Category Archives: Transfers

gabriel

Arsenal transfer deals done: is Arsenal’s squad complete?

Arsène Wenger made just two signings in January: a young prospective defensive midfielder and an experienced Brazilian center back named Gabriel. On the other end of the lading bill, Arsène also sent three forwards out on loan, giving valuable first team experience to Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell and finding a restive place at Inter for Lukas Podolski to practice his future in social media marketing.

In the end, Wenger didn’t buy the big, beastly, wins every tackle, tackles 20 times a game, tackles tackles, and tackles tackles of tackles, defensive (preferably a tall African francophone with little or no hair) midfielder that everyone wanted him to buy but he did find a good backup center back and unearthed a home grown defensive midfielder. So, where is Arsenal’s squad still weak? Is it still weak?

In goalkeeper, Arsène Wenger dropped Wojciech Szczesny after the loss to Southampton where Woj was caught smoking a cigarette in the locker room. Since then Wenger has handed the starting gloves to David Ospina. The 6′ Ospina looks a bit undersized for goalkeeper in the Premier League but he is an experienced international player and he seems to be adding to a sense of calm in the back line.

In all competitions for Arsenal, Ospina has played six times, only has one loss (Southampton in the League Cup), has only allowed a total of 3 goals. And since being called upon in January, Ospina has posted four consecutive wins with four clean sheets.

It’s often hard to tell if it’s the keeper or if it’s the team who should get credit for clean sheets. But it is common parlance to award the keeper the clean sheet. Ospina has earned the clean sheets a bit, he’s made 7 saves without letting in a goal in the Premier League and is averaging 2.33 saves per game, that’s more saves than Szczesny was being forced to make at 1.68 per game.

Where Ospina really shines though is in his long ball kicking. His overall pass percentage is poor, 59% compared to Szczesny’s 68% but if you peek behind the numbers you can see why: Szczesny played a lot of short passes this season and was very poor at long balls whereas Ospina plays few short passes and is very good at long balls.

Szczesny averaged 9.3 short passes per game, Ospina averages 1.7 with neither keeper making too many poor passes (Szczesny has one notable exception) which caused his team any trouble. But Ospina manages to complete 13 long passes per game (13/23.7 — 55%) whereas Szczesny only managed 4.9 per game (4.9/13.4 — 37%). Historically, Szczesny has been much better at the long pass than he is showing this year. I can’t tell whether this massive drop from a guy who used to pass 50%+ long passes is because of injury to Giroud or that Arsenal sold Sagna (Szcz was known to favor passing long balls out to Sagna) but the fact remains that he can’t seem to find a man to pass to and Ospina can. That ability to get the ball down field and find an Arsenal player is important to getting Arsenal out of trouble and keeping the ball out of our defensive third.

I know I have written a lot about keeper so far but it is the one position where I think Arsenal might be lacking, a bit. I think the starting spot goes to Ospina for now and this summer we will find out if Szczesny has a long-term future at Arsenal. My gut tells me he doesn’t. I suspect Wenger is fed up with his antics like Podolski, Frimpong, Song, and others who maybe didn’t take the job and the club rules as seriously as they should have.

In front of Ospina, Arsenal are stocked. At right back, Arsenal have Debuchy, Chambers, and Bellerin. Since Bellerin was given a chance he has done exceptionally well and basically wrestled the starting spot away from Calum Chambers. Bellerin is very quick to get back and he’s an excellent tackler — he’s only been beaten 3 times in 19 attempted tackles this year. His speed also allows him to get forward and he even scored his first Arsenal goal in the 5-0 win over Aston Villa. Debuchy is out for the season (basically) after Arnautovich shoved him and dislocated his shoulder but backing Bellerin up is Calum Chambers who is a decent right back in his own right.

At left back, Arsenal have Gibbs and Monreal. Both are very experienced and excellent choices for left back. Full stop.

In the center of the park, Arsenal have Mertesacker and Koscielny with a host of players who can play backup when either of those two need a rest. Chambers can come in for Mertesacker and the new signing, Gabriel can come in for Koscielny.

I’ve had a look at Gabriel’s numbers and they are OK but I will caution against using stats from a player who played in La Liga for a team who played a vastly different brand of football from Arsenal. His headed duels percentage (61%), for example, could be completely lost in translation from Spain to England. We will just have to see. Still, it was the one position Wenger needed to buy cover and he did with pundits comparing him favorably to Koscielny.

It looks a little like Chambers is covering two positions but he isn’t. I see Debuchy and Bellerin as the right backs and Chambers more of a central defender who can play right back.

