Bang a Gong (Gonalons)

I will make no bones about it, I think Arsenal need to strengthen the spine of the team. I have called for Arsenal to buy a keeper for a year and a half, for Arsenal to buy a defensive midfielder for five years, and while I haven’t been on the center forward bandwagon as of late, if Arsenal were to buy a top quality center forward I wouldn’t complain.

The keeper comment will get me in trouble, I know, because it’s unpopular to say anything negative about Wojciech Szczesny. The way I have phrased this in the past is that Szczesny needs a legitimate backup. Someone like Mark Schwarzer of three years ago who can back him up and take over if needed but who isn’t in direct competition for the long-term. I’m going to be more direct: Szczesny needs competition.

There are better keepers out there, like Simon Mignolet. And if Arsenal bought Mignolet and Szczesny can’t beat Mignolet for the starting spot right now then he we have to question whether Szczesny deserves to be starting right now? I’m sorry but if we saw Almunia flapping at crosses the way Szczesny has been the last few weeks, or parrying shots back to the middle the way he has the last few weeks, there would be riots in the streets of Islington.

Maybe Szczesny is just going through a bad patch, I’m not sure. Maybe he will be a great goalkeeper one day, I’m not sure. I am, however, pretty sure that he’s not a great goalkeeper right now. His one saving grace, his supposed “presence”, has gone missing and I happen to believe that he needs someone to push him to get that back. Vito Mannone is not that someone. Nor is Fabianski if he ever gets healthy again.

In front of Szczesny it would be nice if Arsenal could stop tooling around with undersized midfielders and get someone of the stature and power of Patrick Vieira or Emmanuel Petit back into this team. I have made no secret that Vieira is my favorite player. Of course, Henry played the beautiful game, but it was Vieira who could pick out a pass as beautifully as Cesc Fabregas in one moment and stand up to a thug like Roy Keane in the very next.

Vieira often gets a bad rap as a destroyer but as Gunnerblog points out in his tribute to the man he was so much more: he was so much more that Arsene has to use three midfielders now to do what Vieira and Petit used to accomplish as two.

There are players out there who do what Vieira used to do, big, muscular players who don’t shy away from a tackle, who get their head in on challenges, who understand basic defending, and who can switch from defense to offense in a flash. Arsenal, sadly, don’t have one. Diaby is not that kind of player because let’s face it, he’d rather be playing in Cazorla’s position than Mertesacker’s. Arteta (bless him) is one of the best passers in the world right now but he lacks the physical presence of Vieira.

Wilshere could be that player. He would stand up to Roy Keane, no doubt. He also has that silky smooth dribble and the natural inclination to go forward that made Vieira more than just a defensive midfielder. But I think he needs someone next to him to help with the physical battles so that he’s not going it alone so often. Someone tall, who can fill in at center back when needed and who wins the aerial duels that Wilshere can’t. Someone to hunt with Wilshere in a pack, like Petit and Vieira. Wilshere could be the mini-Vieira and that would mean that Arsenal could use a bigger version of Petit — though, Petit wasn’t exactly tiny at 185cm.

Reportedly, Arsenal are scouting Maxime Gonalons tonight as Tottenham play Lyon in the Europa League. And Gonalons sort of fits the bill of the type of player that I would like to see at Arsenal. He’s 4th in Ligue Un in tackles per game (3.7) and tied for 7th in interceptions (3.1). He’s also 8th in the Ligue in fouls (2.1) and 12th in being dribbled by opposition midfielders (1 per game). So, he’s a very active midfielder who gets stuck in to the tackle but also gets bypassed and is known to commit fouls. Where Gonalons really shines though is in his passing and especially his accuracy from distance.

As you can see from the chart above, Gonalons is very Arteta-like in almost every stat. He’s a tidy passer, who is plenty accurate from distance (83% is very good), and keeps possession at a rate that puts him among the best. I tend to look at turnovers (which are unforced errors) as a key indicator of a player’s touch and as you can see he’s only had 17 tunovers this season. He’s also been consistently playing at this level for two years. There was a slight uptick in his long ball percent (he was 77% last season) but all the other stats have been roughly the same.

Two of Gonalons’ goals have come from headers and he is surprisingly good in the air both offensively and defensively. He has won 73% of his aerial duels and that is a better rate than anyone at Arsenal.

