Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

I'm the gaffer, I gaff things. I also make a lot of gaffs. Follow me on twitter @7amkickoff.

walcott-mask

Walcott: should he stay or should he go?

Every single time I post anything about anything on Twitter I get the following questions:

  1. What do you think of Morata?
  2. Should we sell Walcott/Ox/etc?

My Answers are always:

  1. Never seen him play football
  2. No comment

The Walcott one is starting to bother me, though. Walcott is a player who has never so much as come within a millimeter of uniting fan opinion. His entire 10 year career at Arsenal has been nothing but a long exercise in dividing opinions.

Walcott, however, does join two things. He is the last remaining player to have practiced with Thierry Henry and the other legends from the invincibles era. He is the last remaining player from the Highbury era and connects the old stadium to the new.

Walcott is 27 years old. He has played in 354 Arsenal matches. He has scored 85 goals for Arsenal. In 10 seasons that’s an average of 35 matches a season and 8.5 goals. Not bad for a player who cost just £12m and who spent his almost his entire career on the right side of midfield.

It’s interesting to compare the reception that Tomas Rosicky received on his ten year anniversary at Arsenal to the calumny that Walcott has received on his ten years. At the same time that people have penned paeans to the joy of Rosicky others have called for Walcott to be tossed away like an old piece of fruit.

Rosicky we are reminded scored beautiful goals against Tottenham. I will never forget the moment Rosicky’s hair caught afire as he streaked down the right against Spurs and then with flames at his heels, collected a dropped pass from OX and blasted an unstoppable right footer into the left side netting.

Meanwhile, Walcott has also scored important goals against Tottenham. Walcott’s most punished teams are Newcastle (6), Tottenham (5), and Chelsea (5). Walcott’s had his iconic moments against Spurs and Chelsea as well. Have we forgotten the goal in the 5-3 win over Chelsea, where he was fouled and then just got back up, dribbled into the Chelsea 18 yard box and beat Petr Cech at the near post?

Also, not just in scoring goals, Walcott is remembered for coming off the pitch and holding up two fingers for the jeering Spurs fans. Not two fingers in a vic, two fingers to represent the score: 2-0 to the Arsenal.

walcott-2

Both players spent the majority of their careers out injured. Actually, Rosicky spent most of his Arsenal career, the last 8 years, injured. In his first two seasons at Arsenal he started 40 times and scored 13 goals. Then he spent an entire season out injured. And when he did manage to come back, he wasn’t the same. In the last seven seasons he has averaged just 16 starts a season and only scored 15 goals.

I’m not having a go at Tomas Rosicky. I love what he brought to the team (on and off the pitch) and I feel the same sense of loss that you do about his unfortunate injury. But can’t you say the exact same thing about Walcott?

Walcott reached his peak in 2012/13 when he scored 21 goals for Arsenal in all competitions. Arsenal fans expected him to “kick on” the next season, but that was cut short with the first knee injury. Then the next season, the same problem.

And at age 26, after two knee surgeries and spending the majority of the last two years in the treatment room, Theo Walcott mounted a comeback. He played 42 games for Arsenal this season, starting 22 times and scoring 9 goals.

He seems to have lost his speed this year. He also had many performances where he looked distracted or where he simply did moronic things with the ball like trying to Maradona an entire team and instead turning the ball over. And he was often in games where you had a hard time remembering him contributing anything.

All perfectly legitimate criticisms. He had a poor season by any Arsenal standard.

It’s also difficult to see where he can improve his game. At this age there isn’t much time left for Walcott to change his game. He’s a roadrunner who has lost his step. He’s not going to turn into a hold up player. He thrives when Arsenal play counter attacking football and he has lots of space to run into. It’s no surprise that his best game of the season was in the wildly open back and forth match at the King Power Stadium. Arsenal won 5-2 and Walcott opened the scoring for the Gunners, drawing the Arsenal level at 1-1.

The goal was an insanely Walcott goal: Cazorla slotted between the two center backs, Walcott picked up the pass and moving to his left, shot back across the keeper to the right. It wasn’t a beautiful goal, it looked a bit scruffy, but it was the kind of goal Walcott has scored his entire life at Arsenal.

He also had a man of the match performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man City in December. But then there was a string of poor performances and when Alexis returned from injury, Walcott was benched.

If I were to venture a guess at what happened with Walcott it would be that he didn’t live up to our expectations. He has spent his entire career being compared to Thierry Henry. When he was selected for the World Cup in 2006, the England coaches said ”

He is quicker than Henry apparently and I’ve seen him in youth games where he is exceptionally quick. I’ve not seen a race between the two of them but according to tests he is quicker than Henry now. If he is then that is some talent.

Walcott’s signature goal scoring move is also very Henry-esque. He likes to attack the left side of the box and open his body up for the right-footed shot across the keeper. And of course, he wears the number 14 on his back.

