Category Archives: Arsenal

Alexis

Why the FA’s meddling with immigration rules is bad for English football

You have by now caught wind that Arsène wanted to sign Angel Di Maria when he was 16 but was prevented because of the British work permit laws. In some of the articles I’ve read on this topic there is even mention that the Football Association wants to artificially limit the number of non-EU footballers in the Premier League starting next season. To put a cap on the number of Latin American and Asian players, essentially. 

It is, along with every idea that the FA has concocted since I’ve been writing about football, the dumbest idea ever. You know what this rule does? It makes the Spanish and German leagues stronger because they have a much deeper talent pool to draw from. It also enriches those leagues because they can get young Brazilians and Argentinians in early, spend a few years developing them, and then sell them to the Premier League for… what did di Maria cost Man U? Exactly.

And that’s not even mentioning the effect this will have on British players. With this rule, the homegrown rule, and everything else they have tried since they were forced to accept EU passport holders without caps, the FA acts like it believes that if they just closed off England to all foreign players, the British kids would get better.

I have news for you: England tried that and didn’t win a single World Cup after 1966 despite being one of the most closed off countries in the world.

If you really want British kids to get better at football you need them to play with kids like di Maria starting at a young age. You need them to work with coaches like Jonker and others who bring in new ideas and marry them to the old ideas.

I dare say, and I don’t have the stats to prove it, but I suspect Arsenal Football club have more former players currently playing in the Premier League than any other club. Song, Jenkinson, Fabregas, van Persie, Clichy, Sagna, and those are just the stars! There are many more second-tier Arsenal players (feel free to list them and their teams below).

The positive effect of Arsenal’s policy of taking on any player who is good enough regardless of their passport is on display every weekend in the Premier League. Every time Seb Larsson scores a winning goal off a set play, that’s Arsenal kicking a hole in England’s anti-immigration policy. Every time Fabregas sets up Costa, that’s Arsenal kicking another hole. Every time Alex Song (homegrown player) passes the ball to Jenkinson (local kid) who whips in a cross to that lumbering galoot Carroll, that’s Arsenal taking yet another chink out of the FA’s preposterously constructed anti-immigrant armor.

The Football Association’s preposterous attempts to enact what amounts to affirmative action for Englishmen is, and always has been, doomed to failure. No one in England benefits. The only people who win are the clubs in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany, where players like Alexis have to go for 5 years while they wait to get their EU citizenship and then get sold to England for tens of millions of pounds.

And not only are these players now costing more, the fact that clubs are bringing in 26 year old players like di Maria instead of a 17 year old di Maria means that young English talent will not get a look in at these top clubs. Because a team is going to play a 26 year old (who is now the finished product) over the 17 year old English player who has a bright career in front of him.

It is exactly the kind of market meddling that always has the exact opposite effect from the one intended. Instead of bringing in competition for places, it artificially raises the competition to a point where English players are squeezed out. Further meddling, making the non-EU players rarer won’t help the Premier League or the English players. It will only help every other league in the world.

That’s your lot for today, I’ve ranted enough. Perhaps tomorrow I will bring some stats about corners and crosses. Maybe. Until then I have to go check my passport, I’m not sure if the FA wants me writing about English Football. After all, I’m an American.

Qq

Post Script: 

I want to mention that Arsenal are doing an event in April called “Be a Gunner, Be a Runner.” It’s a short run, 6.4km (4 miles) in which the participants run 10 laps around the Emirates stadium. There is an entry fee of £15 with proceeds going to the Arsenal Foundation. The Arsenal Foundation is Arsenal’s official charity and works to help young people around the world fulfill their potential. The Arsenal Foundation partners with Save the Children and the Willow Foundation.

If you live in England or plan to be there on April 11th and want to participate you can find out more information on Arsenal.com. For those of us who live overseas we can participate as well and I thought it would be fun to get a group together here in my part of the world to train and run on April 11th. I have the route already picked out, it’s a forest jog through Tacoma’s very own Pt. Defiance. Perhaps you made a resolution to get fit in the new year? Getting a group run together is the perfect way to make that happen. I envision us practicing on the weekends after the matches, maybe every Saturday until we can nail the entire run in under an hour. If you’re into this sort of thing, send me an email to 7amkickoff at gmail and I’ll get you signed up. As a bonus, we will get numbers from Arsenal for the actual race day and I will take photos of us all and send them to the media folks. You could be famous!

Arsenal verge on signing Paulista but will he work?

