Category Archives: Arsenal

walcott-mask

Theo Walcott would be a luxury signing but he might just help Arsenal win the League

By Tim Todd, Flip Floppist

It’s funny how I have a tendency to say one thing and then to change my mind, literally, three days later. Maybe it’s not that I change my mind but rather I might soften my position on something. But it’s a fact, that when presented with new data, I simply admit that I might be wrong.

I’ve gotten used to being wrong because it happens to me all the time. I suspect that most people are wrong a lot more then they admit but with me the problem is multiplied by the fact that I have a blog, and it’s read by literally threes or even fours of people, and the fact that I sometimes speak from my intuition rather than from a place of facts and knowledge.

I trust my intuition. My ability to see through things, notice minor details, and to pay attention to things that other people would normally miss – especially bodily clues from human beings – was sharpened on the steel edge of my father’s parenting. So, when I say that I see something different in Theo Walcott’s body language, as I did two days ago after watching him play in the friendly against Everton, I’m telling you that he’s setting off my intuition.

Something was different about Walcott: he seemed more poised, he seemed more powerful, he seemed more determined — he surprised me in that game with the ferocity of his shots and with the way he got behind defenders. He set off my intuition.

Where I go wrong after that is that I draw a conclusion based on my intuition. Rather than simply say “did you notice that Theo seemed different?” I will say “he looks to me like he’s going to score 30 goals next season” or some such nonsense. It’s funny when I do that because it’s classic prejudice or bias and I like to paint myself as intellectually aloof or rational. I guess I’m not as rational as I like to think. Or maybe I’m just a tad too impulsive? Either way, it’s slightly annoying and one of my many flaws. 

Theo Walcott never fails to generate controversy when the topic of whether he is “worth X per week” or whether he should just “sign da ting” is brought up. But I have yet to see a definitive answer on Walcott’s value from a trusted source. Someone to just come along and say “yep, he’s worth X and here’s why.” And the problem is that I don’t know if we can have a definitive answer on Walcott’s value because there are too many complicating factors.

First, his injury record is atrocious: in his first three seasons at the club he had both shoulders operated on. And two seasons ago he tore his ACL and that limited him to just 39 appearances in those two years. That’s just crazy. Anyone who wants to say that Arsenal shouldn’t re-sign him can just point to his injury record. He may very well recover fully from this and go on to have another 5 year career as a top striker but that is a hell of a gamble to take on a player.

Second, on 16 March 2016, Theo Walcott will turn 27 and will have been with the club for 10 years. That means he is 26 years old, the same age as Alexis Sanchez. How long of a contract do you give that man? Do you give him 4 years? Keep him around until he’s 31? Considering his injury record? My intuition meter is telling me that this is probably the sticking point in this round of contract negotiations: he wants a five year deal and Arsenal don’t want to give it to him. That’s just pure speculation of course and I don’t want that to be the main thing you all talk about.

But, as of right now, Walcott has made 192 starts and 111 subs. He has 302 appearances for Arsenal in 9 seasons and has scored just 76 goals.  That’s a goal every 4 games. Walcott is 26 years old, he’s got a history of injury, and bar one season, he’s never really produced at the top level.

Here is a chart of Walcott’s output since 2009, the year after his second shoulder op. Data below is his combined Premier League and Champions League output. I’m not cherry picking data by doing that, I’m actually including all of the data available on WhoScored.com. If his cup competition data was available I would include it, it is not, so I can not.

On the right, I then average Walcott’s 2009-2015 PL and CL output under the misnomer “Career” average. And on the far right, I put Alexis Sanchez’ data from last season with Arsenal. And just to be extra nice to Theo Walcott, I think his 2012/2013 season is his benchmark and so I highlighted that in bold.

I compared Theo with Alexis because both players are 26 years old, both are right footed, both play wide for Arsenal, and both want to play centrally. I think it’s a very fair comparison. Walcott should offer what Alexis offers, especially if Walcott wants Alexis money and an Alexis length contract.

Walcott

As you can see, one of the things that Theo excels at is getting shots on target. And his shots per goal ratio is pretty good, especially in his high water mark season. This actually connects well with my intuition: that Walcott is a good finisher.

The problem is that unlike Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott doesn’t do much else for the team. He’s not a dribbler, his key passes are fairly poor, and his defensive work is basically non-existent: if you add up all the tackles he’s made in Champions League and Premier League play since 2009, he has 2 fewer tackles than Alexis Sanchez made this season alone.

