Category Archives: Transfers

Wenger-jacket

Wenger admits that he needs players this Summer but claims it will be hard

Ahead of this weekend’s football match versus Crystal Palace, Arsene Wenger was asked the only question that really matters: “how many players are you going to buy this summer?”

Wenger gave an answer which is more milquetoast than portrayed in some quarters but also understandably upsetting,

If you look at the top three teams, you will see they have not changed their team a lot. We have to strengthen our squad but it’s not obvious to find the players despite the money the English clubs will have. We are already working but we have to find the players and that is not easy.

You cannot dismiss that the players are young: Alex Iwobi is 19, Mohamed Elneny is 23, Francis Coquelin 24, and they will be stronger next year but you need to keep a core of players and strengthen where we can. The team is going the right way.

The first part of Wenger’s answer is very cheeky and one of my favorite things about Wenger is his wit and charm. Yes, the “top three” teams — Leicester, Tottenham, and Arsenal — are not historically known as big spending teams.

But Wenger seems to overlook the fact that Leicester and Tottenham refreshed in key positions and that both teams bought more players than Arsenal did.

Leicester were actually the big spenders of the three, splurging £35m on Kante, Huth, Okazaki and Fuchs (free) among others. But contrary to Wenger, Leicester’s Summer transfers were crucial to this season’s success. They had some flops (Inler and Amartey) but there is no question that Huth, Fuchs, and Kante have been instrumental signings with Kante tipped as player of the year.

Meanwhile, Tottenham made a net gain from transfers of about £10m. But again, they sold players who were flops last season (Soldado, Capoue, Townsend, Paulinho, etc) and brought in key new players like Son and Alderweireld.

Far from “not changing their teams a lot” Tottenham purchased five players this Summer and sold a whopping nine; Leicester bought five and sold two; but Arsenal bought three (I’m really stretching here, adding The Jeff and Bennacer) and sold just one (Podolski, meanwhile several others who have played one or two games for Arsenal were let go on a free, like Abou Diaby).

Given the league position and the glaring holes in several positions on the pitch Arsenal supporters are rightfully upset at this season’s lack of transfer activity. Wenger went into the Summer saying that he had a strong enough and deep enough squad and that despite fans, including Thierry Henry, begging the manager to buy a striker, he wouldn’t be doing any business. This is what he said in May 2015;

“We are not in need of absolute change,” Wenger said. “We have a strong squad. We have some strong young players behind.

“I believe that some players who were questioned, like Mesut Ozil, have made big improvements in the second part of the season and becomes slowly the leader you want him to be in guiding our game.

“We have a big squad now. Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Yaya Sanogo will come back from their loans. If you add that to the number of players we have, you can see we have a big squad now.

“We feel we have made up some ground, that will be the challenge of next season from the start, let’s show we are there and capable to fight for it.”

At the time, people said that Wenger wasn’t being serious and that we can’t take what he says seriously when it comes to transfer windows but he was being serious. He bought just one senior player in the Summer, which proves that he felt the team were strong enough.

What bothers me about Wenger’s quotes is the sense of defeatism that permeates. Transfers are “not obvious” and “not easy” despite the money available to the club. This is certainly true and is reflected by other manager’s statements about bringing players in. Slaven Bilic pointed this fact out when he said,

Sometimes it’s much easier for West Ham or Leicester to get Kanté, he was playing in Caen and not a big star there,” said Bilic. “It’s much easier to join Leicester or West Ham than to go straight to Manchester City or to Chelsea.

And last Summer, when Arsenal were saying that they didn’t think forward Anthony Martial was available, Louis van Gaal was reluctantly forking out extra money to get the player,

He called the $55 million fee paid for Anthony Martial, rising to a potential $89.5 million with bonuses, a “ridiculous amount of money” and said that United are routinely quoted “$15 million more” than other clubs.

But despite the fact that transfers are not obvious and not easy they can be done and are done. Teams manage transfers in important positions all the time. Wenger, in fact, addressed a long-standing need for a midfielder who can play the ball this January when he bought Elneny.

We have heard that transfers are hard now for the last 11 years of Wenger’s tenure as manager. I don’t think that there is a single, sane, person who thinks that transfers are easy. All managers and fans are aware that because of the money in the Premier League transfers are going to cost more and that there is going to be increased competition.

But Arsenal are one of the richest clubs in the world, they have plenty of money in the bank, the future money for the Premier League is looking rosy by an additional £40m a season, they are playing in one of the most globally visible leagues in the world, and plying their trade in the Champions League. They can offer more money, more visibility (and thus endorsements), and club football at a level that is rivaled by only a few teams in the world (Chelsea can’t even offer Champions League).

