Category Archives: Arsenal

Surprise

If the players are available Wenger will buy them

Yesterday, I tweeted something that just seemed like common sense to me:

If a striker was available, who wanted to come to Arsenal, that Arsenal could afford, and who was better than Giroud, Wenger would buy him.

You could add other qualifiers like “and had the right attitude” or “proven to be a hard worker on and off the pitch” and “doesn’t get into a sword fight with a taxi in Copenhagen” but in general, I think this is how Arsenal’s transfer strategy works.

That belief comes from watching Wenger over the last few years. If players are available in the positions he’s interested in and if they are better than our current players he has no problem spending the money. Özil came in and immediately ousted Cazorla from the attacking midfield role and, contrary to the old chestnut that Wenger wouldn’t want to “kill” a player, even pushed Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey out of the attacking mid role.

Last year, Wenger went two steps further and landed Alexis among other players, many of which were bought in order to upgrade on Arsenal’s existing squad. Alexis upgrades all of Arsenal’s front line attackers. Debuchy was a replacement for Sagna but Chambers was bought as an upgrade on Jenkinson. Wenger also brought in several players on a gamble, to see if they could break into the first team. I count Welbeck and Gabriel in that group.

And this season, Wenger finally broke down and bought an upgrade on ‘keeper by landing Petr Cech. Wenger had tried (Schwarzer) and tried to get one in but the deals kept breaking down for one reason or another. Usually because the team in question simply refused to deal with Wenger and Arsenal.

DM is just behind ‘keeper in Wenger’s list of desires it seems. Just llike ‘keeper, Wenger has famously tried to land a big name DM but they player (or his agent as is the case with Schneiderlin and Gustavo) refused the deal. I suspect that like ‘keeper, Wenger is looking but having a hard time finding the guy who fits all the criteria I listed above.

The misstep in logic is to see a player’s name appear in the transfer rumor page and think that means he’s both available and wants to join Arsenal (for fans of other clubs reading this, insert your club here). Just because Pedro went to Chelsea, and even given the fact that he switched from Man U to Chelsea at the last minute, doesn’t mean that Wenger wanted or needed him at Arsenal or that the player wanted to go to Arsenal. It’s a huge leap in logic to go from “well, he was sold” to “we could have bought him, if we (showed the right ambition, paid more money, offered the player better terms, has a better negotiating team, scouted him earlier, tried to get our transfer business done sooner, and the myriad of reasons why people complain about transfers).

There is another misstep in logic which happens all the time: X player is better than Y. I heard that all morning regarding Giroud and Dzeko. But if you look at things objectively, how much of an upgrade is Dzeko?

Giroud: transfer £13m, salary £80k/wk, 137 games, 59 goals, 0.43 gpg
Dzeko: transfer £27m, salary £130k/wk, 189 games, 72 goals, 0.38 gpg

Dzeko didn’t play as many minutes as Giroud, so, he ended up with a decent minutes per goal of 153 (all competitions),  but Giroud isn’t far behind him with a goal every 167 minutes (all competitions). That works out to 6 goals difference between the two players over 189 games or 11,020 minutes. And for what City have paid for Dzeko, you really have to ask “was he worth that much more?” Double? No.

It’s another leap in logic to see that player’s name linked to Arsenal and think that means he wants to join Arsenal. Player’s agents often use the papers to get a link to a big club in order to secure a bigger deal than they would have. 

The problem at Arsenal is one similar to the problem at a club like Man U. United’s recent transfer struggles are proof that even a club with endless amounts of money and a recent history of winning trophies, along with Champions League football can still be “gazumped” by a rival club like Chelsea. It’s no coincidence that the Pedro saga is being reported as one of dithering on the part of Man U, or of perhaps Cesc Fabregas’ girlfriend tapping up Pedro, United being cheap, and even that Chelsea’s females lured Pedro away from the “Hispanic” hating van Gaal and over to Chelsea. The press love these narratives because they can throw them out there as “opinion” and let the conjecture lie in the minds of the fans.

The problem is that there are really only three clubs who can land any player they want — Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich — but fans of Arsenal (and all of the clubs below those three) feel like they are in that elite group. We aren’t. We aren’t even close. I think that after the big three, there are the big money clubs — Man City, Chelsea, and PSG — and below them are the clubs with a pretty big draw but who aren’t at the level of a club like Bayern Munich — Arsenal, Man U, and to a lesser extent, Liverpool. I know that we like to think that Arsenal are “the greatest club, the world has ever seen” but by any objective measure we aren’t.

