due to the squad they possess. Nothing on Fekir in regards to that but what is apparent is that he lacks big-game experience, and know-how to win these games. That feeling to maybe sit ten yards deeper when the team is under pressure, or the understanding to adapt his (and the team’s) style after going one-up or even one-down. This is something that even Alex Lacazette carried over last summer…he struggled to adapt to the Premier League initially but then again, most do. There have been very few pre-prime signings in England that have taken to the top-flight straight away.
As a natural attacker, Fekir does dive into tackles regularly and therefore risks yellow cards and potentially a following red card too. This bullish play does however come from his lack of size; standing at only 5’6, Fekir is on the small side meaning that he could struggle physically in the Premier League, especially in the centre of the park. He would more often lose aerial battles but should be savvy enough (much like Mesut Ozil) to stay away from these as much as possible. The Premier League is far more physical than Ligue 1, something Fekir should be prepared for.
How Would Fekir Fit in at Arsenal?
Nabil Fekir could play in any of the attacking midfield three in this formation. He is very capable, even more so with the fluidity of Arsenal play. The way these three look to interchange and float means he would end up in most attacking areas.
Fekir could fit into a 3-4-2-1 by being either of the two attacking pair behind the striker. In this 3 at the back formation, these two players are free from wide responsibility but can dip in and out of wide play, as they please. They are also required to create, and create regularly, something Fekir loves to do. He could also fit into this line up as part of the centre midfield two, depending on the opposition. Against a big fish like Man City of Chelsea, he’d be too naturally attack-minded to operate here. However, against the likes of Brighton and Newcastle (especially at The Emirates) he would be more than suitable.
The last and most probable Arsenal formation that Nabil Fekir would naturally suit is a back three with a centre midfield trio in front. Provided the dynamics of this centre midfield three were right (Xhaka, Wilshere, Fekir or Xhaka, Ramsey, Fekir – or heaven forbid the club go and buy an out-and-out CDM like Kante) he would fit right in. Much like the Xhaka-Wilshere-Ramsey three Arsenal have deployed of late; the make-up of their natural games coming together as well as the sacrifice to get the defensive side done between them, Fekir would make a valuable option.
In summary, Nabil Fekir would be a great and suitable addition to the Arsenal squad. However, there are two issues with this; firstly, he would only leave (where is he captain, and worshipped) to join a club that would guarantee regular first team football, in all competitions – can Arsenal offer that? Also, assuming both Wilshere and Ramsey re-sign, along with Elneny’s recent extension, the club are graced with a number of ‘CMs’ who can do various jobs – Fekir would only add to that. Yes he is good and has the potential to be great but aren’t Wilshere, Ramsey and Xhaka all in the category too? Plus, let’s assume Santi Cazorla plays again (and whispers of the incoming Max Meyer) – the club would have too many of the same. Let’s hope Arsenal finally get rid of Iwobi, as Fekir can be a in-cutting wide-man but would he still get the minutes he wants? That remains to be seen. With other big (and smaller) names being linked to the club, and talks of a big summer coming, Fekir certainly has the quality and adaptability to fit in but rumoured price tags like £40m plus are very costly for someone who is like-for-like. He is no better than Ozil and would only add another ‘good potentially great’ option.
As much as Nabil Fekir has the quality and flexibility to play for Arsenal, it would be best for the club to invest the big sums of money available into positions that the first team actually needs, rather than would like. CDM and CB first and foremost, followed by another winger and then as a last luxury, someone of Fekir’s mould. Max Meyer is being mentioned currently, he is very much in the same mould as Fekir and the assumption is that unless Ramsey and/or Wilshere were to move on, the club would not buy two players of this ilk. It’s likely that it’s one or other, alongside signings in other positions.
A killer player, capable of wonders on his day but perhaps it’s not his day at Arsenal just yet. Certainly one to keep an eye on.