In midfield, Arsenal have a weird situation. The clamor for the last three years was for Arsene to buy a dominating defensive midfielder to play along with Ramsey and Wilshere. Wenger even shopped around but for various reasons couldn’t land the player he was looking for. And then, one day, out of necessity, Wenger went back to the well and recalled Coquelin.

Coquelin has been at Arsenal since 2008 and has had several infamous starts at the club in the holding role and at right back before being loaned out to various clubs. On loan he failed to find a way into a permanent first team role and each time he returned to Arsenal, he would play once or twice and then go right back out on loan.

So, it’s all been a bit sudden that Coquelin is seen as Arsenal’s first choice holding midfielder. Recalled in December from Charlton, Coquelin has played just 463 minutes in the Premier League this season. Despite some solid defensive performances are we really ready to say that Arteta is the backup to Coquelin? Arteta is insanely accurate with a whole range of passes but Coquelin is significantly better defensively — in terms of tackles, aerial duels won, interceptions, and foot speed to cover the fullback positions. Which do you pick?

The good news is that Arsenal have a ton of midfielders who can all cover for each other: Coquelin-Arteta-Flamini, Ramsey-Rosicky-Ox, and Cazorla-Özil-Wilshere. Don’t get your pants in a bunch about me grouping these players like this, they play a variety of positions in the Arsenal midfield and the Arsenal midfield isn’t known for keeping a strict shape. I’m just suggesting that these players have similar attributes, more defensive, more link-up, and more attacking. For those of you without a colic I’m sorry I had to waste words saying that.

No matter how you reorder the midfield that is a pretty stacked list. Note that I have Ox and Wilshere pretty far down on the list, that’s some serious depth when you’re looking at Jack Wilshere as potentially third choice in the attacking midfield role. And notice that I didn’t even have to mention Diaby, Zelalem, or the new guy Bielik. Arsenal’s midfield is packed for choice and full of competition for places. This is the healthiest midfield in the League.

And up front, Wenger also has competition and depth. With Giroud returning from his injury layoff he has now relegated the hard-working and talented Danny Welbeck to a support role. And the same can be said for Alexis and his backup Theo Walcott. I know some of you will again get the hump because I’ve put a bunch of the British players down the pecking order but if you watch the work rate and sheer goal-scoring genius that a guy like Sanchez brings compared to what Walcott gave in his start against Aston Villa, you can see that Wenger is going to pick Sanchez over Theo all day, every day.

Now, I know that this looks like a 4-3-2 that I just created but that’s because Arsenal’s system is a bit odd. But to create a 4-3-3 you simply take either Özil, Ox, or Cazorla from the midfield and play them in the wide forward role.

As Naveen pointed out in his column prior to the Villa match, Özil likes to take up non-traditional positions wide instead of in the middle so it seems natural to me that Özil will start wide left and Cazorla in the middle — though where these two start and were they do their damage on the pitch are usually two different things. If you need another left sided player, Arsène can slide Alexis over there and start either Walcott or Ox on the right. This is the other area at Arsenal where Wenger might look to strengthen in the summer: he has a lot of right-footed players playing on the left. If he can get in a truly left-footed forward who works as hard as Alexis then I think the attack will be significantly strengthened.

Ospina
Szczesny

Debuchy(i)     Mertesacker     Koscielny     Gibbs
Bellerin     Chambers     Gabriel     Monreal

Ramsey    Arteta(i)     Cazorla
Rosicky     Coquelin     Wilshere(i)

Alexis     Giroud     Özil
(Walcott, Ox)     Welbeck(i)    (Alexis)

There you have it. Is the Arsenal squad complete? It’s about as complete as you could expect to get in the January transfer window. As Henry said on Sky, “in January you go for the player that is available… in the summer you go for the player you really want.” And for me it looks like Arsenal have two solid players in every position on the pitch.

That has to be a January transfer market well done by the boss and now Arsenal have time to work on a few things on the training ground ahead of the North London derby this weekend. With the Gunners just 6 points off 2nd place and -1 GD off 4th place, they look well positioned to make an end of season run to get back into the Champions League places, and possibly even higher.

Qq

Arsenal trumpets welcome Gabriel: plus a simple idea to fix refereeing

After several years of being told “you don’t know what you’re doing” by the naysayers, Arsenal have shown that they do, in fact, know what they are doing and they aren’t half bad at it.

Earlier this winter I made the bold (not very bold) statement that Arsene only buys big in January for one of three reasons: calamity, luck, or prospecting. I predicted we would see a kid brought in (prospecting) and possibly a semi-expensive player if, and only if, there was an injury. Sure enough, Matty Debuchy had his arm dislocated after a horrible challenge by Stoke’s Arnautovic and that seemingly sent Arsenal straight to work getting in another defender.

