Category Archives: Transfers

elneny

The stats that prove Elneny is going to be a great signing for Arsenal

92.4 – That’s the percent of passes that Mohamed Elneny completed in the Europa League last year. And that was the only number I read in an article with a headline similar to mine. His passing rate was compared favorably to Flamini and Coquelin but the problem is that it’s a number that proves absolutely nothing.

The facts are that anyone taking Elneny’s Europa League stats and saying that they prove anything is simply selling you clicks. Maybe you like to click for people. I’m not going to judge.

I actually suspect that these people are anti-stats. These writers have to know that comparing two players from two different teams playing in two different competitions, with one of the players having a sample of 5, without any context of how their respective teams play doesn’t tell us much about the two players.

That last bit about “how teams play” is very important when looking at player stats. For example, Man U and Arsenal are #1 and #2 in terms of possession, and as you know possession is essentially just passing. So, since both teams are passing the ball more you’d think that they don’t intercept the ball as much, but Arsenal are 4th in the League (they usually lead the League) in interceptions with 19 per game and Man U are 13th with 15.3. If you were to look at any of the Man U players interception numbers and try to make a comparison to an Arsenal player, you’d be comparing players who are playing on teams with two different playing styles.

A similar thing happens with Elneny and Basel. Basel is 10th in the Europa League in possession with 56%, but they are 32nd in interceptions per game. Unlike Arsenal, they don’t play the passing lanes as much on defense and as a result all of their player’s interceptions numbers are low. So, comparing Elneny’s 2 interceptions per game to Coquelin’s 2.7 doesn’t work as a straight across comparison.

It doesn’t even necessarily work as a percentage. Elneny intercepts about 11% of his team’s interceptions while Coquelin about 14%. Does that mean Elneny won’t intercept the same number as Coquelin? I wouldn’t bet on it. Wenger will make Elneny play the way he wants. That will mean being more aggressive going for the interceptions.

Similar with tackles, again, Basel have 56% of possession just 0.7% less than Tottenham. But Spurs have a very aggressive pressing style and are 4th in the EL in tackles, while Basel are 39th! So, looking at Elneny’s tackle stats, where he averages just 2.4 tackles per game, and comparing them to Coquelin, who averages 3.4 tackles per game is like comparing.. uhh.. two different things.

You can look a little more closely at Elneny’s stats and see some things that are interesting. For example, he has made 12/14 tackles this season in the Europa League. A high percentage of tackling is very good. And it’s especially good because 2 of his successful tackles were in the 18 yard box. It’s a small sample, but shows great promise as a player who gets back and puts in the kind of last ditch tackles that have made Coquelin a fan favorite.

As for Elneny’s passing stats mentioned at the top of the piece he is, of course, good at that. More important than his 92.4% overall pass completion rate is the fact that he completes 75% of his long passes. They do have a target man who wins 4 aerials a game but that’s not at all like Liverpool who have Benteke winning 6 per game. So, 75% long passing indicates someone who is talented with the long pass. This is important because some people see Elneny as the long-term replacement for Arteta and the Arsenal captain in his heyday (two years ago) averaged 86% long passing.

Elneny’s passing stats also have another weird quirk: he only made one sideways pass in all five games this Europa League campaign. 1/460 passes sideways, all the rest were forward or backward. I can’t tell whether that’s just how Basel play, super vertical, or whether the stats keeper just considered all of his passes to be vertical but that strikes me as slightly odd.

All of this, however, is based on just five Europa League games. We don’t know how Elneny will perform once he’s dropped into the cauldron of blood and spikes that is the Premier League. Michael Yokhin’s article for ESPN paints the picture of a quiet player who just loves football and doesn’t like to court controversy, which for some reason (combined with his very unassuming stats) reminds me a lot of Gilberto. According to the interview in Aargauer Zeitung (some parts quoted in the ESPN article) he’s a devout family man and very religious. But I think the best part of that interview was the suggestion that he loves to sacrifice himself for the team:

Running is part of my job, I like to permanently be in motion. As a child I often played ten hours or even longer in the street – I think there I learned to run nonstop. My duty is to the team to help with my strengths. And if my colleagues see how much I run, then they automatically run even more. 

More than the stats, which look good even if the sample is small, it’s the fact that he wants to work hard for his team and to lead by example which I think will get him through to the next level.

Elneny has drawn a lot of comparisons over the last few weeks, without anyone seeing him play a single minute of football, but if I were to compare him to anyone it would be Arsenal’s Gilberto. An unassuming character with the talent to get the job done.

