The Benteke Mystery

It was a bright and sunny morning. The kind of morning that’s unusual for the start of a detective novel but this is no ordinary novel and I’m no ordinary character in it. But back to the morning, it’s bright, and sunny, and the birds are chirping. The kind of chirp that makes you feel all happy inside. Then she walked in and by “she” I mean my dog, Pepper.

She looked at me funny, “oh yeah,” I remembered, “time to walk the dog.” I grabbed her leash and took her for a walk around the block.

“This is the worst detective novel ever.” I said out loud as I picked up my dog’s scat in a little bag. It was warm and I never could get used to that. “Why does the author have me picking up Pepper’s scat? And why do you keep making me call it scat? Isn’t there a fourth wall somewhere?”

And that’s when I found Luis Suarez’ dignity. It was on a paper lying there in the gutter under the headline “The English Press Don’t Like Me.” Astonishing, really, the thought that he would blame the press. Put aside everything else, he bit a man. A grown man bit another person and not in a zombie film.

That whole match was surreal. It took place at the height of the Arsenal fans insistence that Luis Suarez would be a terrific Arsenal player. 7amkickoff was fending off people on twitter and their arguments that “he makes his own shot” by showing that everyone on Liverpool just passes him the ball, so he can turn the ball over, fail at a dribble, or if Liverpool were lucky he would shoot, which he’s not very efficient at and never has been. Then Suarez handled the ball, created a shot, bit Ivanovich, and scored the tying goal and suddenly no one, no one in their right mind, wants Suarez on any team that they love.

I even doubt the stories that Real Madrid want him. I know enough about how this all works to smell an agent behind these rumors. Suarez wants out and I’m sure Liverpool want to offload him (despite their insistence that he’s going no where) but would a big club like Real Madrid take a chance on a player who is, to be fair, crazier than a sh*t-house rat? Going from Liverpool to Real Madrid is something that happens to good players, it’s a step up in a man’s career.

But I do suspect that he is on the move, Liverpool are playing it cool but they want to get rid of him as fast as possible and at the best price they can. In many ways, I wonder if his sale won’t spark a bit of a carousel of player transfers. Falcao is reportedly almost a Monaco man which opens a spot for a player of Suarez’ ability at Atletico. Though, even Atletico is reportedly after Benteke and not Suarez, proving they have decent taste if true.

I watched Benteke score a brace against the USA in their international friendly Wednesday and I do have to admit that I went off a bit half-cocked on him. His numbers at the start of the season were pretty poor but it’s a lesson in why sample size matters: one hat trick changes a player’s conversion rate dramatically if the player only takes 100 or so shots in a season. The facts are that Benteke scored 19 goals this season and took just 104 shots, which when you compare to Giroud who took a similar number of shots but scored just 11 goals, you can see what people like about him.

What you don’t see unless you watch a lot of Aston Villa is that he leads the League in being caught offside, he’s tied for second with Fellaini in total turnovers (unforced errors) behind Suarez, and is tied for fourth in number of times he was dispossessed last season. In fact, Benteke saw twice as much of the ball as Giroud did, or nearly twice.

 League Play Giroud Benteke
Goals 11 19
Assists 3 4
Passes 697 1142
Aerials 232 474
Shots 107 104
Turnovers 71 76
Dispossessed 49 83

That’s the thing, you can like Benteke and no one should disabuse you of that, he is big and scores goals. But I don’t see him as anything significantly better than Giroud. That’s not to say I wouldn’t take him at Arsenal but at £20m there is a lot better value out there for a squad player who would need a lot of the ball to see significant return.

In fact, this was an early mystery for me this season at Arsenal “Where were all the shots going to come from?” Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud all led their respective teams in shots last season (Cazorla was second) and like the Benteke’s and Suarez’ of the world were used to getting most of the ball. So how would they all jell at Arsenal, especially with Theo Walcott demanding a more central roll?

