Category Archives: Arsenal

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The Transfer Market; you can’t always get what you need

In yesterday’s post, I went back and looked at the strikers that Arsenal fans wanted Arsene Wenger to buy in the summer of 2014. I didn’t look at every striker, just the ones that most fans were most vociferous about. To recap, those players were Firmino-Remy-Vela-Mandzukic-Hulk-Balotelli-Falcao-Drmic-Lacazette-Morata-Griezmann and Alexis Sanchez. Notable for their absence were Higuain and Cavani, but we will get to them in a minute. The point here today is that there was a secret message in yesterday’s post and I don’t think many of you caught it.

If you count, the odds are 50-50 that the player you wanted Arsenal to buy turned out to be a busted flush. Firmino, Vela, Mandzukic, Balotelli, Falcao, and Drmic were all busts and it’s not like I’m picking all unknown players, four of those are big names. Of the others left on the list, Remy, Hulk, and Morata aren’t success stories, more like unknowns. That leaves Lacazette, Griezmann, and Sanchez who had an unqualified successful season.

This is the problem with transfers and the transfer-itis that so many people get during the summer. Transfers are a huge gamble.

Look at Liverpool’s transfers last season: Lallana, Lovren, Lazar, Balotelli, Moreno, Origi, Can, and Lambert. The only player on that list who can be remotely called a success is Emre Can. The season before, they had just as bad a luck: Sakho, Mignolet, Aspas, Ilori, Alberto. Sakho? Maybe? So, between two seasons, 2 out of 13?

Even Arsenal and Arsene Wenger who is widely considered a master in the transfer market, his last two seasons he’s bought: Özil, Sanchez, Debuchy, Welbeck, Gabriel, Chambers, and Ospina. Now, if I apply the “Whoscored.com” metrics to these transfers Özil, Sanchez, Debuchy, Gabriel, and Ospina have all been top signings in that they all rate well over 7 on the whoscored.com metric. But I think it would be unfair to lump Debuchy and Gabriel in there when both played so few games. So, let’s be ultra conservative and just say Özil, Sanchez, and Ospina or 3/7.

That doesn’t mean those other players won’t come good. I think Welbeck, Debuchy, Gabriel, and Chambers are all good players. If they can stay healthy, we will see what they can do next season.

But there’s a hint in there as well. That players and teams, and crucially us fans, need to be in this for the long haul. And by that I don’t mean the Shane Long haul. I mean that Wenger’s strategy is long term.

You watch as Liverpool buy up players, get frustrated with them, and ship them out on loan. Meanwhile, Wenger buys players and invests time in them. This doesn’t always work (Podolski) but by investing time in these players he gives them the best chance possible to succeed. And what’s incredible is that Liverpool have ample examples of players that they invested time in who came good: Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.

The new thing this summer is that Arsenal fans want “an upgrade on Giroud.” In theory, yes, you always want an upgrade on a player if you can find one. The trouble is finding one and finding a player who is enough of an upgrade that it makes sense to splash the cash to buy him.

Most fans wanted Arsenal to buy Cavani and Higuain, for example, stating categorically that both would be an upgrade on Giroud. In the two years that both of those players have been plying their trades at PSG and Napoli neither have proven to be an upgrade on Giroud.

cavaniCavani, in particular, is a Falcao. By that I mean he doesn’t add much to the team. He’ll score some goals, though he also frustrates with his glaring misses, but that’s all he does, really. Higuain is very consistent and contributes to many aspects of the attack. He’s not terrible at any one thing (except penalties) nor is he terribly good at any one thing. And Giroud? He’s insanely good in the air. He holds up play and gives Arsenal a different dimension to play through. He also contributes goals and assists and on a per90 basis contributes more to the team than either Cavani or Higuain.

I know that Giroud frustrates because he can’t make a simple pass and he can’t seem to finish simple chances. You give him a straight line pass or a one-v-one with the keeper and he will miss but if you let him one-touch, flick the ball between three defenders or serve him up an impossible shot on the near post from a tight angle, he’ll inevitably put the ball in exactly the right place. But neither Cavani nor Higuain is an upgrade on Giroud.

That’s the problem with the transfer market and that’s why Wenger is so cautious. That’s also why Wenger would much rather work with what he’s got than simply “buy buy buy.” I’m sure Wenger would be the first to tell you: we haven’t seen the best from Welbeck and Walcott yet.