Exactly the kind of player Arsenal need.

Qq

Welbeck celebrates Switzerland goal with Arsenal teammates

With the Welbeck setback will Wenger be forced to buy?

With all the newspapers covering the news of last night’s splash hit of the winter, Mythical Excuses: And Where to Find Them (The Jose Mourinho Chelsea Story), there have been few reporters left to write about how Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck suffered a setback to his recovery and is now expected to be out until February.

Few people expected Mythical Excuses to be a smash hit but it is the compelling story of a poor, hard working, football manager who is betrayed by his team and ultimately stabbed in the back by the man he felt was his very best friend, Cescus Brutus, along with Gaius Hazardus and his henchman Costacus. Director Roman Abramovich takes a light hearted approach to heavy subject matter, and viewers are often left crying in laughter as Jose’s team lose in spectacular fashion time and again and Jose is forced to deliver “theya culpa” speeches after each match. Never one to take any blame, Jose goes so far after one loss to say,

All last season I did phenomenal work and brought them to a level more than they really are. And now? They are just dicks. Really. Why are they dicks? Why they no listen? I don’t know, you should ask them they are honest guys. Especially Hazardus, when he ran off down the tunnel injured, you can bet he is actually injured. I lieb ya, baby, I lieb ya, I lieb ya! Now lieb me alone!

With such a rolicking good time on display many Arsenal fans would be forgiven for missing the news that Welbeck suffered a setback to his recovery from knee surgery.

Welbeck’s injury raises several questions. With Arsenal in the midst of an actual title fight and with Arsenal’s front line looking thin until Welbeck returns, which will require several weeks after in order to reach full health, the question remains whether Arsene Wenger will jump into the transfer market and buy replacements.

Gooners certainly wouldn’t mind if Wenger did buy but Arsene was closed fisted in the summer and only purchased Petr Cech for £10m from Chelsea. That purchase was, in hindsight, the best buy of the summer and coincidentally happened on opening day of Jose Mourinho’s Mythical Excuses.

But if Wenger didn’t buy in the summer, after he knew that Welbeck was injured, why would he change tack now?

Arsene can be difficult to work out and many fans are pointing to the January purchases of Jose Antonio Reyes and Andrei Arshavin as proof that the manager will splash the cash in January. Wenger is also looking at a squad which has many injuries and several players who are underperforming.

Injuries to Coquelin (arguably Arsenal’s star midfielder), Wilshere, Welbeck, and the highly influential Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez have not been as keenly felt as some expected. But so far the Gunners haven’t been tested by a world class team, like Man City, a match scheduled for next Monday. That match is a real title test and falls outside of the transfer window, so it is likely that Arsene Wenger will use that match as a barometer for purchases.

The logic behind not buying is often questioned by many Arsenal fans but Wenger is not normally a short term buyer. If he believes that Welbeck is a long term solution at Arsenal, he might be reluctant to “kill” him (as Wenger says) by bringing in a replacement. The same goes for Wilshere and Coquelin — two players who are tipped for greatness.

However, Wenger is the master of surprise and has a taste for bargains. If a top quality player is available, I’d be surprised to see Wenger pass up the chance to make his team stronger. Wenger is a long-term planner and he has to know that Arteta and Flamini aren’t long-term options for the defensive midfield role at Arsenal. Surely, his scouts are looking for the next generation Arteta. Someone with tremendous ball playing skills, a good motor, and the willingness to sacrifice offense for the betterment of the team.

Similarly in the forward area. Wenger must know that his forwards (Alexis, Giroud, Walcott, Ox, Campbell, and Welbeck) require rotation. But the question isn’t whether he knows that, it’s whether he feels he can find an addition in that area which will improve the team. People will say “he just needs to be better than (Ox or Campbell)” but Wenger isn’t that kind of thinker. Wenger would say, he has to be better than Ox will be. It’s a slightly more forward thinking variation.

One other option is a loan and there has been talk that Wenger is instructing his scouts to find him players he can get on loan. That solves the problem of “killing” young players but does nothing for the long term solution to the ageing midfield duo of Arteta and Flamini. But again, Wenger has been slowly integrating Calum Chambers in that role and if Chambers impresses enough I doubt Wenger will buy.

