Category Archives: Arsenal

Diego Maradona or Kenny Powers?

One is a sportsman known for his drug abuse, his mullet, and his big mouth, and the other is Kenny Powers. Instead of debating “Maradona v. Messi”, which is a ridiculous debate because modern drug testing would leave Maradona with a career looking more like Mutu than Messi, we here at 7amkickoff present quotes from each and leave you to decide which is which.

So which is it, Maradona or Kenny Powers?

Maradona or Powers?Maradona or Powers?

Maradona or Powers?

Maradona or Powers?

Maradona or Powers?Maradona or Powers?

Powers or Maradona?Powers or Maradona?

Powers or Maradona?

 

 

 

Ozil

Technology, emotions, teamwork, and Özil’s ruthfulness: observations on the World Cup

1. The vanishing spray works

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a Premier League match and complained about the referee’s inability to keep the wall back the required 10 yards. It’s a chronic problem and almost endemic to the English game at this point. Every match you will see players jostle, cajole, and creep forward once they do settle. Sometimes it’s so bad and the referee is so weak that he will march off 10 steps and then just allow the wall to set up 2 yards in front of him. By the time the kick is taken, the wall is sometimes 6-7 yards back.

But with the vanishing spray, the referee draws a line in the grass and the players can’t really encroach beyond that line. It’s brilliant and has worked in almost every case.

Spray

The one time it didn’t work well was when Holland were defending free kicks. They would constantly send a man to charge the ball down before the kick. Major League Soccer has been using the Vanishing spray for two years and it has worked wonders.

An odd side-story about the spray. The spray was invented by Heine Allemange, a poor Brazilian who gave up his family life in order to make this dream come true. He owns the patent for the mixture of butane and vegetable oil that makes the spray disappear. He joined forces with an Argentinian entrepreneur named Pablo Silva and formed a company called 9.15 Fair Play.

If you know anything about Latin American football politics then you know that Brazil and Argentina hate each other. The fact that the two countries joined forces to make Vanishing Spray has to be the feel good story of the World Cup.

Here’s hoping that the old farts who run the FA find a moment of clarity in their dark lives and approve the use of vanishing spray in the Premier League.

2. Technology has a place in football

Did you know that the average amount of time it takes to settle the wall and take a free kick is 48 seconds? And did you know that Vanishing Spray has decreased the amount of time between placement and free kick to just 20 seconds?

I say that mostly for the people who believe that technology will “slow the game down.” It won’t. Technology will speed the game up.

Another example is the goal line technology. There is no longer a need for referees to have a confab on the sideline whenever there’s a question about whether a goal should be awarded or not. With the new goal line technology, the referee is simply signaled on a watch-like device if there is a goal.

This is a major reversal from FIFA who, prior to world cup 2010, announced

The International Football Association Board is of the opinion that football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings with errors on the field of play. We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely.

I’m sure Bleater will say that the technology improved to the point where it made sense to implement it here in this World Cup. Maybe that is the case. I don’t really care. I really care that FIFA approved a technology that simply works and their old argument that “football should be the same no matter what level it’s played” has gasped its last fetid breath and expired.

3. Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world

Sorry, Timmy! Sorry other guys. But Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper the world has ever seen. The amount of space he had to patrol in the German defense was mind boggling. He was exactly the kind of keeper that Arsene Wenger wanted Szczesny to be a few years back when we were playing our high-line offense. Szczesny did his best but never approached Neuer-like abilities. I’m pretty sure Neuer is a Teutonic god.

4. Germany understands football in a way that no other country seems to get

The German team landed in Brazil and immediately went to a purpose-built compound. The purpose of the compound was to build teamwork and judging by the way that the team earned their World Cup trophy, it worked a charm.

It wasn’t all sunshine and puppies, there were a few bumps on the road. I wrote about how Özil had been frozen out of a few games early in the tournament but Joachim Löw persisted with Özil in the lineup, to the detriment of Götze.

Watching the whole tournament it looked like Götze hated Özil. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but there was clearly a problem playing the two of them together. And Löw dropped Götze instead of Özil. However, the young Bayern man got the last laugh and after a late substitution scored the game winning goal and probably goal of the tournament. It was a lovely goal as well.

