Category Archives: Arsenal


Bender, Xhaka, Krychowiak, Guilavogui: Four January DM Options For Wenger

With Wenger admitting that he’s looking to buy this January all the red tops are reporting that the Arsenal manager has Lars Bender as his top target this January. It’s an easy call on their part, Wenger has expressed interest in Bender in the past, Arsenal need a player to replace Arteta eventually, and Bender is having a great season. But Bender isn’t the only option out there and here are four examples of players who could be persuaded to join Arsenal this January: Bender, Xhaka, Kychowiak, and Guilavogui.

First, whenever I do these people as “do you have numbers for Carvalho?” and I always answer “no”. No one has numbers for Carvalho because Carvalho plays in the Portuguese league and they aren’t covered by Opta.

There are two numbers that you might want to know about Carvalho: 1) The Sun reported that Arsenal offered £29m for him this summer and 2) he has a release clause of €45m¹. A funny thing is that when Arsenal made that offer, the Euro was worth more and the £28.5m bid was about £9m short of the full release clause. But the Euro has taken a huge hit and €45m is now only worth £31m. I don’t have Carvalho’s numbers but my guess is if Wenger spends £30m on a defensive midfielder he’s going to be certain that the player is top quality.

Also, a note about the players I’ve selected. First, they can’t have been transferred this season. That ruled out a number of top quality DMs like Pedro Mosquera. Second, I didn’t pick any players from top clubs because I assume that teams like PSG and Man City aren’t interested in selling to Arsenal. And third, I picked obvious candidates. I didn’t pick any youth players, or guys who aren’t putting up good numbers but who might have a breakout season. Will a player like Rick Dekker make the jump up from averaging 29 passes a game and 79% completion rate to a team like Arsenal where DMs need to make over 85%? If I had that answer I wouldn’t be sitting here, doing this for free. I’m sure that clubs would pay top sterling for someone who could reliably predict future performance.

Defensive Stats




The first thing that needs to be said about Lars Bender is that he has a long history of injury. He is currently sidelined with an ankle injury picked up October 29th. He’s also had a history of muscle strains, especially last season. So, while maybe the Daily Mail thinks Bender is Wenger’s top target, I’d be surprised if Arsene wants to gamble on him.

Kychowiak’s injury record is relatively clean. According to Transfermarkt, he’s only missed two games total due to injury.

I should also note that Guilavogui is on loan to Wolfsburg and has been on loan for two seasons. I can’t tell if he’s allowed to be purchased or not so I included his numbers here anyway.

As far as defensive numbers, all these players put up good interceptions numbers. So, they read the game well and play the passing lanes.

Tackling is a bit different. Granit Xhaka’s tackles and fouls numbers are a bit like lemon juice in the eye. The kid is aggressive but doesn’t seem to win the ball much. That meshes with what I’ve seen from him when I’ve seen him play.

That said, his failed tackling numbers largely come from him trying to dispossess opponents who aren’t dribbling. In 1 on 1 duels, he’s a solid tackler who wins 77% of his challenges:

Bender 72% of 7.1 tackles per90
Xhaka 77% of 3 tackles per90
Krychowiak 77% of 3.1 tackles per90
Guilavogui 82% of 3.3 tackles per90
Coquelin 75% of 5.1 tackles per90

Again, these are all solid choices for players. You might be impressed by Bender’s overall numbers but large numbers of tackles mean that the player is either being targeted for lack of pace and/or that his team plays a tackling game.


Xhaka… I feel for you.


Xhaka might be a tad too aggressive in defense but he is an exceptional passer. This season he is completing 78% of his long balls, that’s 9.4/12 per game. PER GAME. Krychowiak’s league numbers (passing) aren’t very good but in Sevilla’s Champions League play, he jumped from 83% to 91%. And his long passing went from just over 50% to 77% 4.6/6 per game. This indicates a player whose league numbers are being dictated by the style of play that Sevilla deploy — I haven’t seen them play but I would guess it’s a counter attacking team.