The short answer is that the departure of Robin van Persie left a 174 shot hole at Arsenal, plus Arteta, Arshavin, and Podolski all gave up shots which all went to the top three Arsenal goalscorers, Walcott, Cazorla and Giroud. On a side note, Podolski’s 11 goals on just 54 shots makes him Arsenal’s most efficient forward. On another side note, Arsenal had four players in double-figures for goals, the quadruple-double-trouble crew.

Hmmm… warm scat. I really wish he would stop making me pick that up.


32 thoughts on “The Benteke Mystery

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Seems like there are a lot of strikers out there right now with the potential to move. Carousel is the right word.

    I wonder if there’s any truth to the David Villa rumor…

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      I think that there is smoke and fire there. However, how Arsene plans on keeping Giroud, Podolski, Cazorla, Villa, Walcott and the great Gervinho all happy is another mystery.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1TT

        Strange about the perception toward Villa. I have the impression most people would’ve jumped for joy, had Arsenal gotten Villa in the January window. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

      2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        I’ve expressed my ambivalence elsewhere. It’s his age, and the fact that he’s just coming off some big injury problems. We’d obviously be getting him in his waning years. However, in another sense, the brevity of his remaining career may work perfectly with Wenger’s plans (he doesn’t like to “literally kill” younger and up-and-coming players). Villa would offer an excellent, relatively short-term solution while younger strikers like Sanogo (and Walcott?) develop, and while we don’t seem to have a reliable alternative to Giroud (perhaps Podolski can become that, but I see him as being more effective out wide).

        I’m mostly in favor of buying Villa. He would bring a ton of experience and quality to the squad, he would probably be our most ruthless finisher for a little while longer, and I like that we really don’t have another player like him. We’ve got the big man (Giroud), the fast man (Walcott), the power-hammer-foot man (Podolski), the silly man (Gervinho), but not really a tricky little darty cultured poacher.

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

    In my mind, he will not be an Arsenal target. Wenger seems to like variation, he recall (maybe incorrectly) that he said that he did not buy Demba Ba as he already had Giroud as that type of player.

    So, unless he is going for 2 big target men as rotation, I see any new striker addition as a different type of player.

    He also likes players who can play in different positions so I suspect we will go for someone who can lay across the front 3 – or to be unusual, maybe they will also be the spare keeper!

  3. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I have no idea which striker we should/could get. A few days ago Benteke said that he would leave Villa if a club like Arsenal came for him. If this is true, I have to question his character. If he can stomp all over Villa after one good season with them, I wonder how he would react to other clubs showing interest in him if we bought him and he had a good season with us. Meanwhile, Chelsea seems to be showing an interest in Jovetic and Falcao to Monaco seems all but done. I think City will also swoop in for at least one striker, two if they let Dzeko go. We know Juventus is also in for at least one striker.

    I don’t see how we are going to have a marquee striker signing. I would love Higuain but with both Tevez and Aguero at City, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him there. Neither will I be surprised to see him at Inter where there has always been a strong Argentinian presence and they are trying to rebuild as well. You mentioned Bony but with the addition of Yaya Sanogo, I don’t see us going for another striker with similar attributes. Besides, I haven’t seen any stories with us being linked with him. Maybe Villa makes the most sense. He is past his prime but he has a wealth of experience and both Giroud and Sanogo can learn a hell of a lot from him. That will also give us 3 bona fide strikers ages 21, 26 and 31 – which is a pretty good balance.

  4. +3 Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

    I’m so-so on Bentenke. Not many teams play attacking football like Arsenal and many of Beneteke’s opportunities at Aston Villa come from counterattacking play where he is running into space. Playing as high up the pitch as we do may not be an adjustment he can make, which is why I prefer Villa despite his age. David Villa would be able to adapt to our style better than many of the names with which we are currently linked and could give us 2-3 really good years.

