Category Archives: Transfers

I MUST BREAK YOU

Arsenal approaching “most successful transfer window” status

I couldn’t sleep well last night and instead of doing the right thing and reading a book I turned on twitter. It’s a different world, twitter, at midnight than it is at 8am mostly because the British folks I follow are all waking up and pouring through the morning papers. By the time I normally join them at 8am my time they have settled the controversy and moved on to something fresh.

Most of my British friends were reacting to the news that Arsenal are having both Vermaelen and Monreal targeted (along with Cazorla) by various clubs. And with Arsenal’s defense looking rather threadbare at the moment I can understand the reaction.

I’m fairly certain that Louis van Gaal has put the bug in Vermaelen’s ear and offered the former Arsenal captain a starting role at Man U. My suspicion is that van Gaal wants to play 3 center backs, the formation du jour, and if you play with 3 CB then you really need 5-6 CB in your team to provide cover. The press have been fairly insistent that Vermaelen is on van Gaal’s radar and I can see why. Short of putting in a transfer request (which he may do next) Vermaelen upped the ante on his transfer machinations by spending time with Robin van Persie on vacation (Daily Mail, auto video, horrible reporting).

That said, I doubt that Arsene is going to start the season with two first choice center backs. That would be extremely illogical even for Wenger who loves a gamble at times. I’ve been pouring through Wenger’s quotes over the last few years and one thing I can guarantee you is that he is well aware of the toll that the World Cup takes on his team and team preparation. Mertesacker didn’t play a ton of minutes in Brazil but he has been playing and practicing almost non-stop for over a year now and even the break that Wenger is affording his World Cup winning stars isn’t going to be enough to recharge a player who will need to start another 50+ games this season. The same goes for his partner, Laurent Koscielny.

So, Arsenal have two center backs who are potentially dead tired and just one backup center back who is the former captain, is potentially disgruntled, and looks to be engineering a move to save his career. That’s the worst situation I’ve seen in the heart of the Arsenal defense since Arsenal bought Silvestre and completely understandable that folks would be nervous.

Arsenal have to be well aware of what it would look like to sell Vermaelen to Man U. The board have, no doubt, been hanging on every proclamation by the professional cranks like Piers Morgan all summer. Would Vermaelen be a huge loss, though? Especially if he was replaced with a decent option? That is a tough question.

I have a Vermaelen shirt, which is to say that I loved him in his first season at Arsenal. I remember when he first came to us and he was this raw player who had a steely look about him. But even in his first season there were signs that something just wasn’t quite right about him and his positioning.

Zonal Marking made a rather extensive post about Vermaelen’s problems with communication and with positioning in his very first season. And even boosters like me only had to hope that he would get better the more he played with Arsenal.

Sadly, it never happened. He was injured for a long time and it took several different surgeries to get him back into the first team. Then he was made captain of the club and the same errors kept creeping into his game. In fact, Vermaelen led Arsenal in errors leading to goals in each of his last two playing seasons at the club before he was dropped for Koscielny. I want to be clear, Vermaelen isn’t a crap defender, but rather his style didn’t work well at Arsenal and I suspect it will work very well in a three man back line where he can be more aggressive because he’ll have two other center backs sweeping up behind him.

I don’t think the facts about his career at Arsenal are in dispute. I think what’s in dispute is whether Arsenal can find a replacement at or above his level who is willing to be third or fourth string at Arsenal. That’s a tough sell. Players of Vermaelen’s quality don’t want to make a move to a team so that they can sit on the bench. For that reason alone (and not because it would be “taking the pride out of it, Gazidis”) I’m inclined to hang on to Vermaelen and tell him that he’s just not for sale even if that means biting the bullet on his free transfer next summer.

But just as important as hanging on to Vermaelen, I hope Arsene has identified a young player to come in and take over next summer. Well, maybe not “take over” but rather start to bed in and be prepared to take over as Mertesacker’s role diminishes. I suspect that with the World Cup taking its toll on our Big World Champion German, the young, fresh player might get some playing time right from the start.

It’s been a great summer for transfers at Arsenal so far. We’ve brought in Sanchez and Debuchy and a decent goal keeper (Ospina) is on his way. Arsenal have also been linked with a host of defensive midfielders for two years now so Wenger clearly has his eye on Arteta’s replacement. With Arsenal already approaching £50m net spend, adding a player who can play CDM (and CB in a pinch) whilst keeping Vermaelen would make this easily the most successful transfer window in recent memory.

Qq

64-wilshere-agame-gt

Welcome Debuchy but what about Jenkinson? And if Arsenal buy a Khedira what about Wilshere?

Not much special going on today so let’s talk a bit about transfers.

Debuchy’s signing was announced yesterday and this is fantastic news because that marks Arsenal down as having bought 2 of the 5 positions that they need filled this summer. The best part is that we have made two major signings and we haven’t yet played our first pre-season friendly.