That said, I can build a case for Arsenal to go after Etienne Capoue instead of Gonalons. Capoue’s got more of the pure destroyer in him than Gonalons, despite the fact that Gonalons has more tackles. Capoue is a much more physically imposing midfielder, he wins a lot more headers than any other midfielder (8th in Ligue Un), has a significantly better clearance rate than Gonalons, and has only been dribbled past 10 times.

His passing numbers are not great but they are workable and he’s a real threat off set pieces and is a powerful midfielder in the counter attack. Gonalons and Capoue met earlier this year and despite Capoue having a poor passing game, he really outplayed Gonalons. The last goal in particular was, well, you watch it and tell me who this reminds you of:

Personally, I’ll take either Capoue or Gonalons. But if I have to choose I think Capoue would fit with Wilshere better. You’ll note that I also included M’Vila in my graphic. I still think M’Vila has the talent to make it at Arsenal, but I’m not sure that he has the mental strength. After falling out with the French national team he has really hit a slide. His transfer to Rubin Kazan for just about £12m was a significant discount on the £20m Arsenal were quoted this summer.

None of those players are going to be cheap. Capoue will break the Arsenal record as he is now attracting interest from PSG who want someone to play along side Blaise Matuidi now that Motta is 30 and Veratti is struggling. Gonalons is the darling of the French press right now. And a keeper like Mignolet is not going to be cheap.

But Arsenal have the money.


32 thoughts on “Bang a Gong (Gonalons)

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1vladiziv

    loved the article and pretty much agree with main idea..
    haven’t seen enough of either one to really make a judgment..
    I guess I would prefer the faster one, as it seems to somewhat trouble Arteta in the position..

    in an unrelated note.. how much do you feel individual statistics differ due to the way the team plays?
    or rather could big differences in “tackles” and “was dribbled” be somewhat explained due to the way teams play?

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

    I don’t know much about either but looking at the stats and your comments I think Capoue as the physical destroyer sounds the better bet.

    I notice that you have only quoted two French options, and it seems that German league may be a better place to shop nowadays. Any thoughts on potential options in the Bundesliga as comparison that you have seen from your stats.

    Couldn’t agree more regarding keeper. Why does the first team need to be the training ground.

    I do think we need a striker for one main reason. I think we need a more fluid formation to cater for different opponents. For instance, against the park the bus teams, I would actually advocate considering a return to 4-4-2, with a holding midfield player to screen the defence and allow the front 5 to just attack. With loads of guile and pace in the wingers, a real creative front midfielder, and two proper strikers to stretch the 2 centre halves I think we could stand a chance of getting consistently better results. I believe they have found a way to nullify the lone striker we have at the moment.

    Just my own thoughts that I reckon will get now get knocked down by all and sundry.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

      I did some research on the Bundesliga and have come up with Milan Badelj, who just looks superb. Seems to be an upgraded version of Arteta, acts as a deep lying playmaker (great long ball stats) who is also willing to do the defensive stuff and appears effective.

      Last time I liked a player in the Bundesligia it got me excited in Arturo Vidal and I really regret we never bought him.

      Only downside is he only signed for Hamburger last summer.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1jop

        From the German league. Leverkusen’s Lars Bender, (twin brother of Borussia’s Sven). Or Shalke’s Neustädter.

        Biggest problem though is their aerial stats are pretty poor (Lars low 50% and Neustädter mid 40%).

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1jop

        Vidal is an excellent player, used to play for Levekusen. He’s at Juve not Hamburg. 10 goals and 8 assists in all competitions so far this season. Great player, but out of our reach.

      3. Vote -1 Vote +1jop

        Badelj is a good shout, good dribbler, good defensive numbers, tidy passer both short and long, likes to take a shot or two. Only downside is a 44.8% aerial success rate, not very good for the Premier League.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Szczesny is vastly overrated by us Gooners, and you get shouted down on most forums for suggesting he’s really not very good. The truth is that his off-field bravado and sass is not matched on the field, though the former has clearly influenced most Gooners in the appraisal of the latter.

