Category Archives: Transfers

Croydon

Flamini back, Wilshere back, Cesc back, Pulis back, I need a whiskey back: notes from the outside

How much information can one pack in to an opening sentence?

“Table-topping Arsenal will be happy to have midfield enforcer Matthieu Flamini back for their trip from North to South London where they will face a leaderless, bottom of the table, Crystal Palace side and hope to regain momentum in their Premier League title charge after a bitter late loss to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League midweek.”

Gah, I could edit that all day but I can’t spend all morning on that because there are plenty of other topics to cover. I suppose I could have done it in stream of consciousness style… maybe I’ll save that for the post match report – it will be just one long sentence. Anyway, on with the show.

Yes, Flamini is back, which is a boost to the side not because Arteta did so poorly, he was the standout player for Arsenal in midweek, but rather because Flamini-Arteta gives Wenger contrasting options in the deep lying midfield position.

Arteta tends to fill out a stat sheet as he did against Dortmund where he made 11/12 tackles and led all players in passes made. And while Arteta is filling out the stats sheet, Flamini tends to fill out the pants of opposition midfielders. Given that Palace’s players will probably be trying to show off for their new manager, reportedly the former Stoke boss Tony Pulis who once headbutted one of his own players in the shower, I think that Flamini, with his cold, steely gaze and proclamations that he will “blind you” if opposition enforcers try to push around Arsenal’s more creative players, gets my nod for the starting center mid.

In that more creative role Wenger again has options. Asked at his press conference whether Cazorla and Özil can play together (paraphrasing) Wenger responded with “of course.” It’s obvious why once you think about it for a few seconds: teams will try to target Özil and keep him from creating for Arsenal, but if you have two players of Özil quality, it’s much more difficult to shut them down. We saw that against Dortmund. The Germans targeted Özil for the majority of the game and given that he was still a bit sick, he really struggled, that is until Cazorla came on. As you can see from this animated GIF of Özil’s dashboard:

Özil created just one shot for teammates until Wenger brought Cazorla on, then he created three. It freed Cazorla up as well, who created a shot and took two shots, I believe both from Özil.

Now add in that Ramsey is playing almost at the level of Özil and Cazorla and Arsenal have three players for Palace to try to keep quiet. Oh, and Giroud leads the League in assists as well. Legitimate question here… do we even need Wilshere tomorrow? I’d rest him and maybe look at Arteta-Flamini in CM (which puts Arteta back in his favored shuttling role and gives Arsenal both pants stuffing and stats stuffing, ALL THE STUFFING) with Cazorla-Özil-Ramsey behind Giroud.

I could go on for another 500 words and add some flowery language or maybe a metaphor like

…so you know how in Star Wars, they are stuck in the trash compactor and there’s this weird snake like thing? How does that creature escape? And more important, how did he get there in the first place? This really raises questions about the shoddy construction of this Death Star. No wonder a guy flying a tiny fighter ship could blow it up with a single bomb. Also, let’s talk about their defenses. I mean, yes, offensively the Death Star was awesome, but who builds a giant ship like that and doesn’t have an adequate airforce around it to fend off a few rebel planes? Which is all to say that hopefully Wenger has constructed a solid enough defense to compliment his awesome offense and we aren’t undone by some kid “shooting wamp rats” at our exhaust pipe.

But I don’t need to do that. Arsenal need to respond to the loss against Dortmund strongly. Palace is a very weak team, though Arsenal can’t take that for granted, and Arsenal need to sweep them aside if they want to be considered legitimate title contenders.

Tomorrow’s match is on at 5am for me. I am going out tonight. I will still get up and watch the match, and then crawl back into bed. You will see a By the Numbers post from me on Arseblog News later in the day and a post-match wrap up on Sunday. Hopefully it’s a good one and it is full of metaphors that aren’t all Star Warsy.

Cesc is back!

…In the news. Sid Lowe has a two-part interview with Cesc and it comes across like Cesc is trying to re-write history a bit here but I’ll leave that for you to decide. Would you take him back?*

Song is back!