Our judgement as football fans is almost always that buying is the first, second, and last solution. Fans love transfers. But I suspect Wenger is going to stick with his plan from this summer and will be very reluctant to buy, unless something special comes along, or unless his backup team falls completely apart. Wenger was very proud of the British Core he had assembled last year, boasting that he hoped Arsenal would comprise the majority of England’s starting XI for the 2018 World Cup. It would be a remarkable about face from the manager to suddenly abandon that plan.

So, I’m not counting on any signings. Are you?

Qq

DMs

Here come the waterworks

What could go wrong I can’t count the number of ways
You could be mauled or burned for starters
You could still drown in knee deep waters
That’s enough to hold up and hide in this cave

What could go wrong I can’t count the number of ways
You could be struck by lightning walking
Look at the cross and your soul starts talking
Nothing prepares you for the freeze that’s coming

I won’t dare, I won’t dare
I think I feel a wicked breeze blowing
I won’t dare, I won’t dare
Nothing prepares you for the freeze that’s coming

Big Business, Shields

Big Business is a two-piece band from Seattle. This drummer and a bass player manage to kick out a wall of sound that will knock you down but also play some more subtle, moody, music as well. They aren’t a band like 3 Inches of Blood or Every Time I Die, bands that thrive on crazy loud music, there is a great deal of subtlety to Big Business.

For example, they have the song Shields, which I posted the lyrics to above. It’s a song that starts hard, in your face with a driving bass and drum line, but which speeds up and slows down at just the right moments, drawing the listener through a raw emotional landscape of fear and paranoia.

Probably the best example of their range is the song Another Beautiful Day in the Pacific Northwest. People who don’t even like Metal might like this song. It captures the depths of the gloom that settles over Washington state during the winter. For example, we had the darkest day in recorded history here in Seattle yesterday. The day went from black, to purple, to grey, back to purple, and finally back to black. We had our lights on at noon, that’s how dark it was. That song perfectly fit the mood of yesterday.

Wikipedia describes Big Business as “Stoner” metal but that label is weird to me. This isn’t Sleep or Bongripper, Big Business is much more gloomy than those bands. Less smoky, more “fog induced ennui”.

Reading their lyrics makes it clear, they write about everything falling apart, systems collapsing, and the resulting fear and paranoia. They aren’t a stoner band, they are the best gloom and doom band I’ve ever heard.  

In a sense, they are the perfect band for Arsenal fans and I highly recommend Here Come the Waterworks. It’s their best work.

Here come the waterworks is probably the most apt theme tune for any Arsenal season. There’s also a song on that album called “I’ll give you something to cry about” which contains this lyrical genius:

No other traumas have weighed quite this dark
There’s still light but you can’t force the tides
You won’t know if you’re coming in luck ’til your ship has arrived

Relish this moment, ’til death do us part
I want answers before it’s too late
Take your time old man, take your time
Take your time old man, take your time
These vultures are happy to wait

Is he writing about some mythical man sitting on his porch being interrogated by a younger man or is he describing the Arsenal General Meeting where some fans demanded answers to what went “wrong” this summer?

Arsenal fans gnashing of teeth over a transfer window that died months ago refuses to abate. Probably because the window is about to open again in a month. It’s a window on which you shouldn’t pin too many hopes, after all, pins don’t stick to windows.

There’s an article in the Telegraph today by well connected Arsenal reporter Jeremy Wilson which claims Wenger is buffing up Chambers to play the DM role for Arsenal over the next few months while we wait for Coquelin to return,

Although Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are almost certain to start in Athens, Arsène Wenger has lost four other central midfielders to injury. The Arsenal manager now regards Chambers as his main back-up and a player who will need to feature in that position during a sequence of six matches in less than four weeks.

He goes on to say that Arsenal scouts have been instructed to find “loan players” this January,

Although Wenger has money and an interest in the Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, the club’s scouts are focused on loan solutions in January.

None of this is a surprise to me. I knew at the start of the summer that Wenger wasn’t going to buy anyone after Cech. Wenger likes to keep teams together and sees more value in that than in adding players. He may have “shown interest” in some players this summer, there are a lot of folks who believe that Arsenal were after Carvalho but that we didn’t bid enough to activate his release clause, but that’s all shrouded in mystery, ancient history.

Buying players in January, if they come from outside the Premier League, typically need a period of adjustment. Gabriel is our most recent example. He was purchased last January and didn’t get his first start until March. He played a few times, including a single crucial substitution for Mertesacker in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading.

