Arsenal right back Takehiro Tomiyasu was deservingly voted as Arsenal’s player of the month for September, a key part of which has been his stalwart defensive ability to close down that right channel (although he did struggle a bit vs Brighton left wing back Marc Cucurella, great learning lesson).
To that point of defensive aptitude, Tomiyasu had - according to Squawka - the most ball recoveries (eight) of anyone on the team during Arsenal’s North London Derby romp over Tottenham and already has as many crosses blocked this season as Arsenal’s contingent of RBs (Hector Bellerin, Cedric Soares, and Calum Chambers) had all of last season combined!
Further, when digging deeper into the data on Football Ref, numerous data points stand out. He’s in the 80th percentile or greater of fullbacks when it comes to aerial duels, interceptions, and clearances.
Part of why he excels in those areas is certainly due to his positional and tactical awareness along with his preparation. All three are reasons why manager Mikel Arteta badly wanted the player during the transfer window - he fits the high footballing IQ, hard-working, high preparation profile the team has targeted with your transfers.
Further, another critical quality underlying those statistics and evident on the game tape as well is Tomiyasu’ two-footedness. This is a characteristic of Takehiro’s that nearly only exclusively gets touched upon in terms of his ball distribution and playing passes but rarely mentioned in terms of how it impacts other areas.
The reality is that two-footedness translates over to many other parts of the game, including defensively. He’s comfortable stepping in defensively with either foot to break-up a dribble and he’s comfortable reaching out with either foot to block crosses. Most defenders - like attackers - are going to be much more comfortable using their stronger leg for both situations which leads to hesitation and impaired performance on the weaker side. Tomiyasu doesn’t have that issue.
Further, from a neuromuscular and movement standpoint, players tend to favor specific body shapes and movement types that favor the stronger leg. For example, more comfortable opening up their body to the dominant side or accelerating with the stronger leg acting as the initial swing leg (hip flexion). Similar to discussed above, this leads to hesitation and poorer performance when put into those situations they’re uncomfortable with. Takehiro is placed into those situations much less often as he’s so fluid and adaptable with his movement patterns to either leg.
Additionally, he’s able to jump and land very comfortably off and onto each leg. Most players again have a favored jumping leg and landing style whereas Tomiyasu’s is more variable and he’s able to adapt that jumping and landing parameters based on what’s needed in that specific situation.
A combination of all these attributes - from Tomiyasu’s tactical and positional awareness, to his intelligence and preparation to his two-footedness and all the qualities that unlocks defensively - is why he’s so able to play both as a fullback and as a center-back. For the Japanese international team, Takehiro has been capped multiples times at the right center-back position and played it quite effectively (most notably at the Olympics and most recently against Australia in the World Cup qualifiers which Japan won 2-1).
This versatility is also key domestically for how Arteta wants to play as Tomiyasu’s ability to shift into the backline, combined with his progressing ball-playing and carrying abilities unlocks many new opportunities - especially for Granit Xhaka (when healthy) who was often tasked with being part of the back-3 and progressing the ball forward - while also allowing the left side of Arsenal’s attack to bomb forward with Kieran Tierney often playing as a high and wide winger.
The next time you watch Tomiyasu play, pay attention to these defensive phases and you’ll really see how his two-footedness is underscored by multiple other components that translate to his overall movement adaptability and comfort in total.