That defender was none other than Gabriel Paulista, who shall be known as Gabriel, or Gabby, on this blog. Gabriel, as you may know, is one of God’s archangels and I particularly like this passage from the Christian bible which I found on his Wikipedia page:

And the Lord said to Gabriel: “‘Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fornication and] the children of the Watchers from amongst men[and cause them to go forth]: send them one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days shall they not have.”

Sounds like the bible predicted that Arsenal would sign Gabriel and play him against Chelsea.

As soon as Wenger let the cat out of the bag about Gabby people started questioning if Arsenal had lost their minds.¹ This time not only was the player’s talent under question but also whether he could get a work permit.

Wenger was oddly confident. Only odd to those of us who didn’t know that the FA was in charge of work permits and that there was a rules change coming down the pike. According to the Guardian:

The Home Office scheme is administered by the Football Association and there had been some concern last week at how the panel of football experts would view Arsenal’s appeal for Gabriel as he did not meet the current stipulation of having played 75 per cent of matches over the past two years for his national team. But Arsenal successfully argued that he was a player of the “highest calibre” who could “contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in England”. The rules are likely to be tightened in the summer, after which there would be no appeals process.

Gabriel, though, would have met even the new stricter criteria as his fee is above the proposed £10 million exemption threshold.

As it turns out, Wenger was right to be confident. The FA approved the work permit because their new rule this summer is that anyone who costs more than £10m will be approved.

Gabriel, thus, becomes another in a long line of Arsenal transfer firsts. And his transfer to Arsenal opens the doors to a flood of young Latin American talent into the Premier League. As long as they cost more than £10m, they can work in England.

I don’t see Arsene buying any more players, unless by some stroke of luck someone like Paul Pogba becomes available. I’m not saying it’s impossible to see another purchase. I’m saying “highly unlikely.” Wenger has Coquelin to play DM, has a host of players like Özil and Walcott coming back up front, and has some depth in the back.

With the transfer business sorted I can turn my attention to another problem Arsenal face in the Premier League, the referees.

The level of refereeing in England has taken a severe dip in recent seasons. And this season, that dip has hit a nadir.

It has gotten so bad the former head of PGMOL is calling for a huge culling of the ranks, including the resignation of the head of referees Mike Riley. Mike Riley has fired back with some stats which he says prove that refereeing is the best it has ever been. Citing 99% accuracy of calls and the like.

What’s clear in watching any Premier League game these days is that 99% accuracy is completely false. The referees didn’t even call a foul when Arnautovic shoved Debuchy off the pitch and dislocated his shoulder and that is the problem. It’s not that they make calls (which I still think they get wrong a lot), it’s that they are often NOT making calls when they probably should.

The other problem is that there is a lack of transparency and agreement when it comes to the rules. If you get 40 people in a room and ask them to watch a play, you will likely get 40 different interpretations of the rule. This same problem plagues the officials. I saw Phil Dowd referee a match this weekend. He was given two carbon copy fouls where the defender pulled the shirt of a player on a breakaway. On one play he gave the defender a yellow. On the other a warning.

As an American I find this seemingly random application of the rules infuriating. It reminds me of the NBA, where officials would sometimes call travelling and sometimes not. Sometimes call over the back, sometimes not. This happens because there is a rulebook and then there is an accepted interpretation of the rulebook.

How many times have you heard “that would be a foul if it happened anywhere else on the pitch” while watching a player get fouled in the box? Or how about “not sure why Mike Dean didn’t give a yellow there, he just gave a yellow to the Arsenal player for the exact same foul.”

I would like to see Mike Riley on television at half time and after the games explaining referee decisions to the people. He could also host a forum or be part of the Match of the Day crew or other types of appearances where he would be asked to explain the laws of the game. And yes, I do think the Laws of the Game and their interpretations need to be publicly discussed.

The interpretation of the rules and the lack of transparency around this interpretation is exactly why many people feel that refereeing is dirty in the Premier League. I quit watching the NBA for this exact reason. When former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was caught throwing games to feed his gambling addiction it wasn’t a shock to me at all.

The other problem is that the game is just too fast for the referees. They are constantly playing catch up to the plays and almost never get ahead of the ball so that they can see the fouls from the same angles that we, the viewers, have. Their view is often obstructed and sometimes they are just too far away from the action to make the correct call.

I was watching a game the other day and I noticed this problem of referees not being able to be in position to see the fouls. And I started to wonder why we don’t just have two referees. One in each half of the pitch. I’m not talking about UEFA’s ridiculous 5th and 6th officials who stand around and literally do nothing. I mean a second referee on the field, with all the power of the first referee.