If Arsenal are adopting the system that Naveen, Tim Stillman, and I all think that he is — pressing without the ball — then Walcott’s lack of defensive work becomes a major liability. It’s not like he’s incapable of doing the work, or that he lacks the footballing brain to figure out how, he’s just never shown a desire for defense. Watch Alexis Sanchez for five minutes, he simply wants the ball back and he will harass anyone with it to win it.

The data shows me, then, that Theo Walcott is basically a one-trick-pony. This is the thing I warned against when fans wanted Arsenal to buy Falcao. Falcao is a goal scorer and nothing else and we saw how spectacularly that failed at Man U last season: he can’t hold the ball up (Walcott), he’s not really a distributor (Walcott), he doesn’t win aerial duels (Walcott), he’s incapable of dribbling to break down defenders (Walcott), and unless he gets to be the main target of the offense he won’t offer much else to the team (Walcott).

Here again is a comparison of Alexis and Theo. This time I take all of Walcott’s Champions League and Premier League data and prorate it over a “per90″ basis. In other words, here is what Walcott’s averages look like had he been healthy and played as much as Alexis Sanchez did for Arsenal last season.

Walexis

Once again, Walcott is clearly a good shooter and a good finisher but offers very little else to the team. In his high water mark season (2012/13) he scored 15 goals in PL and CL play. If you multiply Walcott’s 2009-2015 PL and CL averages per90 goals ratio by 38 games you get 16 goals. I think realistically, that’s what Walcott offers: a per90 prorated 16 goals a season.

If Arsenal were Man City, there would be no question; with a per90 16 goals a season ratio and not much else to offer, they would just sign him and play him when they could and where they want on the pitch. He would be a backup on that team, he would make up squad numbers, and help them with their homegrown quota. In that sense, Walcott is a luxury signing.

It’s a coincidence that Falcao and Walcott are similar players – both just goal scorers. And it’s no real criticism of Walcott to say “he’s just a goal scorer”. You need goals to win games. But that’s why it’s not a coincidence that Man U signed Falcao last season and that Chelsea signed him this season. Falcao scored important goals and I think he earned Man U eight points last season, that was the difference between finishing 4th and 6th last season. So, signing those kinds of players, and paying them over the odds, is exactly what big clubs do — especially if they want to win the Premier League.

Qq

Arsenal-Everton-Singapore

Schneiderlin the real deal in person, Show Theo the Money, and a Juventini Dream for Wilshere, Ramsey, and Cazorla

By Tim Todd, Singapore Semaphorist

I’m going to just put this out there: I had to watch the replay of Arsenal’s win over Everton in the Barclay’s Asia Trophy because I didn’t get up until 7am. And I got up so late because last night I went to the Seahawks stadium and watched Manchester United play Club America for the… something or another cup. I don’t have any regrets about either.

Just to make sure I don’t lose any Arsenal street cred, I didn’t buy the tickets; my sister’s husband gave them to me. He didn’t buy them either, they were gifted to him and he took the gift thinking of me and my love of football. How could I turn that down? Besides, I went to root for Club America and to laugh at the Man U fans.*

These friendly cup matches always draw an eclectic mix of fans in the States. There were the obvious people wearing their Man U gear as well as the Club America supporters there to support their team but then there are always the carnival fans, folks drawn to the game for the spectacle of “seeing Man U”. These fans will sometimes show up in their favorite team’s kit and it makes for a bit of a surreal scene when you’re in the stands and you see a guy in a Liverpool shirt at a Man U match.

But as unreal as it may seem to see a Tottenham kit, an Arsenal kit, some Barcelona shirts and other clubs, the weirdest moment of all was the kid in the van Persie shirt. It was an Arsenal van Persie shirt, the shirt from van Persie’s last season with Arsenal.

We get this culture of celebrity thing over here with sports fans. Basketball is particularly ripe ground for that and it’s not at all unusual for a fan to follow a player rather than a team. And it must have been that mentality which led this kid to wear that shirt out at that game. Either that, or he’s just as confused as the little boy inside van Persie.

The game itself was actually not bad. Club America played excellent throughout the match and were unlucky not to have scored and were even a bit unlucky to concede.

Morgan Schneiderlin scored the only goal of the game in the 5th minute with a looping header. After that, United spent the next 40 minutes trying to get the ball into Memphis Depay with little effect. Depay was actually atrocious. Club America played him perfectly throughout the match: nipping the ball off him before he could get to it, bustling him off the ball when he did get it, and keeping him to shots from distance when he had it for any length of time. If van Gaal has dreams of turning Depay into a number 9, they look like pipe dreams at the moment.