But that whole team played as a team. Every player was played out of their natural position at some point in that tournament. Özil was shunted off to the left wing and still led Germany in Key Passes. Schweinstiger started his career as a number 7 and wore the 7 for Germany but he played defensive mid when Khedira, normally a defensive mid, came on to play box-to-box. Müller isn’t a center forward but he was simply amazing up front. Lahm played in three different roles as far as I could tell. Mertesacker was dropped when the team wanted to play a high line against speedy opposition, and then reintroduced at the end of the final in order to head balls away (which he did!).

It seemed to me like every single player sacrificed something for the betterment of the team. You have to credit Löw for that. He played this tournament and this collection of egos and talent about as perfectly as could be played.

5. Brazil need to rebuild

Brazil was a disaster. They were shockingly bad. If the Germans were organized and sacrificing everything for the team, the Brazilians were disorganized and selfish. They were the perfect foil for each other.

David Luiz was absolutely insane for the entire tournament. He would go wildly forward to charge down a man in midfield, bound forward to join the attack, and abandon his duties as a center back at almost every opportunity. He was also dirty, filthy dirty, running around kicking people and elbow smashing people at every opportunity.

The perfect illustration of this was his first 10 minutes against Netherlands in the 3rd place game. He kicked three people and intentionally elbowed Robben in the chest at one point. And while Silva gets the blame for fouling Robben which gave away the penalty (which shouldn’t have been a penalty but also shouldn’t have been just a yellow card) it was actually David Luiz who made that play happen. See, he came running out to challenge (read “foul”) Robben in midfield for an aerial ball. Consumed with playing the man and not the ball, Luiz lost the header and Robben smartly turned and joined the attack. Luiz then turned and jogged back as Silva was forced to foul Robben to prevent the goal.

Brazil reminded me of Arsenal about two years ago where we were disorganized and often wild in defense. Arsenal would routinely send both fullbacks forward and when we weren’t doing that then Vermaelen would come charging out of defense and try something crazy. When that happens, you get huge defeats. I’m not suggesting that Arsenal are perfect or that we’ve somehow overcome that problem, we still get beaten on occasion when we lose concentration and discipline at the back.

I wonder if there is an emotional component to this. For Brazil there is no doubt that their emotions got the best of them. Against Germany they were nearly in tears when they sang the national anthem, holding up Neymar’s shirt.

NeymarFootball demands discipline and punishes rashness. Defenders should stand their man up and stay calm, rather than diving in to try to win the ball back. Forwards need to have composure on the ball in order to score. So on. If you make a rash decision in this day and age, these players, who are blindingly quick and technically almost perfect, will eat you alive.

That lack of discipline and tendency toward rashness seems to me to be the reason why we are getting such big scorelines all over the world in world football.

6. Özil needs to learn how to be more ruthless

I love Mesut Özil and I am not intending this as someone who is joining the Özil bashing party happening over in England right now. I do not believe Özil is “nicking a living” nor that he’s overrated. I want to be very clear: as he stands, Mesut Özil is a fantastic footballer and worth every penny he’s paid. He has a silky touch and a vision of the game that almost no one in world football has at the moment. Even the dour Mourniho, known hater of beauty, had nothing but praise for Özil:

Ozil is unique, there is no copy of him – not even a bad one. He is the best number 10 in the world. He makes things very easy for me and for his team-mates with his football vision and the decisions he makes. Everyone loves him and sees a bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him.

That said, I think we can make observations about players that doesn’t tear them down but instead builds them up. No player is perfect, not even Messi. The mark of a great player is that they work on their weaknesses and the one thing I’d like to see Özil work on is his ruthlessness. He’s too ruthful. Put through one-v-one with the keeper he lacks that sort of killer instinct that Zidane had. He lacks that thing inside Figo that made him take over games and try audacious stunts.

Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: perhaps that’s our fault. By which I mean our expectations might be for Özil to be something that he just isn’t and never will be. Perhaps we want him to be more like Bergkamp and maybe we just need to accept him as the silky smooth operator in midfield rather than the hardened killer that we wish he was. Perhaps Özil will always be the guy who can and will win you games by simply laying on the right pass but who will never take over a game with an audacious strike from distance. 

But maybe, just maybe, Wenger can and will encourage him to come out of his shell a bit. To not be afraid to try something crazy and to be ruthless in front of goal. If Özil elevates his game that way, well, then £40m would have been a bargain.