    He gets away with a lot not only because of his vocal support of the club, but also because of his age and relative inexperience (as well as the backing of Bob Wilson a few years ago). However, as Ickenham Gooner has rightly pointed out, the first team is not a training ground (but oh, how many times has Wenger used it as one).

    I can think of a handful of keepers in the middle to bottom half of the Premier League that I’d start at Arsenal ahead of Szczesny. And while I appreciate that he comes across as a true fan of the club, I’d rather we have a top class keeper than a true fan (if we couldn’t have both). Mignolet is a great example of a keeper with much better hands and positional sense, and I could give a shit if his one true love was some obscure Belgian team instead of Arsenal.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

      In the eyes of the Arsenal support, Szczesny gains massive bonus points for being very different to Almunia. The Pole’s confidence is in contrast to Almunia’s palpable lack of it, and Wenger was surely the only Arsenal fan who believed the Spaniard to be sufficiently good to be our first choice. The Almunia era seemed long and painful enough that we seem happy enough just to have someone who looks the part, even if his actual results are only marginally better than what we had.

      In truth, the best keeper we’ve had post-Lehmann was actually Fabianski for that half-season before Szczesny injured him. But there was something weird in the air that first half of the season, because Chamakh looked like a good player, Nasri looked like a great player, and Arshavin looked crap yet amassed amazing stats.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Olamide

    Hi Tim,
    Lovely article…(Who doesn’t love some transfer tittle-tattle?)
    Something occurred to me, as I read your article, Gonalons (I’ve never seen him play) as described by you seems to be a Busquet-like player.
    That said, I’d say that the fact that Gonalons passes the ball better than Capoue would weight strongly in his favour with Wenger, if it came down to a choice between both of them.
    Could you please do a comparison of the stats of Gonalons & Busquet?
    I would love to see what that would reveal.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1DAWA

    You writea good piece, but will Wenger buy any of them? Let time come, Wenger will have excuse and instead buy what he thinks is the best which will. Turn out to be experimental and futureristic.. Giroud, Gevinho, Park, Miyachi among many others.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1craig

      Giroud and Gervinho were no more experiments than either of these guys. Even Park was a known quantity… your examples make no sense.

  6. Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

    Given our recent raids on the cash strapped Malaga, I looked at their squad to see who else we may wish to acquire and noticed Jeremy Toulalan on their books. At 29 he’s on the older side but is a name I recall we were linked with (amongst a 1,000 others admittedly).

    Tim, if you have the time and data and you think it is a worthwhile, it would interesting to compare an older more experienced (and maybe cut priced) option.

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

    We should have no problem getting either Capoue or Gonalons if we want them. Even if Tottenham take 4th place ahead of us, surely we have accumulated a better reputation than they have in France over the years to lure French players. And while PSG have the money, Lyon or St Etienne would surely prefer to sell abroad than to strengthen a direct rival, if they had the option.
    But it’s all about whether we are prepared to spend the money.

    Gonalons looks great in terms of his passing, but to be honest I feel like we prioritise tidy passing a little too much as a club. Perhaps Capoue’s all-action style is a bit more what we need. For a team that is as defensively shaky as we are, Capoue’s numbers for blocks, clearances and getting dribbled are very impressive.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1Matt

    Nice article. I like Gonalons. What do people think of coquelin though? He looks good whenever I see him play. Is wenger scared that buying a DM would kill the coq? I think if wenger rated him he would have played more this season.

    Surely M’Vila is taller than 182cm though.

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

    Btw Tim, I’d be interested in your thoughts on Victor Wanyama, if you have any to share. He’s another name that is getting thrown around in relation to us, who also fits the mould of physical defensive midfielder.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

      Good shout. I’ve only seen him play twice, but those times were against Barcelona and Juventus, and he was not only Celtic’s best player…he was in key spells the best player on the pitch (certainly v Juventus).

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1Jack Action

    “But Arsenal have the money”.

    I don’t believe it. I’ve read your blog, Swiss Ramble’s et al, but I don’t think we have this supposed 60-100m to spend… we’re talking about modern Arsenal afterall. 40million has probably been set aside as contingency for the day we miss out on Champions League revenue. They’ve said in the past numerous times that the club could absorb losing out on CL money, which I infer means they’ve set up financial safeguards “to see them through the transition”.