National Rugby League introduced two officials in 2009, citing the “pace of the game” and technical requirements of officiating. It has been brilliant for NRL and has the Super League trialing the same system at academy level.

That’s my idea.

I’m sure you’ll have objections, please, feel free to let us hear them below.

Qq

¹It’s now a reflex for Arsenal fans: anything happens, think of the negative.

Alexis

Why the FA’s meddling with immigration rules is bad for English football

You have by now caught wind that Arsène wanted to sign Angel Di Maria when he was 16 but was prevented because of the British work permit laws. In some of the articles I’ve read on this topic there is even mention that the Football Association wants to artificially limit the number of non-EU footballers in the Premier League starting next season. To put a cap on the number of Latin American and Asian players, essentially. 

It is, along with every idea that the FA has concocted since I’ve been writing about football, the dumbest idea ever. You know what this rule does? It makes the Spanish and German leagues stronger because they have a much deeper talent pool to draw from. It also enriches those leagues because they can get young Brazilians and Argentinians in early, spend a few years developing them, and then sell them to the Premier League for… what did di Maria cost Man U? Exactly.

And that’s not even mentioning the effect this will have on British players. With this rule, the homegrown rule, and everything else they have tried since they were forced to accept EU passport holders without caps, the FA acts like it believes that if they just closed off England to all foreign players, the British kids would get better.

I have news for you: England tried that and didn’t win a single World Cup after 1966 despite being one of the most closed off countries in the world.

If you really want British kids to get better at football you need them to play with kids like di Maria starting at a young age. You need them to work with coaches like Jonker and others who bring in new ideas and marry them to the old ideas.

I dare say, and I don’t have the stats to prove it, but I suspect Arsenal Football club have more former players currently playing in the Premier League than any other club. Song, Jenkinson, Fabregas, van Persie, Clichy, Sagna, and those are just the stars! There are many more second-tier Arsenal players (feel free to list them and their teams below).

The positive effect of Arsenal’s policy of taking on any player who is good enough regardless of their passport is on display every weekend in the Premier League. Every time Seb Larsson scores a winning goal off a set play, that’s Arsenal kicking a hole in England’s anti-immigration policy. Every time Fabregas sets up Costa, that’s Arsenal kicking another hole. Every time Alex Song (homegrown player) passes the ball to Jenkinson (local kid) who whips in a cross to that lumbering galoot Carroll, that’s Arsenal taking yet another chink out of the FA’s preposterously constructed anti-immigrant armor.

The Football Association’s preposterous attempts to enact what amounts to affirmative action for Englishmen is, and always has been, doomed to failure. No one in England benefits. The only people who win are the clubs in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany, where players like Alexis have to go for 5 years while they wait to get their EU citizenship and then get sold to England for tens of millions of pounds.

And not only are these players now costing more, the fact that clubs are bringing in 26 year old players like di Maria instead of a 17 year old di Maria means that young English talent will not get a look in at these top clubs. Because a team is going to play a 26 year old (who is now the finished product) over the 17 year old English player who has a bright career in front of him.

It is exactly the kind of market meddling that always has the exact opposite effect from the one intended. Instead of bringing in competition for places, it artificially raises the competition to a point where English players are squeezed out. Further meddling, making the non-EU players rarer won’t help the Premier League or the English players. It will only help every other league in the world.

That’s your lot for today, I’ve ranted enough. Perhaps tomorrow I will bring some stats about corners and crosses. Maybe. Until then I have to go check my passport, I’m not sure if the FA wants me writing about English Football. After all, I’m an American.

Qq

Post Script: 

I want to mention that Arsenal are doing an event in April called “Be a Gunner, Be a Runner.” It’s a short run, 6.4km (4 miles) in which the participants run 10 laps around the Emirates stadium. There is an entry fee of £15 with proceeds going to the Arsenal Foundation. The Arsenal Foundation is Arsenal’s official charity and works to help young people around the world fulfill their potential. The Arsenal Foundation partners with Save the Children and the Willow Foundation.

If you live in England or plan to be there on April 11th and want to participate you can find out more information on Arsenal.com. For those of us who live overseas we can participate as well and I thought it would be fun to get a group together here in my part of the world to train and run on April 11th. I have the route already picked out, it’s a forest jog through Tacoma’s very own Pt. Defiance. Perhaps you made a resolution to get fit in the new year? Getting a group run together is the perfect way to make that happen. I envision us practicing on the weekends after the matches, maybe every Saturday until we can nail the entire run in under an hour. If you’re into this sort of thing, send me an email to 7amkickoff at gmail and I’ll get you signed up. As a bonus, we will get numbers from Arsenal for the actual race day and I will take photos of us all and send them to the media folks. You could be famous!