Santiago Arzamendia is a player that I have had my eyes on throughout this year and he is one of the biggest prospects in Paraguayan football. The 22-year-old was born in Argentina, but plays for the Paraguayan national team. He has made eight appearances for Los Guaraníes. The left-back came through the youth ranks of Cerro Porteño, made his debut for the Paraguayan club in 2015 and has made 80 appearances for the club from Asunción, making him an experienced player at his current level.
Cerro Porteño set up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Santiago Arzamendia being allowed to make overlapping runs. He often stays back to support the defence, but moves forward at times as well. It depends on which playing style the opponents have. If they sit deep, Arzamendia is capable of making good runs in behind to support the attack, but if they are dangerous on the counter-attack, Arzamendia would choose his moments more carefully to make forward runs. With that being said, it is certainly not the case that he is defensive minded, but he keeps the defensive structure in mind and can often be found just over the halfway line to support the defence in transition.
The Paraguayan club often have more possession than the opponent and Santiago Arzamendia gets into possession a lot of times. Cerro Porteño rarely not use their full-backs to build it out from the back. One of the two central midfielders of Cerro Porteño drops deep when the club from Asunción are trying to build it out from the back. This allows both full-backs of Cerro Porteño to push further up the pitch, which often results in Arzamendia sticking close to the sideline near the halfway line, awaiting to receive the pass from the left central defender.
During the times that he receives the ball in this area, he will most likely get put under pressure by his opponent. It is often the case that the opponents close the center to then put pressure on the wing when the ball gets played out wide. Santiago Arzamendia has a lot of ball-playing ability and does not get into any trouble when being put under pressure. He can act quickly when he gets put under pressure and makes sure to find his teammate or to carry the ball inside to play out of pressure. The Paraguayan left-back rarely loses the ball on his own half and makes sure to not make an error which could lead to a dangerous counter-attack, since Cerro Porteño have a lot of players in front of the ball normally.
The Paraguayan international likes to play a diagonal pass to the center of the pitch, which helps Cerro Porteño to progress further up the pitch as the receiver has often moved into space between the lines. He often tries a pass down the line towards the left midfielder as well. The left-back has a good passing technique and is able to progress the ball up the pitch with good, powerful passes over the ground which makes it fairly easy for his teammates to control his passes. He is also able to combine with his teammates in the tight spaces, linking up well and showing good technique, ball control and touch in these situations.
The left-back of Cerro Porteño is often involved in the attacking play, but is not your typical attacking left-back who always makes runs forward. In some matches, he often stays back to support the first phase of the build up and to make sure that the defensive structure keeps intact in transition. He has a good understanding of the game and tactics. This is very important for when he would play in an attacking team that plays a high defensive line. In the matches where he stays back more often, he showed that he can time his runs very well and is capable of spotting space in behind.
Santiago Arzamendia anticipates well in the moments where he sees space in behind and capitalizes on this, using his good acceleration and pace to make runs in behind and drive into the space. He shows less variation in these matches between over- and underlapping runs, which is not strange as he starts his run just over the halfway line and profits from a full-back that steps out of the defensive line too aggressively. It is a fact that the Paraguayan left-back has not made a lot of assists, but that does not mean that his crossing ability is bad.
The 22-year-old has a very good kicking technique and can get a lot of curve on his crosses. He manages to get his crosses into good positions often and sometimes takes the corners. It must be said that his teammates, the strikers and central midfielders, do not get into good positions in the box at times, while Arzamendia puts in a bad cross himself at times as well. The left-back always looks up before crossing, can spot his teammates well and as mentioned above, he sometimes is not completely at fault for not finding his teammates.
In other matches, mostly against lower-table teams, he is very attacking-minded and shows a lot of variation in the final third with his runs. He then makes both under- and overlapping runs and is very active on the opposition half. Also, he is able to link-up with the wide midfielder and play a through pass to him when he makes a run in the half-space. Arzamendia has shown that he is capable of playing in either an attacking role or more defensive role, while he is good at defending with space in his back which would make him more suited (and other reasons) to a more attacking team.