Sadly, I have to report that Schneiderlin was exactly as I thought he would be. Van Gaal liked Angel di Maria for his ability to hit long crosses from deep and open up the opposition back line. But di Maria couldn’t boss the central midfield in the Premier League and so with Schneiderlin, van Gaal has the best of both worlds. Schneiderlin hit at least three long cross passes from deep that made the crowd go ohhhh and made several timely tackles that had the crowd on their feet.

Schneiderlin also made some mistakes but he more than made up for that with his positives. I can easily see both of United’s new signings, Schneiderlin and Schweinstiger, forming a formidable central midfield for Red Devils.

Watching the game, I could also envision Schneiderlin playing along side Ramsey and that was particularly painful because I think Arsenal might have missed a chance with this kid. Just to put it bluntly, I was even more impressive in person than I’ve ever been just looking at his stats.

The only other feature of the match was that the second half started out as such a snooze-fest that the Seattle fans started doing the (Seattle) Wave. If you’re ever wondering if two teams have applied the handbrake just look to the crowd. If they are doing the wave, doing “oles”, or if they have left the match entirely, the handbrake is firmly on.

United only sold 46,000 tickets to that match which I thought was a low figure considering the fact that the first time I went to a United match in the States (versus Celtic in 2003) at the very same venue, it sold out all 66,000 seats. I wonder if the novelty is starting to fade here or if the price is just too high at $75+?

In the Arsenal match today, there were no such problems selling tickets. Arsenal played in front of a mostly packed house of 53,000 fans and put on quite the show at Everton’s expense. Arsenal’s twinkle-toed midfielder, Santi Cazorla, was clearly the man of the match and continued his rich run of form from last year providing two assists and a goal in the 3-1 rout of the Blues.

Cazorla opened Arsenal’s account with a perfectly placed long ball into the path of Theo Walcott. Walcott didn’t even need to break stride as he took the ball off the volley and swept it past the keeper.

Arsenal sought out Walcott all game and his speed and movement behind the Everton line wreaked havoc in the Blues defense. He was pulling defenders out of shape and getting himself into dangerous positions time and again. His shots were also powerful and I have to say that Walcott looks very fresh and sharp for the upcoming season.

If Arsenal fans are worried about Walcott’s contract situation at Arsenal it’s for good reason. I’ve been saying that Walcott is about to have a breakout season now for two years and the only reason it didn’t happen last season was because he tore his ACL. There don’t seem to be any ill effects from his surgery because he is as fast and strong as ever before. Walcott’s always had a good footballing brain and this season he also looks powerful, poised, and mature.

I’ll get called reactionary (after one good performance in a friendly) but I have been big on Walcott for three years now and I think Arsenal need to push the boat out a bit with him and give him a big deal. If they don’t, Walcott might turn in a 30 goal season and be off on a free next summer.

Cazorla played in a deep-lying playmaker role for Arsenal, along side box-to-box midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Cazorla was magnificent in the role: as Naveen pointed out in his season preview column, it’s not just that Santi can pass the ball, he also had to learn to play the pressing game and how to position himself defensively in order to help out in the midfield when Arsenal don’t have the ball. I can see Cazorla playing in a Pirlo role at Arsenal with two box-to-box midfielders beside him playing in the Pogba and Vidal roles.

It’s a bit unrealistic to wish for it because introducing a totally new tactical system is stupid after ythe years of work Wenger has done to get Arsenal to this point but I can see Wilshere and Ramsey playing as Pogba and Vidal with Cazorla as Pirlo behind them. And if you really want to find a way to play both Jack and Aaron at the same time, without sacrificing them to the wings, then you can’t argue for a better system. With the speed of Walcott and Alexis Sanchez on the wings up front and the raw power and holdup ability of Giroud in the center it could be an attacking sight to behold.

The problem, of course, is that neither Ramsey nor Wilshere seem interested in playing a defensive role and that system requires them to share defensive duties; when one goes forward, the other has to stay behind. I don’t trust them to do that. So, it’s much easier to use them on the wings where their defensive duties are easily defined. Which is probably how we will see them deployed this season.

All-in-all it was a good day’s worth of football for me. I had fun at the match in Seattle and then woke up and watched Arsenal collect their first major trophy of the season.

What, two more weeks until the real football kicks off?

I guess I better get some more camping and hiking in!

I’m not writing tomorrow. See you on Monday. Maybe.