Qq

 

 

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Firmino, Remy, Vela, Mandzukic, Hulk, Balotelli, Falcao, Drmic, Lacazette, Morata, Griezmann, and Sanchez: a follow-up on the strikers fans wanted Arsenal to buy last year

Last season there were a number of strikers that fans wanted Arsenal to buy. I promised to follow up on those strikers over the season and report back to you on how each of their seasons went to see if Arsenal “missed out” on the player or “dodged a bullet.” Here are those players and their season in stats.

Remy

Few players over the years have tickled the collective fancy of Arsenal fans like Loic Remy. It’s probably because he’s French and kinda, vaguely, not at all, looks like Thierry Henry. But beyond not looking at all like Thierry Henry, that’s where the comparisons end.

Whereas Henry was almost never injured for Arsenal and score 24+ League goals per season for five consecutive years, Remy has never scored more than 15 goals in a league season and hasn’t played more than 30 games in league play since 2011.

There is a long story as to why Remy went to Chelsea rather than Liverpool or some other team but suffice it to say, Chelsea plumped £10.5m for him, paid him £5m a year, and took him on as their third or fourth striker.

While Arsenal fans wanted to bring him in as a second striker or even as competition for the starting role, Chelsea just put him on the heap with the other strikers they had stockpiled: Costa, Schurrle, Remy, Drogba, Salah, etc. This is something that only a club like Chelsea, with some 25 players on loan, can afford to do.

And it paid off. Remy played when needed, scored 7 goals in just 668 minutes and scored back to back game winners against Hull and Stoke to help Chelsea win the League. He didn’t contribute much else, he had just 17 total attempted dribbles and five total key passes, but those two goals down the stretch were crucial to Chelsea’s title run.

In a sense, Remy represents a new economic reality of the Premier League. Clubs like Chelsea and Man City can and will stockpile 12 goal a season strikers, pay them £5m a year, and use them when needed.

Carlos Vela

Two years ago Vela had a career best 16 goals and 12 assists season so when Arsenal fans found out that Arsenal had a £3.5m buy-back clause in his contract they, naturally, wanted the club to exercise that option. Arsenal, instead, settled with Real Sociedad for £9m plus incentives.

Vela suffered a short season after a knee injury kept him out for two months. So, he ended the season with just 9 goals and 3 assists, which is a huge drop from the season before. Many of his other numbers are down as well, dribbles dropped from 2 per game to 1.4 and his key passes numbers went from 2.1 to 0.7.

However, in addition to the knee injury Vela was hobbled by the fact that Sociedad sold his strike partner Antoine Griezmann and the fact that he had to play for former Everton manager David Moyes. Sociedad went from a team that scored 66 goals one season to a team that scored 44 goals the next. This is what we like to call “The Moyes Effect.”

There was nothing wrong with Vela. Vela probably would have helped Arsenal. But Vela did not want to return to Arsenal. He made that abundantly clear via agents and other mouthpieces. He was happy in Spain because RS were on the verge of getting into Europe and he was playing with one of the brightest talents in the world. I suspect he will soon regret that decision as he gets a second bite of Moyes’ sour apple.

Mandzukic

Here’s a player who sharply divides opinion. Some fans consider Mandzukic an upgrade on Giroud but the stats don’t bear that out, at least not this season when he made the jump down from Bayern Munich to Atletico Madrid. In fact, this season, he’s been almost exactly the same as Giroud:

Giroud Mandukic
Minutes 1867 1945
Goals-pens 14 9
Assists 3 5
Goals+assists/90 0.82 0.65
SoG % 41% 45%
Conversion Rate 20% 16%
Aerials won % 50% 58%
Dribbles/90 0.34 0.37
Possession lost/90 4.92 2.50
Goals+AST/Team’s Total Goals 24% 25%

Neither player is a “dribbler”; they aren’t taking on opposition defenses. Both players contribute just about the same amount of goals and assists in their respective systems. Giroud turns the ball over more but that could be down to other factors such as playing style (at Wolfsburg Mandzukic turned the ball over 4.85 times per 90, at Bayern, the next season, he lost possession 2.24 times per90). In my professional opinion, these two are the mirror image of one another.

Mandzukic just signed for Juventus which is odd because that means he has signed for the Champions League finals losers three times in the last four years (Bayern, Atletico, Juve).