In terms of possession numbers Xhaka is a bit loose with his play. This is normal for a young player (he just turned 23) but his numbers are still a bit high, about 0.6 more lost possession per90 than our Coquelin.

per90 Dispossessed Turnovers
Coquelin 1.1 0.4
Bender 0.6 1.1
Xhaka 1.2 0.9
Krychowiak 0.5 0.5
Guilavogui 1.1 1.1

Honestly, Krychowiak’s dispossessed and turnover numbers are absurdly good. He’s getting the same number of touches as Coquelin and turning the ball over 1 fewer time per90. In the Champions League, he actually got better while his team got worse. He passed 91%, 60 passes a game, and was dispossessed 0.2 and turned the ball over 0.4. That’s the kind of ball protection that you want to see from your DM.


Pick Lars Bender if you want to take a huge gamble on a player who can’t stay healthy. Pick Krychowiak if you want a solid player who doesn’t get injured, who keeps the ball well, and who shows glimpses (in Champions League play) of dynamic passing range. And pick Xhaka² if you think you can develop him into a more aggressive version of Arteta.

I didn’t mention him in any of the sections above but you can see from his numbers that Guilavogui is just all round pretty good. A guy like that, who isn’t especially talented in any one category but also not particularly poor in any category could make a decent backup.


¹Krychowiak also has a €45m release clause.
²Xhaka has a strange release clause in his contract. It’s only €20m. But it’s not active until 2017. I suspect a bid of €40m would get him to the table, but that means Arsenal would *literally* be paying over the odds. Can Wenger do that?

Cazorla (1)

Cazorla shows size doesn’t matter as he bosses Dinamo’s midfield

The big worry ahead of the match against Dinamo was whether Santi and Flamini could work together as a midfield duo for Arsenal. It was mooted often that Santi couldn’t boss the area without the more physical Coquelin at his side. Santi, many said, would have to be shunted off to the right and someone else brought in for him. Someone bigger. Someone more physical.

Dinamo played a physical game against Arsenal and referee Viktor Kassai let the Croatian team get away with many hard tackles that probably should have been called as fouls. Despite being a Champions League tie, and the supposed less physical nature of those matches, Dinamo kicked and pressured Arsenal throughout the match and were especially physical in the first 30 minutes, as I pointed out in my By the Numbers column.

Flamini didn’t have a bad game but he didn’t offer much for Arsenal. Flamini had 2/3 tackles (one was a spectacular sliding effort) he made 2 interceptions, and he even managed 7 ball recoveries. But it was his midfield partner who actually bossed the midfield.

Cazorla led both teams in passses with 66/73.He also kept Arsenal’s attack ticking over with 21/27 passes in the Dinamo final third. He also led all players with 9 ball recoveries (tied with Nacho), was second on the Arsenal team with 3/5 tackles, made 2 interceptions, and even led Arsenal with 2/5 headed clearances!

To be fair, those headed clearances weren’t aerial battles in the middle of the box but rather Santi attacked the ball whenever Dinamo tried a short corner. And Santi also didn’t create a single shot for a teammate, which is unusual, and he was 0/4 on corners which is also unusual.

But it was his 7/7 dribbling which was most impressive. Whenever Dinamo tried to press him with a bigger, more physical midfielder, Santi simply slithered away with the ball. It was one of those dribbles which led to Arsenal’s opening goal. Santi broke pressure, passed to Flamini, Flamini to Alexis, and Alexis to Özil. And lest you think Santi was just abusing one man, he did it on both sides of the pitch.



Watching that performance yesterday left me wondering if the real secret to Arsenal’s success over the last year wasn’t down to Coquelin and his flashy tackling, but rather down to the fact that Cazorla is nigh unstoppable. He certainly wasn’t helped much by Flamini in midfield yesterday and yet he bossed the entire midfield, front to back.

There’s a bias against small people in general in most societies. But there’s an unfounded bias against small people in football. Whenever fans call for Wenger to buy a midfielder they often ask for someone over 6′ who is built like an American linebacker. But the way Cazorla played yesterday leaves me wondering if people shouldn’t have a rethink?


Arsenal v. Dinamo Zagreb: quotidian quotidian

Quotidian quotidian. How many trusty old Arsenal chestnuts would you like to see roasted today?