Qq

*One of them yelled out “I LOVE FCKUING ROONEY!!!” Which has to be my favorite malapropism of the night.

deep-end

Barclay’s Asia Trophy Final Preview: an interview with Ed from Dixie’s 60

Ed Bottomley writes for the excellent Dixie’s 60 a blog about Everton and stuff. Ed is always gracious with his time and loves to talk about football. As you know, Arsenal play Everton tomorrow for all the glory of the Barclay’s Asia Trophy so I hit Ed up for a preview of the game, of Everton’s season, and his thoughts on managers, players, and fan expectations.

Follow Ed on twitter, he’s smarter than me about football and won’t clog your timeline with what I try to pass off as “jokes”.

Hi Ed,

Hope your summer is going well. Have you gone anywhere fun for holiday or do you save your holidays for winter?

I’m saving up for the winter and a chance to escape the diabolical Detroit snow. It’s nasty. And Florida seems like a great idea in February.

Speaking of which, I really appreciate you doing this. It helps to give my readers a fresh perspective on football. Us Gooners tend to get bogged down in our own stuff and lose sight of what its like to support another team.

So, without further ado, onto the football matters!

First, I’m curious how you feel about the transfer market so far this summer? You landed Deulofeu for just £6m, kept Cleverly, and offloaded Alcaraz and Distin. Is that your transfer business concluded? Who else do you see Everton bringing in?

I’m pretty happy about this summer. Tom Cleverley performed well in a poor Aston Villa team and Martinez has worked with him in the past at Wigan. Deulofeu has been bagged for very cheap (with Barcelona insisting on a low buyback clause for the first two seasons just in case he turns into the second coming of Garrincha). We’ve had a lot of dodgy wideboys at Everton, Jesper Blomqvist who offended Moyes and was frozen out, Andy van der Meyde who looked down the barrel of a bottle and liked what he saw, and most recently Aiden McGeady who has infuriated most Evertonians. There’s something about Deulofeu that we love though. I’ve seen him compared to Kobe Bryant – he rarely thinks of passing, and shares a lot of faults with McGeady, but for some reason he’s beloved. (A large part of that love comes from the goal he scored against Arsenal).

The Distin situation is an interesting one… Behind Roberto’s public persona (a big smile, relentless positivity, and a predilection for the word “phenomenal”) is quite a tough man. He had a falling out with Distin, and completely froze him out. In a season pock marked with bad defending, he could have been useful. Alcaraz is a different matter. The man can’t head a football. I can’t say he’ll be missed. Who do I want us to sign? I’d love another striker. Someone to take the pressure off Lukaku.

There are a bunch of stories today about Chelsea being rejected in their bid for John Stones. Stones really caught the eye last season
and I have to admit I’d love him at Arsenal. Do you think he’ll stay another season?

I *hope* he’ll stay. He is fantastic, and future captain material (in all likelihood not for Everton). But that isn’t answering your question. Do I think he’ll stay another season? Yes. I don’t think he’s unsettled, but it really depends on how much Chelsea offer. He’s the perfect ball carrying defender, and interestingly a man who David Moyes signed.

Everton are famous for developing these young talents, who is next in your pipeline?

I really like Browning, Galloway and Garbutt. Three very “Martinez” style defenders. Garbutt especially excites me. We all thought we’d lose him as he plays left back and Leighton Baines has that position locked up. To the surprise of the doom no hers he signed a new contract and we’ll be loaning him out to another Premier League club this season. A shrewd move for both club and player and hopefully when Baines leaves us we’ll have a ready made replacement.

As you know, Arsenal fans are still divided over Arsene Wenger, despite winning back-to-back FA Cups and putting together a team that looks ready to challenge for the title. We live in a time when fans seem to want instant success or change. Roberto Martinez is now in his third season, which seems to be about the time when managers get the axe. How do Everton fans feel about Martinez? Also, how do you grade last season and what do you expect for next season?

It really is all about expectations isn’t it? Last summer we were coming off the back of a pretty fantastic season. Most of us were bought in to Roberto Martinez’s personality and tactics. We’d brushed cheeks with the possibility of Champions League qualification. We boasted the US World Cup team’s “secretary of defense,” Tim Howard and somehow we’d managed to bag Romelu Lukaku. The season that followed was an appalling let down. A seeming plague of soft tissue injuries, loss of form, and of confidence led some of the noisier Evertonians to scream for Roberto’s head and to claim we were in freefall. Tim Howard’s hands didn’t do what he (presumably) wanted them to do, John Stones got injured at the worst possible time, Aiden McGeady’s feet went to his head, and Romelu Lukaku just seemed to sweat. A lot. Ross Barkley looked lost.

