Category Archives: Arsenal

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

Granit Xhaka

From A to X: Xhaka the natural replacement for Arteta

83 88% 7.4 207 67%

2.4 0.8 3.1 77%

2.7 2.6 (2.9 2.2)

23 3 7 3 2 1

6 29 35 83

Those are the stats that prove Arsenal want Granit Xhaka as a replacement for Mikel Arteta. But as they say, stats don’t tell the whole story and that is why I also use… words.

As limited as stats can be, as misleading as they can be, and as much as people use them in ways that frustrate me, they are useful when comparing two like things. For example, when comparing two classy center mids like Granit Xhaka and Mikel Arteta.

83 88% 7.4 207 67%

Like Arteta, Xhaka is the best passer on his team and also like Arsenal, BMG are the type of team who build from the back. Their center back Andres Christensen averages 60 passes per game and passes at an 88% rate. If you just look at short passes Christensen is a 92% passer and his partner at the back, a young guy named Havard Nordtveit, is an 89% passer. Both center backs are about 50% with their long bombs and are numbers 2 and 3 in total passing volume. Their job is to get the ball to Xhaka.

Arsenal deploy two ball playing center backs whose job it is to get the ball to two ball playing midfielders. At peak Arteta (2012/13) he was partnered with a midfield runner in Aaron Ramsey. This was before Hollywood Ramsey and all the goals, Ramsey’s job was more to provide an outlet for Arteta.

Xhaka leads the team in passing volume with almost 83 passes a game. His midfield partner is Mahmoud Dahoud and he averages just 40 passes per game. In the Arteta/Ramsey midfield, they averaged 81 and 54 respectively. Much of the burden for getting the Borussia Monchengladbach (BMG) attack going is shouldered by Xhaka.

And in his more lone role at the base of the midfield, it’s probably no surprise to learn that he also leads the team in long passes, completing 7.4 per contest. BMG are not a long ball team, they are 4th in the Bundesliga in both possession and pass completion percentage. This long pass just happens to be one of Xhaka’s talents. He is a 67% long passer, making 7.4 out of 11 in each game.

In his pomp at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was a similar, though much more accurate version, of Xhaka. In 2012/2013 Arsenal were number one in the Premier League in possession and pass completion percentage and Mikel Arteta was a huge part of that. Arteta led Arsenal in passes per game with 81 and had a pass completion of 91%.

Arteta also led Arsenal in long passes, though with a very special difference to Xhaka; Arteta was the most accurate long passer I have ever seen. He completed 5.3/6.1 long passes per game for Arsenal in that season, 87%. Laurent Koscielny (who took over for Vermaelen that season) was an 87% passer, in short passes. Mikel Arteta was as accurate hitting the ball long to a forward as Laurent Koscielny was passing the ball to Arteta. Even Fabregas at his peak with Barcelona was only an 83% long passer.

Arsenal don’t hit a lot of long passes, they have been 20th in the Premier League in long passing volume for four years straight. But having the long pass in the Arsenal is an important weapon and one which Arsenal have been missing for two years. Despite all of his obvious talents, Santi Cazorla is only hitting 3.5 accurate long balls per game this season and at a 65% rate. Instead of moving the ball to midfield where Arsenal can dictate play a little deeper in the opposition half, most of the long passes are now coming from Arsenal’s goalkeepers, where the accuracy is below 50%. Lumping up 50-50 balls from the keeper is a big reason why Arsenal aren’t able to retain possession as well as they have in the past.

As far as I’m concerned Xhaka is on par with other top level center mids in terms of his passing and is a welcome replacement for Arteta who lost his legs two years ago. That leaves some other stats to consider.

2.4 0.8 3.1 77% 3.2 1.1 4.3 74%

The numbers most people look at when it comes to a center mid is tackles. Most assume that if you see a player who tackles 8 times a game, he’s a Beast. But the reality is that there are a number of reasons why a player might be making a lot of tackles and they have very little to do with whether the player is in fact a cerebral, hairy, member of the X-Men.  

The biggest reason why a player might have low/high tackle numbers is that teams have different playing styles: Sam Allardyce teams are notorious for not tackling (they prefer killing the game by other means), Tottenham and Liverpool are playing an aggressive high press and despite excellent possession numbers are in the top of the League in tackles. Meanwhile, Arsenal don’t play a high press and don’t aggressively tackle and they are consistently last in that category.  

You might think that I’m getting ready to say that his tackle numbers are bad. They aren’t. BMG are a middle of the table tackling team and he leads his team in tackles with 2.4 per game. He doesn’t tackle as much as Arteta did in 2012/13 (3.2 per game) but when he does tackle he wins 75% of those challenges. Again, this is similar to Arteta who won 74% in that season.

I am curious to see how much more he will have to tackle at Arsenal. The Gunners are notorious for pressing high up the pitch and leaving their central midfielders in tons of space. Anyone who has played the CDM role for Arsenal has averaged over 3 tackles a game and has made 73% of them or more.

2.7 2.6 2.9 2.2

One of the stats Arsenal are most famous for is interceptions. Arsenal typically lead the League in this category despite also leading the League in possession. This season they were usurped by Leicester who made it their mission to win all the defensive stats on the way to claiming the Title but that doesn’t mean that Wenger doesn’t like interceptions any more.

Coquelin led Arsenal with 3.7 interceptions per game last season. At peak Arteta he led Arsenal with 2.9 per game. Granit Xhaka leads BMG with 2.7 per game. I would expect this number to go up at Arsenal.

One other number there, the 2.6. That is the number of fouls per game by Xhaka. Granit is hard and he has no problem fouling. He also has 3 red cards this season along with 5 yellow cards. This is a stat that people point to as a problem with Xhaka to which I would reply: yes, he will need to watch himself but also, those fouls and cards were picked up in the Bundesliga.

He’s a tough character who has no problem “taking one for the team” and fouling on a breakaway. He will also stand up for his teammates and has no problem tackling in retribution. And he also has a bit of a temper and can pick up red card for silliness, like he did this December when he just kicked a guy.

In his Bundesliga career he has 5 red cards and that’s a problem for some people. But I don’t have a problem with his feisty nature because he reminds me of Patrick Vieira. And let’s not forget that Vieira has 8 red cards, the most in Premier League history.

23 3 7 3 2 1

Did you know he’s left footed? Yep. 23 shots with his left, 3 with his right, 7 with his head. He also scored 3 goals this season for BMG and none of them from open play. He scored a long-range pile driver from a set play and two headers from set plays as well. He’s not a shooter, he doesn’t set others up (though he can), and he doesn’t really go forward. He’s much like Arteta in that way: he would much rather stay back and dictate play from deep in midfield.

6 29 35 83

This was the combination to my locker in High School and with that I can say that now you know the whole story.

Conclusion

For those who need to see all the players compared, here;

Xhaka

Basically, he’s your Arteta replacement. A younger, tougher, slightly meaner version of Arteta who can play a cultured ball over the top, play the safe pass in midfield, and stand up for his teammates. All around solid midfielder who reminds me of Vieira. I’ll take three!

Qq