Ha! Song is also in the news and saying that he’s not ruling out a return to Arsenal. Uhh.. this is a Song sung blue. I would be very surprised to see him in an Arsenal shirt ever again. That said, I almost got rid of my Flamini shirt and he came back after burning that bridge in a way that I don’t think Song ever did, so I guess anything is possible. Would you take him back?

Qq

*This isn’t a real question is it?

Does Arsenal have the thinnest squad in the top six?

Quick post today and it’s a graphic. The question arose in my parody post yesterday as to whether Arsenal actually have as thin a squad as many folks worry. I think all Arsenal supporters had a collective gulp looking at the bench in the match against Sunderland on Saturday. But as Dr. Gooner pointed out, things might not be as bad as some think. As the Good Doctor pointed out Arsenal were missing Mertesacker, Arteta, Cazorla, and Podolski — all first team starters last term — and still fielded a squad which beat Sunderland 3-1*.

It was an interesting observation and one which I had been thinking about since I kept hearing people talk about the need for a fourth center back. At that time I casually wondered if other teams had four or five center backs and took a look around. It turns out that most of the top teams have just three center backs, United is the exception with five, and one or two others who can fill in for them.

After looking at my data (culled from WhoScored.com lineups with Injury League data in red) I have decided that everyone is right: Arsenal needs just a forward. Podolski and Walcott can play there as backup to the backup which is to say that it’s not their best position. It’s starting to make sense why Arsene went for Ba. Because if you can add a player of even Ba’s quality (which is decent!) you will have a really well stocked squad. I don’t even think you need to be too insightful to see that any of the good forwards would improve the depth of the front line: Benteke, Michu, etc.

Anyway, I now leave you all to argue.

Squad-depth

(UPDATED)

(And here’s another version taken entirely from Transfermarkt.com using their classifications of DM, CM, AM, LW, etc. I changed a few people, like Chicharito who they had as an outright CF which isn’t anywhere near true. The players in red are injured for more than just a few days according to the Injury League site, which I don’t link to on account of the real annoying video ads that automatically run when you go to their site.)

Squad-depth

Qq

*Arsenal haven’t scored three on Sunderland since 7/10/2007.

fat-cat-money

Let’s put the austerity years behind us and sing it loud “we’re in the money!”

We’re in the money,
We’re in the money;
We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We’re in the money,
The sky is sunny;
Old Man Depression, you are through,
You done us wrong!

As predicted yesterday, the Arsenal world has launched into arguing over quotes attributed to Arsene Wenger. Quotes which flatly state that up until this summer Arsenal have not had the money to buy big name players. To say that these statements have reopened an old disagreement among fans is an understatement.

The problem is that this is not something we haven’t heard before. In 2010, Wenger made a similar statement on Arsenal.com saying boldly that Arsenal could compete with Chelsea:

“I think we can overcome [Chelsea],” he said. “For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

And so, in the last three years we Arsenal fans have spent countless hours wonder why we haven’t bought those players and arguing over whether the club actually had money to spend on big name players.

I believe firmly that they had and have the money. I have looked at the financial reports for the last 8 years and I believe that Arsenal have had the money to improve the squad and have chosen not to spend that money until now. There are a variety of reasons given and imagined for why they didn’t spend: couldn’t compete with Chelsea, couldn’t afford the top top top class players, wanted to take dividends, were waiting for the powder to get really super extra dry, holding back the money for Wenger’s successor, aliens, didn’t want to “pull a Rangers,” plastic elastic lobster telephone, Wenger doesn’t like to spend, the board didn’t want to spend, Wenger doesn’t like the competition of “big ego players”, and the old chestnut that Arsenal have never been a buying club.

All of these ideas and more could be argued ad nauseam with no resolution — they have been argued since I started this blog 5 years ago so I see no end in sight. And we will never know the truth until Arsenal want us to know the truth: and even then? We’d still argue about it. Just like when Wenger says “I have the money” people still say “but Wenger doesn’t REALLY have the money.”