  5. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Tim, you’ve brought up strikers quite a bit recently, but not keepers, though I know that you and I share the feeling that this is a position for which we have pressing need.

    I wonder what you think of Julio Cesar? Reports in Italy today claim a deal is done (grains of salt are being poured liberally), but he does seem to be available. He’d probably come cheaper than Mignolet as well. How good is Cesar? I really don’t know.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

      Good point to bring up Bunburyist, but here’s the thing for me: it doesn’t matter how good Julio Cesar really is because he’s better than anyone we have right now. So is Simon Mignolet so is Ben Foster. We badly need someone with better consistency and ability to transmit some confidence to those playing in front of him. The guys in front of Edwin van de Saar/David de Gea and Petr Cech aren’t scared s%$tless like ours seem to be.

    2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

      There was once a time when Julio Cesar was recognized as one of the top goal keepers in the world. His form has dipped since then but I think he would still improve the gk situation. In some ways, signing Julio Cesar would be similar to signing David Villa. Once recognized as top players in the their position, past their prime, but still a useful addition to the squad because of the wealth of knowledge and experience they would bring to the team.

    3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      It’s because I’m working on a metric to measure forward’s efficiency. I haven’t come up with anything for keepers yet.

  6. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1merkin

    I too would prefer Villa to any of the other strikers that have been mentioned as being pursued by us except for Jovetic, but not for £25 million, or maybe Higuain who looks like he will go to one of the Arsenal scouting doppelgangers, the old lady of Italy.

    I for one would be just as happy if we didn’t sign any big name striker, just replaced our losses, (are you listening Bendtner?) Giroud scored 17 goals in his first year with the team, a good return since he didn’t hit one until six games into the season. What we need for him to improve this year is improving his conversion rate, hitting away goals and scoring against the big teams. I don’t see any reason that he won’t improve in these last two areas, he has seen everyone twice now, home and away.

    And remember that Rooney has only had two seasons where he hit more than 17 goals in his career.

    1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

      You’re confusing premier league goals with overall goals though. Giroud got 17 goals in all competitions, 11 in the league. Rooney has got at least 17 in all competitions every year since joining United. This year he got 12 in the league, and everyone is saying how shit he’s been.

      (Not wanting to be a Rooney-advocate, just saying)

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1caribkid

        Regardless, still would not want Rooney in our squad. No doubt he is extremely talented, but he doesn’t show up for work every day and has shown consistent lack of motivation even under the ‘great” Sir Alec. As bad as Suarez is, I would prefer him on my team as long as he doesn’t bite his own players.

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

    I like Benteke and I think he would be a significant upgrade over Giroud, although he doesn’t quite have the dreamy good looks.

    Benteke’s only 22 compared to Giroud’s 26, and he has the potential to get a lot better, particular as he has much greater mobility than Giroud. Giroud might develop his skills, but he’s not going to get any faster. I think his lack of pace limits our overall attacking play somewhat, and limits his ability to get involved in the game.

    Benteke can dribble, scores from inside and outside the box, with headers and with both feet.

    And he wants to play for us. I agree it’s possibly a concern that he’s been talking about moving if a big club comes in for him, but he considers us a big club. If we get him and can realistically push for titles, I don’t think he’ll cause problems. Our difficulties hanging on to top players has had a lot to do with our perceived lack of progress and ambition.

    It would surprise me if Wenger went for him since he and Giroud are similar sorts of player, but remember when Chelsea had both Crespo and Drogba? Both shared time and contributed well for a couple of seasons, and ultimately the better player won out. Citeh manage to juggle Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and previously Balotelli. Giroud’s not such a star that we need to forgo signing players because they’ll “kill” his potential. If we get another striker and Giroud gets better and cements his spot, then great.

