Category Archives: Transfers

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.

Özil

Özil Özil Özil Özil Wenger Wenger Özil Özil Özil Özil FFP FFP

Today in North London Mesut Özil officially became a Gunner. Özil attended his first training, he was officially unveiled (he stood next to Arsene and held up a shirt), he attended his first press conference, and he was asked his first stupid question by the British press: “Mesut, tell us, Wie viel wissen Sie hasse es, wenn Leute dumme Sachen sagen über Ihre Augen??”

As with everything about this Arsenal signing the presser was different. Özil spoke through a translator and the official video cuts in and out of sound as our interpreter gives his answers to questions. Despite the technical oddness, his answers were basically the same stuff we have already heard in the press: he came to Arsenal because of the manager’s faith in him, he wants to improve, he is looking forward to the challenge of the Premier League, and he knows that Arsenal are a big club:

Arsenal are a very well known club, a very successful club with very young players, and the young players develop very well here. This was one of the reasons why I chose to come here, I want to continue to improve myself. I am really happy to be here under such a great manager.

The manager was praised as well with Özil saying that having Wenger’s faith was an importaant factor in making the switch. “When I talked to Arsene on the phone he was full of respect and as a player I need the respect.”

There are some who will read veiled subtexts there about former manager Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. Mourinho benched Özil for big stretches of his last season at Real Madrid and FloPe has had quotes published making rather harsh accusations about Mesut Özil’s sex life, professionalism, and supposed greed.

Some have suggested that the quotes look fabricated and still others (with a comedy pile of poop hairstyle) are suggesting that Özil is going to sue FloPe. Özil for his part distanced himself from all of that simply stating that people who know him know his work ethic.

Regardless of whether there is a lawsuit, the fact remains that Real Madrid have come off looking like Real Chumps in this deal and it certainly smells a lot like they are trying to foul the waters after his departure. Wenger took a swipe at clubs like Real who spend beyond their means in the quote that will be argued over by people who like to use acronyms like “WOB”, “AKB” and my favorite “JFCYPAFS”.

Taking a swipe at Madrid, Chelsea, and Man City, Wenger said:

I fight for the teams to spend the money they had made and not the money they have artificially earned.

And followed that up with the quote for everyone to argue over:

Once they have made that money I am happy to spend it. As you know as well, what is very important for us is to find world-class players. There are not plenty around. We had to go through some years when I signed a long-term contract where we had some restricted financial potential. And the target was to stay in the Champions League in this period and we managed to do it. We are now in a strong position financially.

Did Wenger just admit that Arsenal’s target for the last 8 years was 4th place? Did he just say that Arsenal didn’t have money even though we all know that they did have money? Is Wenger promising more signings?

I can hear the sharpening of the knives now.

As for his own future Wenger (on the last year of his contract) was either “cagey” or just plain honest. “We aren’t in a hurry. We’re in September. My contract finishes in June. It’s a long way to go.”

In the team news Arsenal have stated that only Tomas Rosicky returned injured and that Özil could start on Saturday against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Perfect introduction then for our newest superstar; away game to a team known as much for crunching tackles and trying to win off corners as anything else.

Qq