It’s not going to be easy, Arsenal will probably have to pay over the odds for the players, but if Arsenal want to win the League and want to build a team that can challenge for the Champions League, they need to get players in that will make this team stronger and deeper. And the good news is that Wenger admits that new bodies are needed.

The job is hard, the job is not obvious, the job requires that the manager balances new acquisitions with academy players, but that’s what Wenger is paid the largest managerial salary in the history of English football to do.

 

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slotted

Quote of the day: Welbeck to become like Auba and Henry

There is a lot going on in football today. For those interested in sport, you have the Champions League “classico nuevo” Barcelona v. Atletico Madrid this afternoon. For those interested in crime you have Antonio Conte’s appointment to Chelsea. If you prefer drama, Jack Wilshere was caught hiding behind garbage bins. If you are into transfer porn, the Guardian breaks down how it was that everyone missed out on Mahrez. If you’re into analytics, Adrian Clarke gives a great breakdown of the Arsenal win over the Watford Mooses. And if you’re more of a sci-fi fantasy nerd, Arsene Wenger has laid the groundwork for not buying any forwards this summer because he thinks Welbeck will become the next Thierry Henry.

No wait, but seriously, here’s his quote:

“Danny has all the qualities you need in the modern game. He has pace, he has stature. If he adds that finishing quality he has all you need.
“It is a bit unusual [to improve as a finisher at Welbeck’s age], but I have seen it before, especially from players who moved from the flanks to the middle.
“We have seen that with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang now at Dortmund, he was a very poor finisher on the flank. We have seen it with Thierry Henry. Hopefully we will see it with Welbeck as well.”

This is the kind of thing Wenger says that drives Arsenal supporters balls and it’s also the kind of statement that makes me scratch my head because I can’t find data to support what he’s saying. Here is the data that I have available:

Henry-Auba-WelbeckFirst line: I don’t have Henry’s shots data before 2002/03. That was the season Henry was 25 years old and already a central striker at Arsenal. Between 2002 and 2004, Henry was an average finisher, scoring just 13.5% of his shots. But it was his post-Invincibles season that he reached peak Henry and stayed there for one additional season, scoring 21.5% of his shots. After that, Henry hit the predictable break that happens to players as they get older.

Henry really is the prototypical striker. He starts out getting a lot of shots and converting a relatively sane number and then progresses to getting fewer shots but converting at a higher rate. You can see this in the progression of his shots in the second panel: he goes from scoring 23 goals on 164 shots in the 2003/04 Invincibles season to a super-efficient goal scoring machine in the next two seasons. He did score 30 goals in the Invincibles season, but 7 of them were from the penalty spot.

What you see with Henry is a player getting over 100 shots, scoring at a good rate, and keeping that up for 4 years. Finding a striker who will get 555 shots, score 92 goals and convert at a 17% rate over 4 years is tough to find.

Giroud, for example, got over 100 shots per game for three years, but scored at a 12% rate. Robin van Persie did it for just three years of his career, scoring 17% between ages 27-29 years old.

Aubameyang is an interesting player because he has hit the magical 100+ shots number for four of the last five years, but his finishing (remember this is minus penalties) is only around 15%. He did hit 19% so far this season and that could mean you will see one or two more good years out of him. Though that is questionable if he leaves Dortmund and has to take time to adapt to a new league.

I also added Lukaku because I think the Lukaku haters are hilarious. This is a kid who already has 399 shots in 4 seasons, where he has scored 56 goals. That’s a 14% conversion rate. My guess is that Lukaku will get 120 shots next season and score 19% of them, with the caveat that he has to play 30 games. That’s only 23 goals, but it’s 23 goals from open play. Not including penalties.

That said, Lukaku and Giroud are only in there for comparison. The real players I’m interested in are the ones who moved from wide to center. When Auba moved centrally his total shots per game went up as did his conversion (slightly), though like Henry it took a few years to really blossom. With Walcott, he too got more shots in a central role and his conversion rate went up but since then injury has killed his career. Van Persie’s shots numbers went up, but like Auba, it took a few years for him to really start converting. Then he demanded a trade.

As for Welbeck, the problem is the dearth of data available on Welbeck. There is no trend in his league games so I’ve taken all of his games, club, country, cup, friendlies, everything and mashed them together and I still can’t see a trend. Mostly that’s a problem with this season where he spent the whole year out with injury. In the League he has just 12 shots this season. Sure, he’s converted 25% of those shots but it’s still only 12 shots. But if he follows all the other players, it’s going to take a year or two in the central role (unless we are really lucky) to see him convert at the 17% rate that we would want to see.

Wenger is well known for his long-term planning and he’s pretty much spot on in his assessment that if it takes a year for Welbeck to get comfortable in the central role, he will peak at 27, the exact year that Henry peaked and one year after Auba. What will, of course, drive Arsenal fans nuts is the idea that Wenger is already planning to have Welbeck take a year to get comfortable in the center forward role instead of buying a ready-made center forward.