We have confirmation from Arsène Wenger that Arsenal are well down the road toward buying center back Gabriel Paulista from Villareal. With Mertesacker and Koscielny the only two first choice center backs and with both players looking like they are carrying injuries, Arsenal desperately need another center half and Paulista fits the bill. But as usual with Arsenal transfers, the Gunners look like they are trying to get him on the cheap and he might not even qualify for a work permit. If I didn’t know any better I would say Arsène Wenger is just trolling you all with this signing.

It’s unusual for Arsène to speak about a transfer deal until it is done. On the verge of signing Mesut Özil from Real Madrid, Wenger once tittered “maybe we will have a little surprise for you”. I would have a hard time keeping my mouth shut if I was about to sign Mesut Özil for my fantasy football team, only Wenger knows how he kept himself in check while working on signing Özil in real life.

And yet Wenger was very open that he is trying to sign Paulista:

“The talks are progressing quite well, to be serious,” the Arsenal manager said. “[It’s] 50-50 at this moment, yes. We are talking at the moment; can we find an agreement or not? I don’t know. We are slowly progressing but there’s a chance. We are ready to pay the price we think is right for a good player, no matter what the price is. If we think it’s the right price we will pay.”

From what I’ve read, Paulista has a £16m release clause. The snag from Villareal’s point of view is that Arsenal aren’t meeting that valuation and Villareal have absolutely no need to sell.

Meanwhile, Arsenal aren’t meeting that valuation for good reason: the kid doesn’t qualify for a work permit in the UK because he doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the rather arbitrary requirement that he play 75% of his country’s international matches. In fact, Paulista hasn’t played a single match for Brazil. So, do you just stump up the money for a player you can’t play? No, of course not.

This is exactly the kind of transfer saga that drives a certain portion of the Arsenal fanbase nuts: Wenger is clearly looking to get a good deal, to fill a position where there is an absolute need, and the transfer has turned into a saga.

It’s all a little too much for some fans and I get it. On the day that Arsenal are announced as the 8th richest club in the universe the manager is bargaining to get a player he might not even be allowed to play because he can’t get a work permit.

This signing also excites a large portion of the fanbase and I get that too: this signing has all the hallmarks of Wenger uncovering another gem for cheap. Let’s not forget that when Arsène signed Koscielny it drove a certain portion of the fanbase nuts. “Who is this guy from League 2?” and “Why can’t we just go sign Gary Cahill? He’s mates with Wiltshere!”¹

Paulista is already being compared favorably to Koscielny by writers in the know like Sid Lowe. Apparently, he’s strong and quick, he reads the game well, and he likes to attack the ball. All the best qualities of Koscielny.

Villareal play counter-attacking football with Paulista an important part of both the defending and getting the counters started. As we detailed in yesterday’s post, Arsenal look like they are switching to a counter-attacking style and in that case Paulista could possibly slot right in.

But the sticking point is the work permit. Arsenal have tried to get around the work permit rules in the past and have failed every time. In fact, the Gunners still have Wellington Silva on loan, a player they signed in 2010 and who the FA originally awarded a special talent visa to, which they later rescinded. There were others before that, Petr Cech most notably. Arsenal couldn’t get Cech a visa despite the fact that he had played at every level for the Czech Republic since he was 15 years old. Chelsea managed to get him that permit two years later.

Wenger is known for being stubborn and only signing the Goldilocks players, players who are “just right” for what he wants at Arsenal. But this one seems like a hell of a gamble on not only the player but the rather capricious UK and FA work permit rules. Wenger seemed confident in his interview that they could get a visa and they seem to be putting in the work to sign the player so perhaps this saga is much ado about nothing and the player will step right into the Arsenal first team before the close of the window.

I sure hope so. I’d hate to see the state of some blogs if Wenger fails to sign this guy or worse, signs him and has to loan him back out for another 4 years to get him a visa.

Qq

¹I know his name is Wilshere but for some reason Brits seem to call him Wiltshere.

alexis-sanchez

This season Arsenal sacrificing possession, but with a purpose

49, 49 Undefeated, 49, 49, I say! 49, 49, Undefeated, playing football the Arsenal way!

What is the Arsenal way to play football? Thierry Henry’s run-and-gun Invincibles were not the same as Cesc Fabregas’ Barcelona-lite. And the team we are seeing today, the Alexis press team, is one which looks like an entirely new beast on the pitch.

When I first started writing about Arsenal in 2008 there was a definite way that Arsenal played football and my first two years were consumed with this notion of “playing football the Arsenal way.” I defended the Arsenal way and argued that beyond trophies, Wenger’s legacy in the English Premier League was going to be this: that he brought a new style of football to England, a style that teams like Swansea and even Chelsea¹ sought to emulate.