But Walcott isn’t Thierry Henry, obviously. And he isn’t going to be the kind of player that people want. He’s not going to fit into an Arsenal system that demands technically perfect players operating in tight spaces. He’s more of a Shane Long type of player, or a Vardy type, someone who does his best work when he’s got the whole field in front of him.

So, should Arsenal sell Walcott?

Why? He still provides some value to the club. He is a speedy striker and when teams come to play against Arsenal, he can be used to run at them and give the opposition defenders fits. I don’t care how much money he makes. Arsenal have £100m in the bank. They just reaped £100m in TV money and next season they will get £160m in TV money. Arsenal are one of the richest clubs in the world and can afford to pay Walcott £8m a year if they want. He’s British, he’s homegrown, he’s the last remaining player with a connection to the Arsenal Invincibles, and he’s not a player who will cause problems in the locker room.

The only reason I can see Arsene Wenger selling Theo is if Theo wants to be sold. See, Walcott has a huge black mark on his career. He was chosen for the 2006 World Cup and has missed out on going with the England National team to every major tournament since. At age 27 he has to be looking at the 2018 World Cup, when he will be 29 years old, as his last chance to play for England. He’s never going to be the main man for Arsenal. He will always be a bit player from now on out. So, if he wants to go to Russia in 2018, I think he has to demand a move to a club like West Ham or somewhere that can play the style of football that suits his abilities, back to Southampton perhaps.

So, I’m in favor of keeping him, while knowing that he’s just going to be a bit-part player for Arsenal. He’s never going to be the star striker that Arsenal need and so I’m also in favor of letting him go if that’s what he wants. Just don’t @ me on twitter when he scores 18 goals a season for some other club.

Qq

Granit Xhaka

Xhaka’s transfer fee, why do you care?

Over the last three days I’ve seen some sniping about the price that Arsenal have reportedly paid for Xhaka. This sniping is coming from both internal fans and from external fans. In other words, Arsenal supporters and others are asking whether the Price is Right for Xhaka.

Morgan Schneiderlin is 26 years old and he was sold from Southampton to Man U for £25m last season. With add-ons Schneiderlin will cost £27m. The reported price for Xhaka is the same, £25m and with add-ons the price could rise to £30m. Both players are set to earn roughly the same salary as well, though I’ve heard Xhaka’s salary could be as high as £120k a week. I think his salary depends on how Arsenal structure their bonuses but I honestly don’t care.

Schneiderlin and Xhaka are similar players. Both are ball-playing CMs who take their defensive duties seriously. Both make 2.4 tackles per game and tackle at a 75% rate. Both make 2.5 (2.7 for Xhaka) interceptions a game. Xhaka wins a lot more aerial duels than Schneiderlin (3.4/ 5.9 v. 0.7 of 1.7) but that is in the Bundesliga and we will need to keep an eye on his AD success rate in the Premier League.

Schneiderlin saw a lot less of the ball (50 passes per game v. Xhaka’s almost 83) than Xhaka did at BMG, where Xhaka was the main man in midfield. But both players make the long pass at a great rate, with Schneidi hitting 72% and Xhaka 67%, and owing to his having the ball a lot more, Xhaka completed more than twice as many long passes. I expect Xhaka’s pass % to increase at Arsenal and his long ball numbers to drop a bit but for him to be more successful with them.

Xhaka makes more fouls (2.6 v. 1.8) but there are a ton of reasons why that could be happening including team set up (he played as the 1 in a 4-1-4-1 for a while this season) and his aggressive nature.

If you remember last summer Arsenal made the same offer as Man U for Schneiderlin but Schneidi chose Man U and not playing in the Champions League. Well, United played in the Champions League and lost in the easiest group ever formed in the history of the competition. United won’t have Champions League football next season, however.

£30m seems to be about the asking price for these types of players for clubs like Arsenal. What I mean by that is that Premier League teams pay a premium now. Everyone knows that Premier League teams are awash with money and so they can ask for more when a team like Leicester come in for their players. But on top of that premium is the “top club premium”. So, clubs like Leicester can get a player like Inler for £5m but if Arsenal looked at the same player, he’d probably cost £15m. In fact, six years ago (when he was only 24) Arsenal bid £8m for Inler and he rejected the move.

And that’s another key consideration with Xhaka, he’s only 23 years old (he will be 24 this fall) and Schneiderlin will be 27 a month after Xhaka turns 24. That means that if Arsenal sign him for 5 years, like they love to do, he will be just 28 when his contract expires. He’s still a resellable property at that age. Schneiderlin would not be. He will be 31 at the end of his 5 year deal. .

Somewhere along the line fans have become accountants. Everyone seems to have some “valuation” of every player in the world. With every transfer these days people have a comment on the price: too much, not enough, good deal, bad deal, etc.