Out of possession
As mentioned above, Santiago Arzamendia can defend well with space in his back and would suit best at teams that play a high or medium-high defensive line. The Paraguayan left-back is good at putting early pressure on his opponent to force him backwards, which can be very effective in a team that plays a high defensive line as he prevents the opponent from turning him and getting dangerous on the counter. It is good as well that he does not make unnecessary fouls on his opponent in these situations, which defenders often tend to do when they put pressure on their opponent.
If he would make a foul, the opponent would get the chance to move higher up the pitch and gain control over the match. Now, he forces his opponent backwards which allows Cerro Porteño to maintain the pressure on the opponent. This makes sure that they can recover possession fairly quickly and that their opponents are not able to start a counter-attack. Especially when the experienced and slow Amorebieta plays, Cerro Porteño can get into trouble in transition and in these situations is a player like Arzamendia very useful to have.
The left-back that was born in Argentina can help his teammates well, mostly the left central defender, when they move out of position. For example, when the left central defender steps out of the defensive line, Arzamendia would tuck inside and cover the back of the left central defender. This is a very good asset of Arzamendia, as he always keeps an eye out for the defensive structure. It can be said that he is positively aggressive in duels and that he often gets in front of his opponent when his opponent receives a pass.
During the times that the opponents are having possession on Cerro Porteño’s half, he can either sit narrow and stay in the defensive line or step out of the defensive line to put pressure on his opponent. Santiago Arzamendia rarely gets caught out of position when stepping out of the defensive line. He makes sure that he checks his shoulders when stepping out of the defensive line and assures that there is a teammate that covers the runs into the space that Arzamendia leaves open on the left-wing. This is very important since Cerro Porteño could be vulnerable on the wing when no-one would cover the runs in behind, while Arzamendia is stepping out of the defensive line.
The Paraguayan left-back chooses to cut the passing lanes when he is defending a little bit higher up the pitch than in the paragraph above mentioned position. This allows him to defend further up the pitch while also covering space in behind, but this makes him quite vulnerable when the opponents are skilled in playing over the top through passes. It has happened a few times that his opponent gets into space and receives the pass, but it has not been a problem for Arzamendia since he has the acceleration and pace to get back in the duels. That is why it is so effective for Arzamendia.
When defending in the 1v1 duels, Arzamendia always forces his opponent to try to get past him on the outside. This is thanks to his good body position and shape, which most of the time prevents his opponent from getting past Arzamendia on the inside. His opponent then tries to move on the outside nearly every time and then it is quite easy for Arzamendia to defend as he, as mentioned before, has good acceleration and pace which he can use in these situations. It happens very rarely that his opponent does get past him on the inside, but then he can turn quite quickly and he often has someone covering his back for when his opponent does get past him.
Santiago Arzamendia will definitely be pushing for a move to Europe after being one of the key players of Cerro Porteño in the last years. As mentioned before, he would fit in a team that either has a balanced or attacking playing style as he is comfortable playing a medium-high or high defensive line. Arzamendia is good on the ball, but should improve on a few things such as his final delivery to really be a player that could move to the top 5 leagues. For now, I think that he should play in either The Netherlands or Portugal.
Looking at his current level, I do not think that he is quite good enough to play at Ajax. Benfica and Porto would be a bit of a stretch but he could be a fairly good replacement for Grimaldo or Telles as he is better than their current backups even though he would not be the ideal option. He would fit well at teams like PSV, Feyenoord, AZ, Vitória Guimarães or FC Famalicão, depending on his transfer fee and wage demands. Also, it needs to be taken into consideration that he is a non-EU player (as far as we know) and that he will be even more expensive for the Dutch teams.
In other words, his ideal destination would probably be Vitória Guimarães or FC Famalicão, as he will probably be too expensive for the Dutch teams and he does not fit at Sporting Braga or Sporting CP, as both teams play in a three at the back with attacking wing-backs, a position where he would not fit well. Both Vitória Guimarães and FC Famalicão would be an ideal stepping stone to move to the European top 5 leagues.