Does Arsenal need to buy “just one player?” And if so, why is it that no one can agree on the “just one” player that Arsenal need to buy? Also, why is it that Arsenal need to buy a different type of player every three months when someone new goes down with injury? In this series of articles I examine whether Arsenal need to buy anyone, whether it’s more than one player, and tomorrow I will offer some players who might be good buys in January.
Ever since I published my piece on why Arsenal needed to spend £120m to catch the top three in the Premier League I have been under some criticism for one of my main conclusions; that Arsenal need to buy players and that they need more than one player to fill in the gaps in the squad and compete for the League title.
I should be very clear about what I stand for. Before I started doing my research into the distorting value of money in modern football, I was firmly an anti-buy-buy-buy guy. I believed that the most important thing in sport was to develop your own players and to win the game the right way and not just throw money at the problem. I am still more inclined that way and if the Arsenal played in a different league I think we could still get away with that philosophy with Arsene Wenger at the helm. But the reality is that in this league and at this time in history if you want to compete for the League title you have to spend money — a lot of money… a metric assload of money. Or, accept that Arsenal is basically a better Everton and be happy with any result above 6th place.
It’s also important to remember that I wrote my piece before Man U and Barcelona poached Robin van Persie and Alex Song and my conclusions were based on the assumption of keeping those two players and re-signing Theo Walcott. If anything, Arsenal have to spend more than my summer estimate, now. As we have seen illustrated this season, you cannot lose two of your most valuable players after years of losing your best players every season and expect to compete for the League title. In fact, this squad looks weak enough that I believe Arsenal will need to buy players (or win the injury lottery) just to finish 4th and hope to avoid relegation from the Champions League next season.
I happen to believe that Arsenal have a number of weak positions all over the field and that Arsenal are not nearly as deep as people give them credit. In yesterday’s piece on the defense, I suggested that there’s a bit of weakness in the backup keeper position and that Arsenal are in need of both tying Sagna down to a long-term contract and finding a replacement for Santos. Here I assess the midfield and forward players by the positions they play and rate their offense and defense based on how others in their positions would do.
After each section I give a £ rating (1-5) for the importance of buying in this position.
Offense 8/10: Despite playing in a deeper role already has 3 assists this season. That’s one more than all of last season. Metronomic passing (leads the League in passes per game, 2nd in passing %). Very tidy with the ball despite constant pressure.
Defense 7/10: Slightly underpaced and undersized for a defensive midfielder but still leads the Gunners in tackles per game and in the top 10 in the league overall in that category. Great steals numbers. Doesn’t win a lot of headers, doesn’t clear the ball well, doesn’t get in a lot of blocks — all things that DM normally do pretty well and would push his defense rating up.
Offense 9/10: According to whoscored.com Cazorla is the best player in the League. Spends the entire 90 parked in the opposition third and thrives there. 4 goals and 3 assists. Shoots from distance. Insane passing range and vision. Leads Arsenal in dribbles per game, key passes, crosses, through-balls, and shots. Would be a 10, but shoots a little too much (and misses! No one would care if he shot so much and scored) and leads Arsenal in being dispossessed. Maybe I’m being a bit picky.
Defense 8/10: Some forward midfielders are afraid to tackle or think it’s not their job. Cazorla isn’t one. Likes to win the ball high up the pitch and terrifies opposition defenders with his terrier-like tackling.
Offense 6/10: Scored a great goal against Montpellier. Still recovering from an injury that had him out for an entire year. Better dribbler than Gervinho and more tidy with the ball (fewer turnovers and dispossessed less). Passing numbers are low right now but historically he has a fantastic range of passing. Rating based on this season only.
Defense 2/10: Often called “tigerish” in midfield but so far in three games only has one tackle, one interception, one clearance, and five fouls. Also has a red card, which was a series of stupid fouls and somehow blamed on Arsene Wenger. Defensive problems could be related to recovery from injury but right now is a liability defensively. More likely to be sent off than stop an opponent. Looked at his numbers from two seasons ago and they show a player who averages 8th in tackling and interceptions at Arsenal. Could emulate Cazorla defensively but right now doesn’t.
Offense 6/10: Considerably better at keeping the ball than last season. Better dribbling. Best at playing the shuttler role in midfield but often called upon to play more forward. Still has no shooting boots and only has one goal in all competitions this season.
Defense 3/10: Plays deeper than Cazorla yet has fewer tackles, fewer interceptions, more fouls. Not even considered “tigerish”. Would rate lower here but doesn’t have a red card.