So, where I am going from here is not to argue over what should have been done but rather to take the current words of both the board and the manager and hold them to those words.

Both board and manager have now said that they have the money to spend and that they will spend to improve the squad. I expect them to honor that pledge and buy the players that will improve this squad.

Here is the direct quote:

AW: “I just defend the idea that you spend the money you have and not the money you don’t have. For years I did that. Today we have more so we can spend more. It’s as simple as that.”

Q: And you are excited by that prospect of being able to spend more?

AW: “Of course I am excited by that prospect but what I want to convince you of is that we are ready to spend the money if we feel that the players makes us a better team tomorrow morning. Maybe it’s difficult to balance that in a newspaper but football is not only about that. It’s bigger than that. It’s about the team, the quality of the play, the spirit and togetherness and the quality of the players. Therefore we have to focus on all the rest as well.”

Q: What are the reasons as to why the squad has declined even in numbers? Is that down to the years of having to be frugal?

AW: “What happened for years was the quality of our work has been taken away from us because the best players left for financial reasons. For the first time this year that has not happened and I don’t think it will happen again for financial reasons. We have made the first step. The next step is to strengthen the squad and the team by buying the right players.”

Sure, there’s some weasel room in Wenger’s insistence that the players they buy have to be better than the ones we have (the right players) but I can show you objectively that we haven’t done that over the last 8 years. Ready? Who was Park better than? Chamakh? Gervinho? Santos? Squillaci? Is Nacho better than Gibbs? 

Therein lies the argument “is X player better than Y?” But finding better players than the ones we have is actually easier than ever before. The amount of data available to fans, managers, and scouts is absurd. Every year players make the step up from relative obscurity and every year we see these players on WhoScored.com and other data-driven web sites, look at their stats and can tell they are going to make the step up. For example, I never saw Özil play a single game but I saw his stats from his time playing at Werder Bremen and could see that this was a young player who was already putting up eye popping numbers of key passes, dribbles, and assists. In that same season, you could see that Arturo Vidal was a top player, Tony Kroos, Sven Bender, Luiz Gustavo, on and on.*

Last spring I said that we should judge this management team and manager on what they did this summer. They spent nearly a year and a half bragging about how much money they had and how they could afford top talent so my feeling was they needed to go out and get top talent. They did. And I will loudly congratulate them for doing so. Özil is a dream signing and the parallels between him and Bergkamp are uncanny. Absolutely stonking signing and everyone from Gazidis to Wenger to the guy who keeps the fax machine running need to be patted on the back.

And now they are talking loudly again that they will continue to buy and how Arsenal have new-found financial firepower. Bully to us! Not only do we have the money but Özil is the perfect piece to build around!

I will never mention the austerity years again except as a wistful remembrance if we do exactly what Arsenal are saying that they are going to do; use the money to build this team into title contenders again. Compete with Chelsea and Man City on even footing and do it the right way as they like to say, without a dime borrowed or loaned from a sugar daddy.

Finding top talent is easier than ever before, Arsenal have the money coming in to buy that talent, and Arsenal have the perfect player to assemble that talent around. And more importantly, the board and manager are now saying that they can and will spend.

How could you not be excited — positive even — over the prospect of this club finally pushing through to the next level?

Of course, that’s in January. For now, I will settle for just showing me some stellar football tomorrow. Come on you rip roaring reds!

Until then,

Qq

*You want to know some breakout players this year? Max Kruse: 11 goals, 8 assists, 80 shots, 93 key passes, 93 dribbles last season. If you want a more traditional forward, look at Nils Petersen and Adam Szalai who have both already put in some impressive displays this season. In defense you’re going to hear Nathan Baker’s name (from Villa) a lot. At left back Bastian Oczipka is a crossing fool and a tackling maniac. At right back, there’s 27 year old Carlos Martinez from Real Sociedad who was one of the best players in La Liga last season. I’ll stop there but I can do this all day. ALL DAY.