Qq

Khedira

Wenger after Khedira but where would he fit at Arsenal?

“Please do a stat comparison of Khedira and Schneiderlin!” – everyone on Twitter

If absence makes the heart grow fonder then ignorance makes the heart grow clamorous and there has never been racket so clamorous as the rumored transfer of Sami Khedira to Arsenal. It is a noise like a a chest full of kids toys thrown down the stairs. Squeaking, chirping, clanging, and ultimately some crying.

In terms of stats when I’m looking at defensive midfielders for Arsenal I’m looking for high numbers of tackles, interceptions, and long passes per game. I also want to see a low turnover rate and low dispossessed numbers along with high pass completion rate and a large number of passes per game. A high completion rate of long passes is a bonus, a high number of blocks per game is a bonus, and a high number of key passes is a bonus.

Shots per game are not something I look for in a DM. If I see a player with high numbers of tackles, interceptions, passes, and shots I’m looking at someone who is more likely a box-to-box midfielder. For example, Aaron Ramsey. 2nd at Arsenal in tackles per game, 1 interception per game, 3rd among outfield players for long balls per game, second in passes per game. Looks like a DM until you see that he is second in all those stats to Mikel Arteta and he averages almost +1 key pass per game over Arteta, almost +2 shots per game over Arteta, and almost +1 dribble per game more than Arteta. If Arteta is the prototypical Arsene Wenger DM, Ramsey is the prototypical Arsene Wenger box-to-box midfielder.

But is there an actual “prototypical” Arsene Wenger anything? Two years ago Arteta and Song played next to each other in midfield. They both had about the same number of tackles per game, interceptions, and passes. Song had more turnovers and dispossessed numbers, more assists (11!) and far fewer shots and fewer key passes. They both had about the same number of attempted long passes but Song was no where near as good at it as Arteta (88% v. 68%) and nor were his overall passing percents as good as Arteta. I joke but it did look a lot like Arsenal were playing with a holding attacking mid next to a defensive box-to-box player. I’ll let you sort out which was which.

All of which is to say that Wenger doesn’t have “prototypical” anything. I think he even may intentionally eschew such things. So, where does Khedira fit in all of this and what are Khedira’s stats?

Well, Khedira’s stats suck but they aren’t really his fault. First, he’s been injured and I don’t need to tell you that a player has to stay healthy to compete for places on a team like Real Madrid. Second, when he does play he plays next to one of the best midfielders of his generation in Xabi Alonso. What’s Khedira’s role in that team? He does a little of this, does a little of that. but takes a back seat to Xabi.

The result is that his stats look like crap. Let’s take the main three DM stats from last season, tackles, Interceptions, and long passes:

Khedira comp

Khedira’s not the main tackler, nor the main man to intercept the ball and is certainly not the deep distributor. Because Xabi, like Elvis, is everywhere on the pitch already doing all those things. But weirdly, even when he was at Stuttgart he never shone too brightly. His numbers there were pretty terrible to be honest and yet Real Madrid paid €14m to get him from Stuttgart and then paid him €100k a week in salary! So, we can’t look at his stats from his club football and draw any conclusions.

In the end, Khedira is an absolutely fascinating player. He’s not been given a free role at Real Madrid to showcase what he can do and yet despite his back seat role at Real Madrid, and injury nightmare, and despite his kind of mediocre performances for Stuttgart he’s been selected to play for Germany 51 times. (record scratch).

Yep, Khedira is a mainstay in the German national team. Has been since he was a kid. He’s captained the German U21 side and been selected in every senior team match he was available for since 2010. This is a German team with an embarrassment of players available in midfield to play the defensive midfield role and Jurgie Löw chooses Khedira over all of them.

We’ve also seen that he’s not “just a defensive midfielder” for Germany. He can go forward, he dribble, and he can set his teammates up for goals. As you might expect from a player who has had to play multiple roles over his career to get time at Real Madrid he is versatile and classy.

 

So, for once I have to put down the stats and ask “what kind of midfielder is Sami Khedira?” He’s a German international midfielder. A German international midfielder who is about to help his country win the World Cup.

And where would he fit at Arsenal? My guess is “in the midfield, somewhere, doing all kinds of cool things to help Arsenal win”.

Qq