Offense 2/10: Somehow beat Frimpong out of a starting spot at Arsenal. Has 2 starts and 2 subs but only one shot, one key pass, and been dispossessed 5 times. How does he rate a place at Arsenal if he can’t get a start against a team like Aston Villa?
Defense 2/10: Defensive midfielder? Ox has more tackles per game, Cazorla more interceptions, and Walcott averages more clearances. When he came on in the Villa game went forward forcing Arteta to stay back and do the defensive duties. Last season, he was Arsenal’s top-tackling midfielder, seems to have slipped here considerably.
Offense ?/10: Diaby is one of Arsenal’s most offense-minded players. He is second in dribbles and key passes per game. Completely unreliable player who has only started 18 League matches since August 2010.
Defense ?/10: Wins a fair number of headers, but a terrible percentage. Very low clearance numbers (Giroud averages more per game). Tackles well, reads the game well, and very rarely dribbled by the opposition. Could be a great defensive midfielder but no one knows for sure since he has only started 18 League matches since August 2010.
Offense ?/10: When do you stop making the excuse that a player is inconsistent and just say that he’s just not trying? One of Arsenal’s most technically gifted players, wonderful crosses, but drifts in and out of games like a stench over Stoke City. Has been dropped to the League Cup by Arsene Wenger, where he has 5 assists and a goal in two games. Looks like he will be sold in January.
Defense 1/10: Horrible defender and a huge liability when he plays. Has made precisely zero tackles, interceptions, blocks, or clearances but does have the four fouls. All in dangerous and stupid areas. Can not be used to spell Cazorla because he won’t play defense. Can not be used to spell Podolski because he won’t play defense. In the two games he started, Arsenal gave up six goals. Being a midfielder requires that a player put in a modicum of defensive work. Something Arshavin has never done for Arsenal.
Scored a goal against Spurs last year and became a fan favorite. Injured this summer playing for his national team. Looks like he might play for Arsenal again this season. Eventually. May be a legitimate backup to Cazorla, though it’s hard to tell which Rosicky will show up after being out so long with injury.
Verdict: £££££ — This is without a doubt the most problematic component of Arsenal’s squad. Arsenal have 8 players listed as midfielders and none of them are suited to play the wings. Instead, Arsenal play with three center mids: forward, middle, and back. Ostensibly that means Arsenal have great depth: Cazorla, Jack, Rosicky, and Ramsey can play forward; Diaby, Jack, Ramsey, and Arteta can play middle; and Arteta, Diaby, and Coquelin can play back.
But in practice Cazorla is the only one being played forward, Arteta is the only one playing back, and Arsenal are playing the middle role by committee (Jack, Ramsey, and Diaby) with mixed results. Some of the problem here is injury, mainly to Diaby and Rosicky, though I question whether Arsenal really want Diaby to play defensive midfielder. He’s not ideally suited to it, despite the fleeting physical resemblance to Patrick Vieira and the fact that he nearly kicked John Terry’s head clean off.
Call time on Diaby, Arshavin, and Coquelin. Diaby because we have spent enough time and money on this player, Arshavin because he is a grifter, and Coquelin because he is in his fourth year at the club and still not made enough of an impression to start against relegation teams. Sorry but there are a lot of midfielders in the world better than Coquelin.
In fact, this is the main problem with Arsenal. The drop off between the starting talent and the backup talent is so massive that Arsene seems a bit gun-shy to start any of the backups. That explains why Arteta and Cazorla have played (nearly) every minute of every game. If you replace Diaby, Arshavin, and Coquelin Arsenal could buy a legitimate wing player, a legitimate defensive midfielder, and a utility midfielder. The alternative is to hope that Diaby, Coquelin, and Arshavin buck their historical trends and suddenly come good while simultaneously getting the best out of Rosicky, Ramsey and Jack (two of which are returning from injury).
In the end, I know the argument is that every buy is a gamble. But it’s not just buys who are gambles, every player is a gamble: returning from injury, bucking their historical trend, playing week in and week out without getting injured, on and on. If every player is a gamble, then who do you put your chips on? A player with 18 starts in two+ years and who is inconsistently brilliant or a player with 70 starts in the same time but who might not fit perfectly into your system?
In the end they are all gambles but right now I would choose the more consistent player even if he was less brilliant.
Tomorrow… forwards and some suggested buys.