    My fear is that if we don’t get him, the Spuds might and he could turn out to be the top striker they’ve been missing.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

      Eurazian, say it with me (like Dora the Explorer), Benteke BAD, Villa GOOD. You make some points regarding the Belgian, but ultimately Wenger will be Wenger and his decision will be weighted towards semi-class/good price and outrageous class/exorbitant price. Guess where we’ll end up.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1caribkid

    Personally, I would take Benteke over Giroud any day (on the football pitch of course :) ). He is younger, therefore more upside, more mobile and clinical and better defensively. Add the experience and craftiness of Villa to that mix and we would have a decent front line for the next few seasons. Higuain would be my next in line if we don’t get Vila and hopefully Jovetic goes to Juventus and Rooney stays at Manu or goes to Monaco, since I don’t see either of them fitting into the Arsenal role. If we were able to offload Bendtner, Chamakh and Gervinho then it would be financially feasible.

    We need one or two of the young uns to step up out of the mix of Sanogo, Ox, Campbell, Ryo and Gnabry to fill in the depth chart on the wings.

    Sometimes we often fail to look at internal solutions as the grass always seems greener in other pastures. Converting TV to a DM and Santos as a winger/wide MF may be something we should carefully look at, otherwise we will be eating his FAT contract for many years to come.

    Maybe we could also utilize Park as an Asian goodwill ambassador since there is no way any other team will take him off our books. Bring back Denilson from Gremio as the most expensive valet ever, to Julio Cesar (they both are Brazilian) and Diaby (bless his soul, I hope he will return as a LANS) as a mentor to Sanogo and our “deadwood” could be effectively utilized and we could all be one big happy family.

    Seriously, if Bacary stays, Capoue, Cesar, Villa (Higuian) and Benteke as incoming transfers would certainly be an upgrade.


  9. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Bay Gooner

    I like your point about what happens when a player moves from being The Guy to being One of the Guys. I mean: Benteke scored 40% of their goals, Giroud only 15%, and he had to do a lot more in other competitions as well.

    It seems that the role in the team is more important than where the player comes from. There are probably only two players who could have cut Wayne Rooney’s shots and goals in half. One left United a few years ago for Real. The other came in this season from Arsenal.

    Would Benteke come in and displace the others? Doubt it.

    Also, there are some other blots on Benteke’s efforts. First, seven of his goals were against the bottom five. And since you mention offsides, don’t forget fouls called. Benteke led his team from the front on this, being called for fouls twice as much as Giroud.

    Finally, three of his goals were from penalties. I’d eliminate them from run of play comparisons. And since Benteke played more minutes than OG, it works out to 1 goal every 178 minutes by Benteke and 1 goal every 211 minutes by Giroud. Assuming he could continue at his pace, would it really make sense to pay 20 million to get an extra goal every three games? Doubt it.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

      I think my question is whether Giroud can actually step up and be The Guy when we need him to? Is he the kind of player who can impose himself on the game? Giroud needs it put on a plate for him, and even then he’s not exactly clinical. The big stat for me is not minutes-per-goal, but efficiency, and even if you take out penalties the Belgian still has about 50% more goals from the same number of shots. The minutes-per-goal comparison indicates merely that Aston Villa do not create as many chances as Arsenal.

      And the fact that Benteke scored 3 penalties and Giroud didn’t tells a story of its own. If I remember correctly Giroud took only one penalty this season which hit the post. I respect what he brings to our team, but I don’t have confidence that he can step up and deliver when we really need it. I think I read on Football365 that Giroud goals didn’t actually gain us many points; he is good at scoring in games we are already winning. Given that we play with only one central striker, and have a lot of midfielders who don’t really contribute goals (Wilshere, Rosicky, Ramsey), we need someone who is a bit more ruthless up front.

    2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gunman

      All Great points . And I disagree with most here I dont think Benteke is much of an upgrade on Giroud ( if he is upgrade at all that is ). You can see Giroud standing between opposition centrebacks in perfect position waiting to head one in but the cross never comes in so he has to drop deep lot of the times to get the ball and has help in buildup play and tbf to Giroud he has created some great opportunities with his build up play . Whereas at villa whole team is geared to play in a way that suits Benteke . Also I am pretty sure Girouds touch is way better than Benteke’s .