If you’re a club below the top three you have three choices: spend a shedload of money gathering a supersquad of mercenary players, do a constant rotation of expensive players kind of like a compost heap, or buy a little bit more wisely, wait for the really good players to be available and willing, and build slowly.

Which is what Arsenal are doing. They are looking for players who are available, who want to come to Arsenal, that Arsenal could afford, and who are better than our current players. If that player exists, Wenger will buy him.

I would like improvements, there are plenty of roster places we could improve, but I don’t think Wenger is blind, or stupid, or lacks ambition, or won’t spend the money or any of the countless calumnies people cast at him and the team. I firmly believe the players just aren’t there for us right now. Maybe they will be tomorrow. Maybe that guy on TalkSport is right and Arsenal had a £48m bid for Benzema accepted and we are going to have Benzema at Arsenal next season.

In the mean time it’s probably best not to look at other team’s transfers and assume that we could have had that player. Because even the mighty Man U, a team with a recent history of winning and a huge stack of cash, can’t just get any player they want. We’ve seen that time and again over the last three years.

Qq

suarez-teeth

Stats I got wrong: Suarez is now the best center forward in the world

Here’s a thing you don’t read very often in the press or on a blog: I was wrong.

For example, Jonathan Liew penned a piece the other day claiming that referee Lee Mason was “relegated” to 4th official because he failed to send off Coquelin in the match against Crystal Palace. It’s a strange article from an otherwise fantastic writer. Liew knows that being 4th official is not at all like being dropped. And even a casual glance at the Premier League’s Referee Appointments list shows the reader that Mason has been doing 4th official duties on a week on, week off basis this season. One week he’s 1st official, the next week he’s 4th official, this week he is due to be 4th official.

The article also makes a huge assumption that Coquelin should have been sent off, which I don’t know if I agree with, before making the guess that failure to send him off was the reason why Mason was “dropped.” I almost think that the article gives more evidence that Coquelin shouldn’t have been sent off. The logic of the article is that Mason was dropped, which proves Coquelin should have been sent off. But Mason wasn’t dropped, he was just on his normal rotation, therefore by the logic of the article, Mason was right to not send Coquelin off. Coquelin therefore should not have been sent off.

I pointed these facts out to Jonathan Liew via twitter, he didn’t respond. I doubt we will ever hear him say he was wrong about that article.

But I don’t mind being wrong. As Jake the Dog once said, “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”

This is especially true with stats. I’ve had to learn to be much more circumspect about stats than I was when I first started.

Perhaps my most embarrassing use of stats was when I declared that Luis Suarez wouldn’t fit in with the Arsenal system. My logic was sound, the data shows that Suarez had been, up to that point in his career, a ball hog. He not only demanded the ball constantly, but he was horribly profligate when he got the ball. And my argument was very specific in regard to that: he would drive Arsenal fans nuts with his wastefulness.

And you can see that Arsenal fans do get driven to the brink by wasteful players. Look at Alexis. Whenever he turns the ball over (usually trying to do something in attack) people groan. But Alexis is not a bad dribbler! He completed 115 of 196 dribbles last season, that’s 59% dribbling. That’s very good. Suarez, in contrast, was a 37% dribbler going 95/255 dribbles in the season I analyzed his stats. In pure number of turnovers, Alexis had 81 and Suarez had 160. Twice as many.

And shooting is another problem. Look at Giroud’s wastefulness. People pounce on Giroud whenever he misses as proof that Arsenal need another forward. Suarez, in his first three years (really 2.5 years) at Liverpool scored just 38 goals on 370 shots! It’s absurd. No top team lets a player get that many wasted chances.

And assists as well. Suarez only had 16 assists in his first three years at Liverpool. Alexis had 12 assists for Arsenal last season alone.

Combining the stats with the biting, the committing racisms, refusing to shake hands afterwards, the public circus around everything he did, it looked to me like Suarez was a guy who couldn’t put his ego aside for the betterment of the team.

But that’s exactly what Suarez has done at Barcelona. He’s still a 43% dribbler (best in his career) but if you combine all of his stats from La Liga and the Champions League, he only attempted 123 dribbles. In his last season at Anfield he attempted 237 in League play alone. He only took 113 shots for Barcelona, at Liverpool he took 181. And he has contributed roughly the same number of goals for Barcelona, in roughly the same number of minutes, as he did in his breakout season at Liverpool; 40 for Barcelona (combining Liga and Champions League goals and assists) and 43 for Liverpool (all Suarez/Liverpool stats are league play only).

Suarez

In his last two seasons, at Liverpool and then at Barcelona, Suarez has become much more efficient, contributed much more to the team and less to himself, and has in turn won a well deserved treble at Barcelona, including the Holy Grail, the Champions League.