There was some speculation earlier that perhaps Arsenal didn’t need to buy a right back after Sagna left and the Debuchy signing put that to rest. Debuchy is a 28 year old French International with 18 months of experience in the Premier League starting every weekend. I think it’s also symbolic that Wenger bought the French player who kept Sagna from starting during this World Cup. This may be unpopular because Sagna was a fan favorite but Debuchy is an upgrade on Sagna.

Debuchy is younger than Sagna and he’s a more balanced player. When I compared Debuchy to Sagna and Aurier, the difference is stark: Aurier played as an attacking wing back at Toulouse, Sagna kind of didn’t do either defense or offense and instead was more of a passing outlet, and Debuchy was smack in the middle of the two.

Particularly impressive were Debuchy’s defensive stats for Newcastle. Comparing him against his own team’s percentages he made 17% of Newcastle’s tackles, 12% of their interceptions and 10% of their fouls.

Sagna wasn’t horrible but rather Debuchy was just very active defensively. Debuchy also can fill in for Sagna in the aerial duels department: Sagna has long been an outlet for Szczesny and Debuchy will hopefully continue in that role, he did after all win 4/5.7 headers per game at Newcastle.

 

I know that many people thought (hoped?) Jenkinson would get the starting job and some people went so far to suggest that Jenkinson and Bellerin could do the job but I think this signing puts that idea to bed and tucks it under Jenkinson’s Arsenal bedsheets. Wenger left the door open to Jenkinson saying that he can compete for the spot and further that he hasn’t made his mind up about who will be starting but that said I see this as another transition year for Jenkinson.

The crucial pairing, and probably deciding factor, will be right back and right forward. Jenkinson and Walcott do not seem to get along well in that regard. My observations are that Jenkinson tends to park far too forward and expect Walcott to cover for him. Walcott, being a striker, naturally doesn’t like this. The two of them publicly fought on the field several times with Walcott telling Jenks to stay back and Jenkinson shining Walcott on.

That issue is only going to be exacerbated with the signing of Sanchez who is an outright striker and will not cotton to having to run all the way back to defend for Jenkinson. And I have no problem with this, we didn’t buy Sanchez for £30m to play right back, we bought Sanchez to do the minimum defense up front (pressing and harassing) and to win us games with goals.

Sanchez’ strengths at Barcelona were that he took almost all of his shots inside the opposition box, which is what led to his outstanding conversion rate. You want a striker with a 30% conversion rate? He needs to play deep in the opposition area. For Sanchez to be an efficient goal scorer we need him to have the freedom to get in the opposition 18 yard box and cause havoc. He can’t do that while defending in our final third so that the fullback can whip in crosses to no one.

One other oddity that Wenger mentioned in the interview about signing Sanchez is that Sanchez could play in any of the positions up top, including through the middle and “with Giroud in a 4-4-2″. Now, I don’t know if Wenger is messing us or not and I struggle to think who he might play on the wings (Ox, Podolski, Cazorla, Rosicky? Özil would be wasted out there) but there might be a clue in there as to why Wenger is looking at Khedira. During Wenger’s most successful era he played with two in base of the midfield: Parlor and Vieira, Petit and Vieira and it was Gilberto and Vieira. That’s why Khedira and Ramsey is a mouthwatering prospect in midfield but it leaves so many questions: where to put Özil, and probably most worryingly, where does Wilshere fit into all this?

Wilshere’s stock has fallen off a bit (and I am not at all talking about his smoking) with even some of the most famous Arsenal personalities starting to wonder about his development. At this point in his career I’m more of the mind that he suffered a bit from his injury and frankly he suffered in light of the hugely successful season Aaron Ramsey had.

But the fact remains that he can’t take Özil’s place as the creative midfielder, he doesn’t seem to have the engine to take Ramsey’s place in midfield, and he’s not a defensive midfielder (at least not that he has shown so far). He’s also not a wing player, a forward, or a defender. So, if Arsenal splash the big cash on a player like Khedira or Bender where does Wilshere fit?

With Jenkinson on the bench? And how long will he be happy doing that?

Qq

Khedira

Khedira’s salary, where he fits, and is he coming to Arsenal?

If you’re going to take the ideas from this blog and make them your own, I’ll make it easy for you.

  1. The Arsenal-Khedira links are real, regardless of what the agent is saying publicly.
  2. The press in Britain and Spain are struggling with Khedira’s current salary, despite reliable reports detailing exactly how much money he makes a year.
  3. Khedira is asking for more money than he’s already on at Real but the rates I’m hearing are in line with the difference between his Real salary and what he would need to make at Arsenal to cover differences in taxes.
  4. If Wenger is after Khedira, Mourinho bought Khedira, and Löw won a World Cup with Khedira, he must be good but man his stats sure don’t show it and they don’t show him to be a defensive midfielder.