That Barcelona-lite side was special to watch at times, intricate ball movement and perfectly spaced players meant that the opposition were often left chasing shadows. But the down sides were obvious as well. If a team sat in the low block and hit Arsenal on the counter, they could get some joy. And if a team with players like Wayne Rooney or Didier Drogba, expensively assembled teams that could play football if they wanted, played the same tactic they could win repeatedly.

I’m not going to rehash the last three years and the aftermath of the 8-2 tonking Arsenal received at Old Trafford at the end of the Fabregas era. Suffice it to say that Wenger built that Barcelona-lite side around Fabregas and when the Spaniard forced a move away, Arsène spent years trying to find a new player to build his squad around.

When Arsenal signed Alexis Sanchez Wenger had finally landed his man. Sanchez is a tireless worker on the pitch, a player with blazing fast footspeed, and a player with a great fighting spirit. After striking his first goal for the Gunners against Besiktas, Wenger was asked if Alexis could lead the line for three or four months while starting center forward Olivier Giroud recovered from a broken ankle. The manager replied:

For three or four months? He can play there his whole life. I bought him to play as a striker, not to play only on the flanks. He had a good game. He was mobile, dangerous and has shown as well he has great fighting spirit, qualities that will be very important in the Premier League.

The idea that Alexis could lead the line was the first indication that Arsène was looking at trying out a new style. With Alexis’ acceleration and work rate, it looked like Wenger was finally going to get Arsenal to play some counter-attacking football. The kind of football that the Invincibles played.

Chris Gluck from Possession with Purpose has graciously provided me with slides from his database which show, fairly conclusively, that Arsène Wenger has been slowly introducing this new style of football to the club. In Chris’ first slide you can see clearly that Arsenal have been slowly conceding possession over the season:

Possession

 

Something to note about that slide: game day 2 was the 2-2 draw to Everton away, game day 4 was the 2-2 draw to Man City at home, 7 was the loss to Chelsea away, 11 was the loss to Swansea away, 17 was the draw away to Liverpool, 19 the away win over West Ham, and 22 was the away win over Man City.  All of those games were “low water marks” for possession.

Passing accuracy is another metric by which we can measure whether a team is playing a more counter-attacking style. Passing accuracy goes down the more you try to play long balls and the more isolated the strikers and wingers are in the system. At home, Arsenal’s passing accuracy is static:

passing-homeBut when they take their show on the road, Arsenal have been more and more defensive as the season has gone on:

passing-away

As Chris’ slides clearly show, Arsenal are eschewing possession in away games more and more as the season goes on. If the Arsenal of 2010 tried this they probably would have been murdered, because they just didn’t have the defensive nous to play in that deep block and to counter-press the way that Arsenal are able to do this season.

Not only just the ability to play defense a certain way but to play counter-attacking football you also have to be more efficient when you have the ball. For Chris, this efficiency is one of his key indicators in his index. The next slide shows that at home, Arsenal show a slight upward trend in what Chris calls “shots taken per penetration”.²

penetration-shots-taken-home

In away matches, however, Arsenal are showing a much greater trend toward efficiency, with West Ham (match 17) the high water mark of Arsenal’s efficiency.

penetration-shots-taken-away

Drilling further into Chris’ data, Arsenal are also showing a trend upward in shots on goal per shot taken:

Sog-shot

The flip side of the offensive efficiency is that Arsenal are also becoming more efficient defensively. They are allowing the opposition to have more of the ball and attempt more passes in Arsenal’s final third;

final-third-passes-conceded

 

But the goals conceded trends slightly downward! (Or at least static)

goals-conceded

Chris gave me a total of 39 slides and every single one of them shows basically the same thing: Arsenal have developed two styles of play. One for home games or against poor teams away and one for away games or against top four opponents.

Overall, Arsenal’s possession is down over the season but it’s equally clear that in those away games which tormented Arsenal last season, Wenger is taking a more pragmatic approach. Last season, against Everton, Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea away, Arsenal conceded 20 goals and scored just 4. That’s a -16 goal difference and 0 points earned. This season in those same fixtures Arsenal have given away possession and as a result conceded just 6, scored 6, and earned 5 points with just one loss. I’d say that’s a pretty major reversal.

Qq

¹And if you look at Chelsea today you could say that they have achieved Abramovich’s goal of turning Chelsea into Arsenal. They bought Cesc Fabregas, the main man from that era and when you watch them play they look like a much more expensive version of Wenger’s 2008 Arsenal.
² This isn’t that scary, really. Penetration is simply passing in the final third and this is a ratio of shots per pass, sort of.