    So, prepare yourself; the refrain we’ll hear this summer is about the club’s need for restraint and smart spending in light of the new finances sans CL money.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1GoonerNC

      What you really believe, it seems, is that Arsenal DO have the money, but refuse to spend it. That may prove to be true. We know it’s been in the past. The balance sheets show, though, that we absolutely DO have cash reserves. Large cash reserves. And we just got new sponsorship money that, apparently, included a big chunk up front. AND the TV money is going up.

      Arsenal very much DO have the money. Does that mean Arsenal will SPEND the money? Well… based on the recent past… it certainly doesn’t look likely.

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1Joe

    For the love of god Arsene please buy a goalkeeper I can’t think of any team in the PL who’s goalkeeper makes mistakes as regularly as our goalkeeper.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1lordgunner

      we arent the only one
      both manure GK arent that great and make quiet few mistake, cech in the last 2 years have made few and reina lost his mojo,
      even “world class” hart look very dodgy at time, actually the level on gk this year in the PL look below-par with none being oustanding really
      .And yes i think right now we could do with actually someone who isnt afraid to go after the ball and catch it,a dominant GK as Scezsny is terrible on high ball

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

    Jack Action is right. a man as proud as Wenger does not allow this to happen without pressure from above. For Arsenal fans, those two days between his “We cannot sell Fabregas and Nasri…we have to show we can compete” to his lamely resigned “we had to sell Cesc and Nasri” are the 18 and a half minutes in the Nixon Tapes for us. What happened? I don’t know, but seeing Arseblog ally itself with LeGrove’s longstanding position lets me know that the club has threatened access for their fledgling network. and the knives are out for a scapegoat. and that is Wenger. They hate Usmanov because he threatened Arseblog, so now they echo Kroenke. Here too now.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

        That there is a concerted campaign by the ownership, to deflect criticism from the ownership, as it stands, to some useful scapegoat, which can be discarded easily in the summer in the flames of a media-driven, fan-supported firestorm. Wenger has been chosen as that scapegoat. Arseblog suddenly sounds like Geoff from LeGrove, Tim Payton is suddenly respected around here. They all coalesce around one message. Arseblog has hated Usmanov since he was hit with cease and desist messages after publishing libelous criticism of the Uzbeki, and has had it in for Usmanov ever since. Now all the sites under his umbrella are loath to criticize Kroenke, rather, they crucify Wenger, alleging he has money it’s truly unlikely he does actually have. It’s just his stubbornness that keeps him from spending cash. etc. Likely untrue. They keep their access to AFC, to Kroenke.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1jop

        Have you looked at the club’s accounts and financial reports. There is a shitload of cash on hand. We have money. Not City or PSG amounts, but amounts that would allow for 50-80 mil spent on players and still have cash to spare to cover the cost of failing to qualify for the Champion’s League.

  13. Vote -1 Vote +1craig

    Well, while we’re on the subject of transfers, I think this new DM isn’t necessarily being looked at as a complement to Arteta, but also as a replacement. Arteta is phenomenally old by Arsenal standards, and it would be very uncharacteristic for Arsene to keep him around much longer.

    I think who is bought in the summer is going to be highly dependent on the success of LeCoq and Frimpong in the second half of the season… even of Ramsey playing in the deeper role and Diaby staying healthy. If those guys have successful run-ins there will be a lot less urgency for the club to buy in that role, and none of these class of guys are coming without some urgency on Arsenal’s part.

    But looking forward, Arteta and Rosicky are going to be phased out in the next year or two. Diaby will be healthy or gone. Arsene keeps saying he sees AOC in central midfield, and we still have LeCoq and Frimpong trying to breakthrough. So we’ll have Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey and probably LeCoq, maybe Frimpong, maybe Diaby, and maybe AOC as a midfielder. No matter how you slice it, we’re a body or two short, possibly even more. But how much we spend and exactly what type we buy will depend a lot on how the young guys look. Let’s hope we spend the money on one of these type guys. Most of our young talent seems to be in the attacking and link role, with Frimpong especially still on the bubble and Arsene more vocal than ever this season about being disappointed with Diaby’s injuries this year.

    I honestly think personality and durability will be the biggest potential difference which determines who will be good vs great, they’re all similarly talented from the look of it.

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