Hulk

Hulk’s numbers all dropped from last season to this. 17 league goals last season, 15 goals this season, 4 Champions League goals last season, 1 this. He won the same number of penalties in each of his last two His key passes were up, his assists up, and his dribbles were down.

Still, he is the best forward in Russia and he scored or assisted in 38% of Zenit’s 58 goals as they won the league title.

Hulk’s shots per goal last season was worse than Giroud. He scored 12 regular goals (non-penalties) on 109 shots. That’s 9 shots per goal. He also relies HEAVILY on goals from distance. He scored 6 goals from outside of the box last season on 66 shots. That’s an incredible conversion rate for distance shots and he does have two hammers for feet. His distance goals highlight reel is a mixture of insanely impressive skill and insane defending.

But Hulk is the best player in a league that is the vuvuzela of football leagues. It’s shockingly poor in terms of overall football quality, quickness, and strength.

Balotelli

Mario Balotelli is like that fake can of peanut brittle that has spring loaded snakes in it. Everyone in the world knows what’s in the can. No one has ever gotten peanut brittle in a can. So, who opens that can? Liverpool. Liverpool passed on Remy for £8m to take Balotelli for £16m and Balotelli went on to have the worst season of his career scoring just 3 goals on 70 shots in over 1275 minutes of play. Next time you see a can of peanut brittle, don’t open it, there’s a Balotelli inside! 

Falcao

Manchester United sold Arsenal Danny Welbeck to fund the loan of Falcao. THE LOAN of Falcao. I warned strongly against Falcao. He was a 1-trick pony at Atletico and I saw nothing in his stats to suggest that he would be a success at United. He’d also had a nightmare injury record and so when I boldly proclaimed that Welbeck would have the better season, it was an easy call actually. Falcao is now looking to go to Chelsea, because that’s what Chelsea do: they pay ridiculous sums to get strikers like Falcao and Remy in the door on the off chance that they will need them down the stretch. My guess is that he will continue his one-trick pony thing but that, just like Remy, it will work out ok for him and Chelsea.

Drmic

I was very high on the Swiss attacker last summer after he scored 17 goals for Nuernberg but his transfer to Bayer Leverkusen was a shocking bust. He couldn’t get into the regular first team lineup at Bayer and finished the season with 6 goals in 794 total minutes. On the 17th he signed a deal to transfer to Gladbach where he will hope to get his career bach on trach. He’s only 22 years old so he could still recover but “Dr. Mic” has a lot of work ahead of him.

Firmino

Liverpool have just stumped up £29m to Roberto Firmino and this can only mean two things: 1) Sterling is gone and 2) Firmino will be a flop.

Firmino was one of my favorites last season in that I targeted him as most likely to generate buzz. 16 goals and 11 assists, with over 4 dribbles per 90 and over 2 key passes per 90 made him one of the most attractive “forwards” in the top five leagues.

But Hoffenheim lost a bit of edge this season dropping from 72 goals scored last year to just 49 goals this year and as Hoffenheim’s numbers went so too did Firmino; Roberto dropped from 16 goals scored last season to just 7 this season.

All of his other numbers were remarkably consistent: shots were basically the same, dribbles the same, key passes the same, assists the same, and the percent of his team’s goals that he scored or created was the same. What dropped off was his conversion rate from open play. He went from a 17% conversion rate to just 4%.  Here’s his chart:

Firmino

Firmino didn’t fail to convert because he was stupidly shooting from distance. He was actually getting better shots this year than last. He had 11 shots inside the 6 yard box (Arsenal had 34 total shots inside the 6 yard box last season and scored 14) and scored 3 goals from those shots. That’s a pretty poor conversion rate for a top striker. But worse, he converted just 3 of 44 shots inside the penalty box. He was getting himself into great positions, but was just failing to convert.

What Liverpool have gotten here is a good player on a bit of a downward slump. That means that they hope to turn him around. But if they wanted to turn around some players on the downward spiral, they could have just saved the £30m and worked on the entire football team that they currently have.

Lacazette

I don’t remember who told me to look at Lacazette but wherever they get their data (probably Fantasy Manager) they were spot on. After scoring 15 goals goals two seasons ago he exploded onto the scene last season with 27 goals. 8 of those goals are pens and 4 were set plays but he still upped his “normal” goal scoring from 15 the season prior to 19 this season. If Liverpool had been smart, they would have taken Lacazette instead of Firmino.

Not only did he score 27 this season, he also provided 6 assists, another increase from the season prior. In fact his total offensive output was 33 of Lyon’s 72 goals. That’s 46% of their offense!