Consequently this summer lots of us are angry, predicting more woe in the league, and still demanding Roberto’s head.

I like Roberto Martinez though. He’s still young and last season’s disappointment will have taught him a lot. I think there are a lot of reasons for our poor season, and too much blame is given to Martinez. That’s just me though. There’s a decent sized squad of dedicated social media moaners who think the “real” Martinez showed himself last season. A weak man, who (like the polar opposite of Moyes) sacrificed results for a stubborn obsession with a style based on passing the ball to death. They are also pretty sniffy about his signings, how unfit the players were last season, and how we seem to have lost our “fight”. I’m not in this camp, but there’s an element of truth to Iain McIntosh’s analysis that Everton are a good team who “tit about at the back too much.”

Under Martinez we’ve had one good season and one bad one. This season will reveal which was the true Everton.

Dedicated social media moaners, complaining about a manager playing pretty football, and sticking to his philosophy? Where have I heard that one before?

Lukaku was your record transfer, I believe, and I honestly have high hopes for him. How do you grade last season for him and what are you
looking forward to this season?

When you look back at it, Rom didn’t have a bad season. He just didn’t live up to our skyscraping hopes for him. This season he’ll come from a proper pre season, we’ll hopefully play more to *his* strengths and not leave him so isolated. A rejuvenated Deulofeu and Barkley will help. As will our schemers Gibson and Cleverly.

Arteta returns and this feels like his farewell tour before he starts the transition into management. How do you feel about Arteta’s chances
of playing at the top level in the Premier League next season? Also, would you take him as a coach at Everton?

I really love Mikel Arteta. He’s a good player, who reinvented himself after his knee injury. Moving deeper using his technical skills and that great brain of his, more than dribbling at players and picking up fouls like he used to. I’d have him back. Lots wouldn’t because he kissed the Arsenal badge in front of our fans. (After being booed and taunted by Evertonians.) I’m not a 13 year old. I don’t care about badge kissing. We had enough of that with Mr Rooney.

Fabregas has to be Arsenal’s most famous badge-kissing contortionist. He’s kissed Arsenal, Farcelona, and I’m guessing he’ll be kissing the Chelsea badge next season. I wonder if he’ll kiss the Fenerbahce badge when he’s sold off to them in two years?

The game tomorrow. It’s a friendly but are there really any friendlies between Premier League clubs?

That’s a good question, it’ll definitely be relatively competitive but as long as there aren’t any tackles which injure players on either side I’ll be happy. At this stage of the season players will be desperate to show their progress to their managers. Friendly? No. Ultra competitive? No. Somewhere in the middle, just like this classic Roberto Martinez hedging his bets quote from this morning:

“We need to remember that the final is a pre-season game and the priority is getting the physical levels of the players and the fitness levels of the team as high as we can.

“But we are in a trophy and we want to win.”

Does Everton have a big following in Singapore? Is this match more of a home game for Arsenal or for Everton?

I’d say it’s more of a home game for Arsenal. We have dedicated, true blues all across the globe but a real kvetching opportunity always comes when you ask Evertonians about our global appeal. We’ve missed the boat, especially compared to a team like Arsenal.

Santi Cazorla

Arsenal’s pre-season preparations have looked like we are frolicking in the sun. I checked out the Everton site and I honestly didn’t see much in terms of that sort of media production/image production going on. Has it been a case of all work for Everton? Are you expecting your team to be fitter than Arsenal tomorrow?

Fitness is a painful issue for us. Last summer’s pre season was blamed for our slow start and anemic form. Without a pesky World Cup I think Lukaku and Howard will be in better shape. Hopefully we’re fitter than last season!

Sanchez is out, so which Arsenal player do you think Everton have to watch out for tomorrow?

Ozil, if he plays, and plays well. He’s had his critics but I think he can be dangerously underestimated. Ramsey is a player I’ve always loved too, and he scares me quite a lot.

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Who should Arsenal look out for and why?

Deulofeu and Lukaku. Neither has to okay particularly well to make a game changing contribution. Even if they seem peripheral and off the pace, all it takes is one chance.

Care to predict the score?

Everton to win on penalties. Courtesy of a John Stones panenka.

Thanks a million, Ed!

Match tomorrow is on at 5:20am on NBC Live Extra (in the States) the online service for people who pay through the nose for cable. Otherwise, you’ll have to grab a dodgy stream or