Monreal was the exception: he was bought on January 31st and played 90 minutes for Arsenal on February 2nd. He continued starting for Arsenal for the next 6 games while Gibbs recovered from injury.

The Monreal purchase proves that Wenger will go out and get a guy if he’s pressed. The question is whether or not Wenger feels pressed. Arsenal have Rosicky, Welbeck, and Wilshere returning soon and he is reportedly grooming Calum Chambers to play backup DM for Flamini.

Wenger is looking at all his options. Chambers will probably play a few more times off the bench in the auxiliary holding role and then Arsene will give him a chance to start along with Ramsey in midfield. If that turns out to be an acceptable partnership we won’t see a DM purchased.

There are other problem areas of the pitch: if Wilshere makes a recovery we won’t see any midfielders purchased, if Welbeck makes a recovery we won’t see any forwards purchased, but the place I think Arsene needs to look and where he is having a bit of trouble is in both of the fullback positions.

In right back, Debuchy is now basically saying that he wants to play or he wants out and that illustrates the problem with having good depth. It’s a Catch-22: you want players who are good enough to start but those types of players are almost never happy to sit on the bench, especially when the Euros are looming and they know that if they don’t play they won’t get into their national team. If Wenger lets Debuchy go, he has to get in a right back because while Chambers can do it in a pinch, he’s been exposed as having the pace of a DM, not a right back.

Meanwhile, on the left Monreal has played every minute of nearly every match as left back. Monreal was brought in to back up Gibbs but the Englishman has completely lost his place. Gibbs is 26 years old. If he’s not starting for Arsenal, Wenger needs to look at whether he’s good enough to continue.

One of the main reasons to have depth is rotation. But Wenger doesn’t seem comfortable rotating Monreal and Gibbs and as a result I worry that Monreal might be next to pick up a knock. Wenger tried to rotate Gibbs in for Monreal in the Champions League but that project was abandoned after the Gunners lost to Dinamo and Olympiacos.

So, what went wrong this summer? For me? Nothing. Yes, even with injuries to two of Arsenal’s starting midfielders and the injury to Alexis which was seemingly induced by Wenger’s lack of rotation.

I say that because the players Arsenal currently have under contract give Arsenal tremendous depth and depth in quality. I’ve been over this before and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. Yes, even with the injuries.

The backup players at Arsenal have limitations, Arteta is in his last season, Flamini is a bit nuts, and Chambers is a young player learning a new position. Even Debuchy, who would probably be a starter on many teams, obviously has limitations, most notably he’s not a good passer. But all backup players have limitations. That’s why they aren’t starters. It’s up to the manager to manage those limitations and set out playing strategies which fit them into the team

Moreover, the second point of backups is to cover gaps. To cover when players are injured. Arsenal are covering the gaps. That doesn’t mean that the backup players are the same or better quality than the starters, in fact (see Debuchy) the backups can’t be the same quality.

What people are upset about is that they don’t like the players Wenger has selected to be backups. They want Wenger to sell or permanently mothball a bunch of players and bring in players that they prefer. That’s a funny thing. People say “relying on Wilshere, Welbeck, Gibbs, Walcott, and Ramsey to be fit is madness” and they are right, given the injury history of those players you probably can’t rely on more than 25 games a season from each of them. But given that there are squad size limits, that there are monetary limits, the fact that they are all starting English and Welsh internationals, and that these players are virtually unsellable (except maybe Aaron) because they are crocked so often, you have to wonder how do you get out of that situation? It’s a vicious circle and it only ends when these players get fit and either kick on for Arsenal or don’t make the grade.

Personally, I’m not ready to give up on those players. I think they are all top notch backups. As for the DM position, I argued this summer that I wanted Wenger to buy someone who was an upgrade on Coquelin. If he couldn’t find that player, I have no problem with the club captain, Flamini, and Chambers filling the backup role. I also have no problem with Wenger testing these guys, seeing if they are up to the task, and deciding to bring in a quality replacement in January. Someone who can hit the pitch with both feet running, like he did with Monreal, or even a quality young player like Granit Xhaka.

In short, I love gloom and doom music. I live in the gloom and doom capital of the Northwest. But I actually don’t think that Arsenal are all gloom and doom at the moment*. Hey, in fact, today is already brighter than yesterday. I think I saw a little white spot in the clouds. That might just be the sun!

Qq

*Every time I write one of these articles something terrible happens. Just in case I’m the jinx I’m calling it out BEFORE we get an injury. It’s my fault!