Across the board, all his other numbers went up. He’s a better dribbler, he creates more for his teammates, he shoots more, and he converts more.

In fact, his conversion rate is RIDICULOUS. He only took 96 total shots and scored 27 goals! He was 8/9 on penalties, 4/4 on counters, 11/58 from open play and just 4/25 on set plays. No wonder teams like Chelsea are hot to sign him and no wonder Lyon is basically refusing (for the moment). We’ll have to see if he can keep his conversion rate up. I’m also interested in seeing how he fits in to a big club. Is he a Suarez? Someone you build a club around?

Morata

Alvaro Morata made the transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus and has progressed nicely in Turin. He went from scoring 9 goals in all competitions for the Madridistas to 13 goals and 5 assists for Juve. But what’s incredible about Morata is that he scored twice against his former club and once against Barcelona, scoring Juve’s only goal at the Champions League final in Munich.

Griezmann

A remarkable season for Griezmann at Atletico has the young Frenchman firmly on everyone’s radar this season. As I wrote in an earlier piece on Griezmann and Lacazette, his conversion numbers are scary good — as in “will he continue to convert at this rate?”

Griezmann and Firmino are actually foils for one another. While Firmino was fluffing chances inside the 6 yard box, Griezmann scored more goals inside the 6 yard box than any player in the top five European leagues.

Griezmann also doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of other offense. He’s not a terribly good dribbler (he’s only completed on average 26 dribbles per season over the last three years) and he averages way less  than a key pass per game over the last three years as well. He’s a pure goal scorer, like Falcao.

Reportedly has a £43m release clause and Chelsea are after him.

Alexis Sanchez

You know that I’m an Arsenal supporter right? Well, if you didn’t know then you do now. Alexis Sanchez is the signing of the decade!

To the casual observer, his stats actually went down. At Barcelona he scored 19 goals and provided 10 assists and at Arsenal this season he scored just 16 goals and had 8 assists (league play only). But you have to remember that Barcelona scored 100 league goals that season, so Alexis’ total contribution to the team was 29%. Arsenal only scored 71 goals this season. So, Alexis’ 24 goals scored or assisted is actually 34% of the team’s total haul. A slight uptick.

He also added another 9 goals in all competitions including the only goal in the Champions League qualifier with Besiktas and a goal and assist in the FA Cup final. That takes his totals to 25 goals and 12 assists.  If Wenger lets him take penalties next season, he will almost certainly break the mythical 20 league goals mark.

But what’s truly amazing about Sanchez is that he revolutionized this Arsenal team. For example, he scored 3 goals (league play only) from outside the 18 yard box — Arsenal scored 5 total in the season before he came. Sanchez, a forward, also attempted more tackles than any other player on the team. That’s right, more than Cazorla (2nd), Ramsey (3rd) and Coquelin (4th). He had more Key Passes than anyone else on the team as well. Wenger changed Arsenal — pressing high up the pitch when they are out of possession, allowing his team to shoot from distance, and channeling much of the offense through Sanchez — to fit Alexis Sanchez’s style.

However, next season I think it’s time for Arsenal to give him back something, namely a lesson in possession. He was Arsenal’s most active dribbler, winning 115 dribbles out of 196 attempts. But that desire to do everything on his own and take on the opposition one on one also led to him turning the ball over 190 times (turnovers + dispossessed). That frustrates the fans and is something I’ve heard many complain about.

His passing could improve as well. At just 77%, the only outfield player who passed the ball worse than Sanchez was Giroud and Giroud’s passing is abyssal at 68%. But I’m not sure he’ll get much better in that department. He was just an 80% passer at Barcelona and that team passed the ball at 110%. For real, 110%. It was the only team who earned extra passing percentages for being so beautiful with the ball.¹

I think key to getting Sanchez’s numbers up where they should be is to take some of the burden off him to do everything. If Arsenal can keep Ozil healthy for a season that will take some of the creative responsibility away and allow him to run in behind defenses where he is much more deadly. Also, if Arsenal can get a striker who can score his big chances, Sanchez’s through passes and quick counter attack breaks will lead to more assists.

Conclusion

Holy cow. That’s a lot of words. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I’ll be doing a post on some of the other players Arsenal fans were interested in last season to see how they improved or digressed later this week. Then this weekend I’ll do a round-up of the season’s stats on Arseblog News.