The evidence points to the fact that Suarez takes his time to warm up to a new situation: at Ajax he wasn’t a scoring beast until his last full season, at Liverpool it was also his last full season, and even at Barcelona he took 7 games to get his first goal, a fact which had the Spanish press declaring him a failure.

But apparently, Suarez did have the right attitude when it came to football and because of his work ethic, combined with his raw talent, he has fashioned himself into possibly the best teammate, and thus the best center forward in the game.

So, I guess I got that wrong. Maybe Suarez would have been great for Arsenal.

Qq

*The reason is that the companies like WhoScored, Squawka, and 442 just haven’t figured out how to display that data. I bet if I dig around that data will be there in some sub text of some popout window that happens on a mouse-over of the event. In other words, the data is there, I just don’t know where to look yet.

Arsenal beat Palace but still show weakness on crosses and coordination in defense

Little known fact: I use my attention as a barometer of how well Arsenal are playing in a game. If I tweet something about the game, they are losing my attention. If I check my Facebook account, they have lost my attention. If I’m reading an article or watching a video on my phone, then the handbrake is well and truly on.

I’ve become so familiar with Arsenal’s peaks and valleys that when I notice that the handbrake is on, I switch my attention back to the game because the handbrake is a good indicator that something bad is going to happen.

I also think that the crowd can be a good indicator of when the handbrake is on. If the crowd is more interested in singing songs about the other fans, the football on display is probably not very good.

Which is exactly what happened this weekend when Arsenal beat Crystal Palace.

Arsenal jumped out to a fast start and were pressing the Palace defense, forcing errors and getting into dangerous positions. I was enthralled. I don’t think I tweeted a single word in that first 16 minute spell.

This wasn’t all just down to the reintroduction of Alexis, Arsenal’s most attention grabbing player, everyone was pressing and working hard.

But after Arsenal got the goal, they took their foot off the gas a bit. Mertesacker mentioned it in his post-match presser:

We want to keep going, because after we created a lot of chances in the first 20 minutes, we dropped a bit. They got more possession, scored their goal, so it is very important.

I agree with Per that Arsenal dropped significantly after they scored but they had dropped off earlier than that and, in fact, there were problems well before Giroud scored his amazing goal.

Here is a screen grab of Bolasie beating Koscielny in the 12th minute in what would eventually be an almost mirror move for their goal:

KozBolasie starts behind Koz, but then jumps ahead of him with one step:

BolasieNote that the entire team is pulled out of shape. Bolasie had played a big diagonal to the other side of the pitch and then made his run. Arsenal’s defensive shape here is absurd, no one is tracking, the center backs are miles apart and Arsenal’s fullbacks are covering. At least someone was covering!

terrifyingKoscielny realizes the danger way too late and if the cross had been at all decent Palace would have had an amazing, gifted chance. Fortunately, the cross was too close to Cech and the ‘keeper claimed.

And that was in the 12th minute.

Palace pulled Arsenal apart with those crosses quite a few times and it’s probably no surprise that they scored off that exact move later in the game.  Again, Arsenal lost concentration, took their foot off the gas, and looked wholly disorganized in the Palace buildup.

Ramsey beatenPuncheon receives the ball in acres of space and literally waits for someone to challenge him. That someone is Ramsey, and Puncheon just dribbles around Ramsey’s challenge, making him look quite amateurish.

ball watchingNow look at the number of Arsenal players ball watching. And mind you, Alexis is out of the picture, along with Ward, at the bottom of the screen.

OzilWard appears and Ozil makes a half-effort to close down.

wardNo one closed Ward down, Koscielny doesn’t try to block the shot, and Cech fails to save. After the goal, Ozil points at Alexis and complains that he let his man past him.

No matter who you blame for the goal (I blame the team), this is the second game in a row that Arsenal’s midfield looked lazy, disorganized, and allowed a player to have an open shot with no one closing down the attacker.

Arsenal’s attack looked great throughout the match. Alexis, in particular, had several chances that he will convert in another week or so. Ozil also had a good match, playing in crosses from the left wing. And Arsenal’s counter attack looked muscular and quick. These are all fantastic things that clearly Wenger has worked on in practice.

It’s still early in the season but Arsenal’s coordination in midfield, communication all over the pitch, and organization at the back looks like it needs a lot of work. Crosses have been an Achilles heel for Arsenal for a year and a half and Palace looked like they knew that: they almost took the lead when Zaha was given all the time in the world to pick out Connor Wickham with a cross. Fortunately, Arsenal were let off when his first time shot hit the crossbar.

Up next, Liverpool on Monday.

They have Benteke and he eats crosses for breakfast.

Qq