Mathieu Debuchy exit disappointing but not disastrous for Arsenal
With Arsenal's squad stretched to breaking point due to the recent injury crisis, discussion around the transfer window has understandably focused on the players Arsene Wenger might be able to bring in this month. However, there could also be at least one departure from the senior squad. If recent reports are to be believed, right-back Mathieu Debuchy could be on the verge of loan move to West Brom.
Serge Gnabry has endured a difficult loan spell at the Hawthorns, and it seems he will return to London Colney as part of the arrangement. Under Premier League rules, the Baggies can only loan one Arsenal player at a time, and clearly Tony Pulis believes Debuchy would be a more useful asset to his squad.
Debuchy's unhappiness with his situation at Arsenal comes as no great surprise. The France international has fallen behind 20-year-old Hector Bellerin in the pecking order after spending significant time on the sidelines through injury during his first year at the club, and has struggled for regular football since. Speaking to Canal+ back in November, he said: "I have to deal with it. I'm trying to stay strong. I'm trying to stay concentrated until December, then after that we'll see."
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It's easy to feel some sympathy for Debuchy. When he arrived from Newcastle in the summer of 2014 as a replacement for the Manchester City-bound Bacary Sagna, it seemed a very sensible purchase. He had plenty of Premier League experience, and had recently ousted Sagna as the first-choice in the French national side.
Debuchy started his Arsenal career well too, showing tenacity in the challenge and surprising aerial prowess for a man who is only 5-foot-8. He even made a couple of appearances as a centre-back, plugging gaps in the Gunners backline as required, settled quickly and seemed set to establish himself as Wenger's first-choice full-back.
However, as with so many Arsenal players before, injuries proved his downfall. Two lengthy lay-offs in his maiden season saw Bellerin handed an opportunity to impress. After a shaky start, the Spanish teenager went on to become one of the revelations of the 2014-15 season; Debuchy eventually made his comeback in the spring, but on his fleeting appearances the ring-rust was evident.
With the stakes high as the campaign drew to a close, Wenger could not afford to give the senior man the regular football he required to regain his sharpness. When the FA Cup Final came around in May, it was Bellerin who got the nod. And at that moment it was clear the writing was on the wall for Debuchy.
Nevertheless, he stuck it out at Arsenal in the summer, determined to reclaim his spot in the side. But his hopes were misplaced -- Bellerin has gone from strength to strength, while disappointing performances from Debuchy against the likes of Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League have seen him relegated to little more than an emergency option. Arsenal played four games over the demanding Christmas period, and Debuchy didn't play a single minute in any of them.
Perhaps Wenger had already made up his mind to let him go. The Arsenal boss is famously loathe to retain players who are unhappy, fearing that they could disrupt the harmonious atmosphere in the dressing room. Debuchy will be particularly anxious to move now due to the fact that Euro 2016 is just around the corner and will be desperate to reclaim his place in the France squad for this summer's tournament in his homeland.
Some fans will feel frustrated at Wenger's willingness to cave to Debuchy's demands. Arsenal are infamously prone to injuries, and if Bellerin were to end up on the treatment table Debuchy would still be first in line to replace him. However, Wenger may feel that he has another player capable of providing adequate cover in Calum Chambers.
Indeed, there is precedent for Wenger letting experienced squad players leave halfway through a season. Just last year, he allowed an unsettled Lukas Podolski to join Inter Milan on loan. Although that decision to weaken the squad initially baffled the Arsenal fans, the German was not missed. Similarly, the decision to allow Andrey Arshavin to rejoin Zenit St. Petersburg had no discernible negative repercussions.
Even though this deal is unlikely to be permanent, it's difficult to see a way back for Debuchy at Arsenal. Come the summer, he could have an improving Chambers and a returning Carl Jenkinson (on his second year on loan at West Ham) to contend with as well as the formidable Bellerin. With the path to first-team football at Arsenal only likely to become more congested, Debuchy needs a way out and Wenger looks likely to give it to him.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.