Qq

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Cech, Benzema, Höwedes, Rabiot: Interesting Times

“May you live in interesting times.” – an apocryphal Chinese curse.

The Cech to Arsenal story rumbles on today with reports widely circulating that Arsenal are going to pay Cech £100k a week and make him Arsenal’s all-time highest paid ‘keeper. Meanwhile, in Spain, Real Madrid are supposedly making room for Aguero and are going to let Benzema go “putting Arsenal on alert.” In Germany, Benedict Höwedes has publicly stated that he rejected Arsenal. Arsenal’s French front is throwing up links to Rabiot as the Gunners were “blown out of the water” by Inter over Kondogbia. And back at home in England, the Telegraph is reporting that Jack Wilshere might be sniffing out a move to Man City and Arsenal are going to counter that by “doubling his wages” to over £100k a week. The common thread? Arsenal are awash in money and are being linked to big names, and given the outlay over the last few years, fans seem to have an expectation that one or more of these names will come to Arsenal.

The Cech to Arsenal story has gotten so strange that its gone from Twilight Zone to Night Gallery. The Telegraph is reporting that not only will Chelsea let Cech come to Arsenal but that Abramovich has to pay Cech £4m for the transfer:

Petr Cech is being given a £4 million kiss-off from Chelsea as a “thank you” from owner Roman Abramovich, writes The Sunday People. Goalkeeper Cech is in line for the payment from the billionaire Russian when his move to Arsenal is completed later this week.

What? How? Who?? This just doesn’t even make any sense. I still can’t believe that Chelsea is going to sell Cech to Arsenal at any price. But it stretches credulity that Chelsea would then pay Cech on top of everything else.

Jeremy Wilson, reporting for the Telegraph, says that Arsenal are going to make Petr Cech the highest paid ‘keeper in the club’s history by handing him £100k+ per week contract. If that’s true, it has to mean that Cech is targeted to be Arsenal’s #1. Including the transfer fee, which is rumored to be around £10m, plus the £5-6m per year in salary, Petr Cech is going to cost Arsenal £25-28m total outlay. And I’m not even including the salary we will pay to Cech’s personal ‘keeper coach Christoph Lollichon. You simply don’t invest that much money in a player and not make him your first choice.

And it looks like Wenger agrees with the folks who want Arsenal to buy another center back. Benedict Höwedes has said that Arsenal tried to lure him to England but he rejected us to stay in Shalke. Now, I know, people will say one of three things “yeah well he sucks”, “we don’t know that Arsenal really made contact”, and “why do we keep getting rebuffed by these players in Germany?” 1) Höwedes doesn’t suck. 2) Yes, Arsenal approached the player. 3) The Bundesliga is a fantastic league with amazing fans and is Höwedes’ home and he wants to finish the project at Shalke.

What’s interesting is that going after Cech and Höwedes is as clear a sign that Wenger is looking to strengthen and freshen the core of his defense as we fans can get. Mertesacker and Koscielny are fantastic footballers but they are 29 and 30 years old respectively. So, in buying Gabriel (24) and in looking at Höwedes (27), Wenger is clearly planning for the future. If Wenger buys a center back, Chambers would be arguably 3rd choice center back and 3rd choice right back. So, if Wenger does buy a center half I would expect Chambers to go on loan, unless Wenger is really serious about playing him in the DM role.

The Benzema to Arsenal link is funny but I think we Gunners can dream! Maybe that will be one of those Özil moves, and Wenger will nab him at the last minute. What’s interesting about the Benzema rumor is that, when combined with the rumors that Arsenal are going to pay big salaries to Cech, and the latest rumor that Arsenal are going to double Wilshere’s wages to make him happy to stay at Arsenal, plus the huge salaries of the other top players, Arsenal have firmly announced their arrival at the top of the financial table. We are no longer a club that “can’t afford Benzema’s wages” as us fans used to say.

I still want council caution. Arsenal aren’t Real Madrid or anything like that, we aren’t buying a £100m player any time soon, but we Arsenal fans can no longer use the financial constraints of the past as a club to beat each other over dream transfers. Go ahead folks, dream big. Just not too big!

Arsenal could realistically take players like Rabiot. Arsenal can realistically pay Wilshere top salary. Arsenal can realistically buy a guy like Cech and meet his demands for having his own personal coach. It’s really starting to look like the promised land of financial independence is nigh!

Interesting times to be a Gooner.

Qq