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Granit Xhaka

Wenger linked to Mkhitaryan, Xhaka, and Geurreiro in massive shakeup of Arsenal

“Here, Mertesacker should be SCREAMING at Chambers to look at Deeney and to stand on his toes. He should know where he is: one in front one in behind. They both need to be touch tight, sandwiching the striker. Instead, Deeney is allowed to nip in front, to win the flick on and from there Gabriel is in trouble. Maybe he was too tight to Ighalo. Maybe Gibbs could have been a little closer. But the real mistake here was to let Deeney head the ball on so easily.” – Adrian Clarke, commenting on Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Watford on The Breakdown via arsenal.com

The Guardian are reporting that Arsenal are scouting three new players in attacking midfielder Mkhitaryan, center mid Xhaka, and left back Guerreiro. If Arsenal land any one of the three Arsenal could look to take offers on players who are currently playing in their respective positions.

Mkhitaryan is the most exciting name on the list. Arguably the Bundesliga’s best player, Mkhitaryan has put together an outstanding season this year, scoring 20 goals and laying on an additional 25 assists in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund.

Mkhitaryan is also Borussia Dortmund’s top dribbler, top shot maker, and second in shots taken. But while he is an offensive machine, he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties and is 3rd on the team in tackles per game and gets an impressive 1.6 interceptions per game. Not bad from the Bundesliga’s leading playmaker.

Mkhitaryan is comfortable in any of the three positions behind the main striker though he is most often deployed wide on both the left and right. He is a mostly right-footed player having taken 65% of his shots with his right foot.

Mkhitaryan is also a set play specialist, he takes most of Borussia Dortmund’s corners and is 56% accurate on corners. Though he’s not anywhere near the level of Mesut Özil on crosses and corners, as Özil creates 1.8 key passes per game from crosses and Mkh averages 0.7; while Özil creates another 1.1 key passes per game from corners compared to Mkh who averages just 0.5.

Thus, I don’t see Mkh taking over the number 10 role at Arsenal but rather continuing his great form as a wide player, especially on the right. This poses a significant threat to Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Joel Campbell who have all played in that position with varying degrees of success this season.

Mkh could also be asked to play in a Cazorla role in center mid. His is an excellent dribbler and a much better passer than his recent “low” percentages of 76-81% suggest. In the Arsenal system, the Cazorla role acts as second creator and is often asked to break pressure from midfield through solo dribbling. Both of these are skills Mkh has in his toolkit.

Deeper in midfield, Granit Xhaka is also being linked to Arsenal. Xhaka is a bulldog of a midfielder. Weighing in at a whopping 180lbs, he has almost 20lbs with 2 inches height advantage over Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin. Comparing tackles and interceptions across leagues is dangerous but Xhaka does put in solid interceptions and tackle numbers of 2.8 and 2.5 per game respectively.

Xhaka can.. lose his rag sometimes and while he is a 75% tackler in the Bundesliga, he also has 3 red cards this season. He also has a love for the long pass and attempts 11 per contest, 7 more than Coquelin. But he’s only completing about 66% of those long passes — it’s hard to tell from the stats if he’s not good at long balls or if his teammates are not good at winning them. From what I’ve seen of his games (on TV only) I’d say it’s the teammates.

Xhaka would be huge competition for Coquelin’s place, though I can’t say he would win the starting spot outright.

And finally, Arsenal are linked with Lorient left-back Guerreiro. This tiny Portuguese player is listed as having played both the left back and left midfield positions by WhoScored.com. I have never seen him play or if I did I didn’t notice him. His stats suggest that he’s an attacking fullback (high dribble, shots, key passes, and turnover numbers) but how well he will work as a defender in the Arsenal system is a complete mystery. The Guardian are suggesting that he could replace Gibbs, which is the second time I’ve heard a major paper say that Arsenal are looking for offers on Gibbs leading me to believe that Gibbs is being shipped out.

Arsenal being linked to a number of players is never a shock. However, what gives these three more weight is that they address three known needs at Arsenal: a right-sided forward to score goals, an upgrade/competition for Coquelin, and a backup/eventual replacement for Monreal. It’s likely that all three players are simply being linked by their agents in order to get better deals, though in the case of Mkhitaryan Arsenal can offer him Reus-like wages, along with International sponsorship deals which should utterly destroy whatever wages Borussia Dortmund can offer. The same goes for all three players, Premier League teams simply offer substantial wage increases over European teams.

Whether that is attractive enough for any of these players to leave remains to be seen. In the most likely scenario, Mkh and Xhaka will stay in Germany and Arsenal will get the unknown Portuguese left back.

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