The Agent

Agents talk. Agents also get fired. Agents also talk to the pubic in order to get their clients better deals. There are myriad reasons why agents make statements and after the Suarez debacle¹, the one thing that I have learned in player negotiations is that there are lies, damn lies, and there are agents©.

I was talking to Arseblog yesterday and I asked him if I should go ahead with this by the numbers piece I have which compares 10 different defensive midfielders and comes to the conclusion that one of them is the best fit for Arsenal. I asked him, because I didn’t include Khedira in the article. Who, in their right mind, would include Khedira in a statistically driven article on defensive midfielders? He didn’t do that job for Real Madrid nor for Germany. Not in any way that makes sense. Anyway, Blogs said that he felt strongly Arsenal really were after Khedira and today in his post he revealed why he is so sure, Rafael Honigstein.

It looks like, for all intents and purposes, Arsenal have made contacts with the player and with the club. They have “felt out” the deal and it looks like the deal is that Real Madrid want £20m and Khedira wants £7.8m a year. It is possible, by the way, for the agent to be bypassed in all this. Agents do get fired.

The salary

Meanwhile, the press are all reporting that Khedira is currently on just £50k a week and wants a topping up to £150k a week to join Arsenal. I’m not sure where they got the £50k a week number because we know exactly how much money Khedira is making and it’s closer to £100k a week.

I know what Marca reported when he first signed with the club and maybe that was his salary in 2010. Maybe it was his take home salary? You know, his after tax salary? Maybe he was given a signing bonus early on and a smaller salary to start? Who knows how his deal was structured. But despite those early reports, we know for a fact that Khedira earned €5m last season because FIFA had to pay his salary to Real Madrid when he was injured last year. And if you look at the language in FIFA’s compensation insurance document they only pay the player’s base salary.

We also know that since he negotiated his current contract in 2010 he is only paying a 25% tax rate. That means that he is taking home around €75k a week right now. His new contract at Real Madrid would take him to the current Spanish tax level which is over 50% and if he moved to England he would pay a similar tax rate. He is also now a World Cup winner and this is almost certainly his last professional contract (unless he can get a sweet retirement deal here in America). Is it any surprise that he’s asking for more money? Not to me.

But like Arseblog, I’m not sure that his salary demands are the problem. I’m almost entirely sure that the £20m compensation Real Madrid are asking for is the problem. That is a huge sum for a player in the last year of his contract, especially one who is just recovering from ACL surgery. If Arsenal were to pay that sum, it would push his entire contract over £50m. That severely limits Wenger’s ability to improve the squad over the next four years.

The stats

I’ve looked at Khedira’s stats compared to other defensive midfielders, I’ve looked at his individual games, and I’ve looked at his numbers compared to other players on his team (thus eliminating the “possession adjustment” problem) and the fact is that Khedira was never really deployed as a DM at Real Madrid or Stuttgart.

At Stuttgart Khedira played with a host of players in midfield and ended the season tied for 12th place in tackles per game, and 7th in interceptions per game. He was also a sub 80% passer of the ball, was third on the team in Key Passes (behind Hleb) and led the team in assists. He was also second in through balls and hit half as many long balls as his midfield partner Hitzlsperger.  These numbers indicate a player playing box-to-box midfield, not defensive midfield.

And when he makes to the move to Real Madrid, you see a similar pattern: he’s being deployed next to Alonso or Diarra who are both tackling like madmen! He’s not bad defensively and as we would expect to see from a Mourinho player he tackles plenty (1.9 per game) and intercepts a fairly good number (2.1). The reality is that he played second fiddle to Alonso and there is no shame in that. None.

Can he make the jump over to Arsenal? Of course he could. He’s big and mobile and can play in many positions. I can see Arsene playing a double-pivot with Ramsey and Khedira at the back, similar to the way that he played Vieira and Petit. Though it would have to be a much more modern incarnation of that pairing.

I can see Khedira playing slightly more actual defensive midfield with Ramsey more freely roaming. I can see Arteta playing deep against slow teams and Khedira giving Ramsey a breather in the box-to-box role. I can see him playing a lot of different places. The point is that Khedira’s strength is in his flexibility and team-orientated attitude and he would fit right in at Arsenal.

So, let’s sign him up. Plenty of work still to do in that regard and just over a week before the first pre-season friendly. Got to get cracking, Arsene!

Qq

¹In case you had forgotten or in case you want to relive that PTSD moment over again, let’s remind ourselves that Suarez’ people came to Arsenal and told them that he had a £40m release clause. Did he have one? Was it just a verbal clause? Was the clause’s intent misunderstood by Suarez’ people? Did they do that intentionally? Did Liverpool basically say “sue me”? Did the PFA collude with Liverpool to say that the clause wasn’t as iron-clad as Suarez’ agents thought? Are Liverpool going to finish in the top 10 this season?