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'Nuno can become the complete full-back' - How £7m signing Tavares has taken Arsenal by storm

12:00 PM GMT+4 06/11/2021
Nuno Tavares Arsenal 2021-22
The former Benfica starlet has made a big impression in the absence of Kieran Tierney, who now faces proper competition for his starting spot

Of all of Arsenal’s six summer signings, Nuno Tavares’ arrival from Benfica was perhaps the most unheralded.

Signed for just £7 million (9.4m), the young Portuguese was viewed by many as nothing more than back-up for first-choice left-back Kieran Tierney.

However, just three months into life at Arsenal, Tavares is already proving to be far more useful than many had expected.

The 21-year-old has made nine appearances in all competitions for the Gunners and has started the last three games for Mikel Arteta’s side in the absence of the injured Tierney, including the Premier League wins against Aston Villa and Leicester.

And perhaps the biggest compliment you can give Tavares is that Arsenal have not missed Tierney while the Scot has been sidelined with his ankle problem.

In the past, any Tierney injury was viewed as a disaster, such was Arsenal’s lack of capable cover. But now that is not the case.

The fact that there is even a debate ahead of Sunday’s game against Watford as to who should start at left-back if Tierney is passed fit to play, shows just how impressively Tavares has performed.

“One of the biggest qualities he has is that he is not fazed at all when is playing,” Arteta said of the Portugal Under-21 international. “That’s something that we really liked about Nuno when we were looking at him.

"Credit must go to Edu and the scouting department when they were doing the process, because that is something that we discussed a lot: we want a certain character to play for Arsenal.

“We want them to be able to deal with pressure, to be able to perform straight away when you are needed and to go from not playing to playing straight away.

"And that is what Nuno did, so, credit to the boy.”

While the ease in which Tavares has adjusted to his new surroundings may have come as a shock to many, one man who isn’t surprised is Joao Tralhao, who spent 15 years working within the academy set-up at Benfica between 2003 and 2018.

During his time as Under-19s coach, he worked with Tavares and Thierry Henry's former assistant manager at Monaco says it was clear from a very early age that the teenager's potential was obvious.

“I remember first seeing Nuno when he was about 13 and playing for Sporting Lisbon,” Tralhao told Goal. “When we saw him, of course we identified some big talent. He stood out for his technical ability, he was a skilful player and as a coach you are used to seeing potential indicators.

“One of the indicators was his mentality. He was very competitive, he was always fighting to win every duel, every action. It was really impressive.

“And, physically, he had huge potential because he was powerful and quick. All of us knew when we saw him that he would be a very well developed player in terms of physicality.

“So, when the opportunity came to bring him to Benfica, we didn’t think twice. It was an amazing opportunity for Benfica and for Nuno.”

When Tavares first joined Benfica’s youth set-up he was an attacking winger, but it wasn’t long before the academy coaches decided that his future lay at full-back.

“He played there all season for me and that year we were champions of Portugal and he was one of the best defenders in the whole competition,” Tralhao said of their time together.

“Everyone looked at him as an U19s player, but he was only 17 years old at the time. So, it was easy to see the potential indicators of this boy.

“He played in the UEFA Youth League and played very well. He had so many good performances and he became one of the boys who had all the eyes on him.

“The season after, he went to the B team, who compete in the second division, and he did very well. From there, it was a very small step for him to make his debut with the first team.”

Tavares' senior debut for Benfica came when he was just 18 and he marked it with a goal in a 5-0 win over Pacos Ferreira in August, 2019.

He was playing right-back at the time – an indicator of how comfortable he is with his weaker right foot – but operating on the left was always his preferred role.

He would go on to make 11 appearances during the 2019-20 campaign and a further 19 last season.

It was then that Arsenal came knocking, with the Gunners having spent months working on finding a young, talented left-back who could come in and give them the cover for Tierney that they had been lacking.

Tavares gave Arsenal fans an immediate glimpse of his talent with a goal on his debut against Rangers in a pre-season friendly and has continued to impress on almost every outing he has been given for the first team.

“I’m not surprised because I know Nuno well,” said Tralhao. “Not just his performance level, or his tactical capacity, but I know him as a person and I know his mentality.

“He has huge mental strength and I think that is so important in a league as demanding as the Premier League. You need to be strong mentally and Nuno has a lot of mental skills. 

“And in terms of talent, it’s easy to see for everyone. He has incredible potential. He is full of power, full of speed. He can win duels with everyone. He can cross, he can assist, he can dribble, he can pass well with precision.

“Nuno has all the potential to become a complete full-back, so I am not surprised at how he has settled.”

When speaking about Tavares, sources at Arsenal describe a young player who is keen to learn. He has made himself an immensely popular figure within the squad with his willingness to communicate and to help out when called upon.

His work ethic has impressed coaching staff, as has his determination to ensure he is ready to step in when needed – despite knowing that he is firmly behind Tierney in the pecking order.

“Nuno is a very realistic boy,” said Tralhao. “When he arrived at Arsenal he knew that competition would be tough against one of the best defenders in the league. But what I know about Nuno is that this type of competition helps him be better.

“If he feels that things will be very easy, probably that is not the best challenge for him. He needs to find difficulty, he needs to find a challenge. This is the type of competitive mentality he has.

“So, this is why it’s not a problem. For him, it’s very good to have one of the best left-backs in the league playing in his position. I believe this will help Nuno develop and get better. 

“Then, of course, the decision will be down to the manager. It’s a good headache for Mikel.”

Tavares is expected to keep his place in the starting XI against Watford on Sunday before he heads off to link up with the Portugal U21s.

With Tierney now almost back to full fitness, Arsenal's summer recruit might find himself back on the bench once he returns from international duty, with Arsenal's daunting trip to Liverpool on the horizon.

But one thing Tavares has shown is that he will make sure he will be ready if needed at Anfield. He would not be fazed by the prospect of going up against the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

"I think this fact, shows a lot about Nuno," said Tralhao. "He is always ready to perform. He always works, regardless of if he is playing or not.

"He is a very honest player in terms of work. So, when he is called, he will be ready. That is very good for Arsenal because he is the type of player you can count on all the time."