Let’s see, we’ve got “should Arsenal lose this match or win this match?” There are basically three outcomes: win the match, win the next match and finish 2nd; win the match, lose the next match (or vice-versa), finish 3rd; and lose the match and lose the next match and finish 4th.

If Arsenal lose to Dinamo they will almost certainly finish the group at the bottom. Thus avoiding the Europa League and matches on Thursday. And there is a logic to this, as I said before: only Arsenal fans could wish that their team finishes 4th in the Champions League group stages and have legitimate, logical reasons.

Personally, I’m not sure how much Europa League matches will really matter. I know, I know, I’m saying that amidst an injury crisis at Arsenal and the Gunners don’t need more matches to twang more hamstrings, but the third place team goes straight into the knockout phase. So, while it’s the least desirable outcome of all three outcomes, the way Arsenal are playing in Europe at the moment isn’t exactly filling me with confidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got knocked out in the first knockout round of either Champions or Europa Leagues.

Plus, Wenger has admitted that he may need to buy someone in January to cover the Coquelin hole. What if the prospect of a run in the Europa/Champions League might force his hand? See? SILVER LINING!

Of course, that is pretty speculative and wildly optimistic on my part. After all, when has Wenger ever felt his hand forced to buy in January. Yeah, just that once, when we got Andrei Arshavin.

The other old chestnut is the doping and other scandals surrounding Dinamo Zagreb. I heard on the Guardian pod that Dinamo lost all five matches since beating Arsenal and I was going to start this blog with “what would you think about a team caught doping who went on to lose their next five matches?”

But when I went to transfermarkt to check their record, it turns out that Dinamo have lost five matches, out of the last 11 matches they have played, and three of those losses were in the Champions League. In essence, they have only lost all of their Champions League matches since beating Arsenal 2-1, while doping.

Then there’s the old warhorse about how Dinamo are going to approach this match. They are going to sit so deep they may even out West Brom West Brom. The secret to this approach, the thing that no one talks about, is that it’s a formula that works as long as you don’t have to win. If you approach the match assuming you’re going to lose, happy to get a draw, and hoping you get one or two good chances to win, you play this way. It’s especially effective if you have world class players who are guaranteed to bury most of their big chances, like Chelsea.

But yeah, Dinamo don’t have to win. They have nothing to lose by getting a 0-0 draw. So, the opposite tactic of this (giving them the ball and forcing them to play) won’t work. I guarantee they would be happy passing the ball between center backs and keeper all game. If Wenger wants to win (and he does) it’s going to be up to Arsenal to pick the lock.

One weird thing that often happens in matches like this is that the defensive team will come out and try to get a goal in the first 10 minutes before settling into their defensive sets. This often leads to a basketball style opening 10 minutes and Arsenal, being the better of the two teams, might be able to capitalize on that openness.

Which leads me to the final hoary narrative: who are Arsenal going to play today? Injuries, of course, have taken their toll on Arsenal as we lost our numbers 1 and 2 defensive midfielders to injury in the loss to West Brom last Saturday. Those injuries combined with Ox, Rosicky, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Walcott, have drained the spirit from the Arsenal faithful.

Arsenal do have Ramsey back but I wonder if he is ready to start. The last thing we (fans, players, managers, medical staff) need is another Ramsey injury so rushing him back seems foolish. But you can never tell with Wenger and his lineups and of course we have bingo information about Ramsey’s physical condition. So, instead of trying to guess what Wenger will do I would like to see what he does and then guess what that means.

For example, he could play an experimental lineup and test out partnerships in midfield. Maybe something like a Ramsey-Chambers center mid pairing. He could go ultra conservative and stick with the lineup that probably should have won against West Brom. That means Cazorla and Flamini in midfield with Joel wide right and Alexis wide left.

Given that Wenger said “the task is very clear, let’s go and win our games” I’d guess conservative. But hey, you never know and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s dreams.

I started with quotidian quotidian, which means “mundane daily”, but Wenger often surprises me just when I expect him to be conservative. Which is a funny way to end a blog. Basically I’m saying “I know *&*^ all about what Wenger is planning for today’s match. In fact no one knows what he’s planning for the match, except that he wants to win.”

So, there you go. He wants to win. Let’s win one then!