      Also why is everyone getting so worked up by 19 goals in league ? Bent has done that many times and benteke seems similar to me.. good target man but not good enough for top teams imo.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

        Bent is not really a target man, is he? More of a poacher.

        19 goals in the league for a young player in his first season in England? That’s pretty good. And some goals of real quality too. Remember that Giroud gets cut a lot of slack because it’s his first season and he’s still adapting to the league and a new team.

        Not that I think signing Benteke would be a guarantee of success. Papiss Cisse has shown the danger of judging a player on one good season.

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1Richie

    The most important factor is not whether Benteke is better than Giroud at this time, it is that he looks like a good fit for the role and has massive potential. I agree that it would be better to get Falcao or Cavani, but that is not going to happen. My opinion is that if we want a major upgrade over Giroud, Wenger has to sanction a move up towards the £30 million mark. I deem that highly unlikely, even if it is financially viable. Wenger only pays what he feels a player is worth, regardless of the market price.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Statman

    Not sure of the value in counting shots and thus the conversion rate is screwed up. If a player passes the ball rather than shoots then does that make him less efficient? Arsenal take more touches on average before every shot so not only will the front forwards get less balls but they will play more inter passes or through balls. So a forward in a team that plays direct football will have more shots.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bay Gooner

      At bottom, what we want are goals scored, and we want ways to evaluate who has more potential to do so, hence stats. In football/soccer, its not as clear as in some other sports. The conversion rate tells you how effective the shooter is when he does shoot. That’s not the whole story, of course. If he also adds a lot of assists, that is also a key indicator. As are key passes and through balls, and dribbles, all of which contribute to creating scoring opportunities. So the answer to your question as to what if he passes instead is: what did he do with the ball?

      On top of that, its also a matter of how often he gives away the ball. When Adebayor played for us, he was roundly criticized for his number of offsides, even when he scored a lot. Benteke is the same. Plus he commits a lot of fouls, which gives the ball to the other side, as do dispossessions, and failed dribbles to name two others which Tim talks a lot about.

      It may be that this is Benteke’s style of play — since he is not very good at handling (whoops, that’s a Suarez word, I should rather say close-in footballing work) the ball in traffic, he sets himself up to take higher percentage chances, so he has a better closure rate (high percentage of shots on goal to shots) but he offsets that with a higher number of off-sides. Maybe the more accurate stat would be the percentage of shots and goal and offsides that result in shots on goal.

      So what, you say? Well, football is a matter of possession leading to shots on goal and scoring. Everything that lowers those opportunities hurts your chances. Theoretically, each side has the same number of possessions in a game, right? So what do they do with those opportunities? If they hog the ball from their teammates, do they justify that selfishness by their scoring? One would say yes with Christiano Ronaldo. Tim points out that Suarez is very aggressive, and loses the ball a lot. And while lots of people think this is ok, they are less charitable when a player plays the same way, but does not have great raw numbers. Lots of people whine about Gervinho losing the ball or not finishing well, yet he hasn’t had the time on the pitch, nor I think does he have the selfishness, to match Suarez if he did have the time. (And I think Wenger wouldn’t let Suarez be that selfish, either.) Same was often the gripe with Arshavin. (Maybe we should call this the Henry Hangover which Arsenal fans are still trying to get past.)

      You are right that a long-ball strategy favors a big up front guy, but how well does that strategy work? How many of the most successful teams follow that strategy. Didn’t do well for Villa. Not Stoke, did it? And it probably leads to a team using up a higher percentage of its possession opportunities, as it were, in creating 50-50 chances, which is what long balls are.

  12. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1pat

    oh and bring back Fabregas – now is the time to release the Kraken…

    Sorry Sat night down under – getting a bit crazy!

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