And with Arsenal in particular this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If Wenger offers £20m and we don’t get Xhaka people will complain that Wenger was being cheap and say that “David Dein would have just gone and got the player.” If we pay £25-30m, people will complain about how BMG “got one over on Arsenal” because in their mind Xhaka isn’t worth more than £15m or as I have actually heard people say “Bayern Munich wouldn’t pay that much for him.”

Maybe not, but that’s what arsenal needed to pay to get a top quality CM in the team. Call it inflation, call it the Premier League Premium, or be like me and don’t worry about the price because it’s not like Arsenal are going bankrupt any time soon and call it “a done deal”.

Now, if Arsenal could sew up a £50m deal for Morata or Lukaku and then get in a great, young Center Back for another £20m, we would have the makings of a fine young team for next season.

Qq

Xhaka’s Run: plus, una pelota para cada niño

Good morning everyone. Thanks for the comments and questions on yesterday’s Xhaka post. You folks remind me time and again why you are my favorite people to talk to about players.

As I reported in the comments yesterday, Xhaka is on his way to London to sign a deal with the Arsenal. This is as close to a done deal as you can get without the deal actually being done and “I have to say that it’s good to see Arsenal get their business done early in the summer”. I put that last bit in quotes because it’s what everyone will be saying today and I didn’t want you to think it was accidentally an original thought.

Personally, I’m so worn down on Arsenal’s transfer business that I don’t care when we sign players we need, I’m just happy that we sign players we need at all because we need them. You have to admit that Arsenal have an amazing knack for going whole seasons without signing players we need. So, when we sign a player like Arteta or Özil, vital players that make the team better, I don’t care when it happens in the summer.

I was asked yesterday to provide Xhaka’s running numbers “because he looks a bit lazy” and I intentionally didn’t provide them for that reason. He isn’t lazy. The amount a player runs isn’t indicative of motivation. It’s reveals team structure, tactics, a player’s tactical awareness, what his partnerships are like and perhaps at the lowest end how lazy a player is.

For example, the players who have run the furthest this season in Champions League play are all Atletico Madrid players. This matches exactly what you expect if you have watched Atletico play: despite not having the ball, they are all constantly in motion. Among my favorite players on that team is their captain, Gabi. I thought Gabi would have made a great addition to Arsenal back when he signed for Atleti but alas, he wanted to stay in Spain.

Gabi has covered more ground in 12 matches than any other player in the Champions League: 134,958m over 1048 minutes in 12 matches. On a per minute basis, Gabi averaged 129m per minute! In English units, he ran 4.8 miles per hour over 12 matches. That’s a 5:30 marathon pace and over the 12 matches he basically ran a little more than 3 marathons.

In five Champions League matches with BMG, over 450 minutes, Xhaka ran 57755m. That’s 128m per minute. But Elneny played 1 match with Arsenal and over 90 minutes averaged 143m per minute. Elneny covered more ground but it’s not always important to be running all over the place. Sometimes, like Gabi and Xhaka, you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

I’m not picking on you dear reader, this is a common question that I get and distance run has become something of a crutch for broadcasters and pundits, so I’m picking on them. Distance run has become so ubiquitous that it’s starting to get on my nerves a bit: in literally every Liverpool match they now flash the graphic about what distance the team has covered. Score? Liverpool are losing. Distance run? Liverpool are CRUSHING them! Yes! They are going to win the Distance Run Trophy!

It all reminds me of that famous quote from Harry Redknapp “just go out there and run around a bit.”

Again please don’t take this personally! I know why you think he looks lazy, because he does. He’s a conservative player just like Gabi and Gonalons. They sit at the base of your midfield and anchor play. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you have a guy like that, you want a midfield runner next to him. Someone like Elneny (142m/m) or Ramsey (132m/m). But the problem isn’t just in the midfield partnership, Arsenal need to get more work from all our players, Ozil only runs 113m/m and Sanchez (despite the tackles in backfield) just 99m/m. Griezmann puts them to shame with 127m/m. This is what I mean by the system being partly to blame: Atletico demands that everyone runs their socks off for the team. Arsenal?

Aldeas Infantiles SOS: Un Hogar Para Cada Niño

I have a friend named Jake who is working for a group called Aldeas Infantiles in Colombia. I met Jake playing football in Tacoma. He’s the kind of guy who always offers a warm smile and takes time to ask you about your life.

We often spoke before and after football about his adventures as he has worked and studied all over the world, from the Americas to the Netherlands. And now he’s back in Colombia teaching English and Spanish and waiting for an admissions letter to university in California.

The other day on Facebook, Jake mentioned that the kids he is teaching have just 1 football for all 99 kids and he asked if his friends could send him some balls. Not to pull on the heartstrings but these kids in Colombia are all abandoned, abused, or independent kids who have found shelter, food, and education with Aldeas Infantiles.

I figured I would do what I could and have set up an Amazon Wishlist with several cheap balls. His address is on the wishlist and just to be up front, shipping to Colombia is expensive. It cost me $30 just to ship my ball, but I sent him one.

If you can help, please do.

Gracias.

Qq