Category Archives: Transfers

draxler-biter

Could Tottenham help Arsenal sign another superstar?

“Arsene is incapable of spending big” they said…

From the moment that Arsenal secured fourth place at Newcastle to the moment before Arsenal signed Mesut Özil there was a tension among Arsenal supporters over signings. Some supporters believed that there was no money. Some believed that there was no plan. Some believed that the club lacked the corporate type who could get things done. Some believed in a late surprise. And some believed that Arsene Wenger was simply incapable of spending the kind of money needed to sign players like Suarez or Higuain. But whatever each person believed, the Arsenal supporters were united in one belief: that the club needed a signal of intent, a big signing.

Those doubts, if you harbored them, were not irrational. After the move from Highbury, the club were clearly cash strapped and spent very little on transfers. Moreover, if you read any of the broad tops, which everyone does in England even if they won’t admit it, the club was constantly being outmaneuvered in the transfer market: just missing out on this or that player as the more voracious clubs “swooped” up all our targets.

And not to drag out the corpus delicti of this summer’s transfers but you’d hardly be irrational if in looking at the way that players like Gustavo turned Arsenal down, the way that Arsenal were hemming and hawing over Higuain, and the absolutely brutal saga with Suarez, you concluded that there was little to no plan and that perhaps there was something Strangelovian going on in the Arsenal transfer war room.

So when Arsenal announced the signing of Mesut Özil there was a collective gasp that sucked the air out of North London. Özil? From Real Madrid? How did they pull that off?

As it turns out, they pulled that off with a little help from Tottenham.

See, Real Madrid wanted to sign Gareth Bale from Tottenham but they didn’t really have the money and Tottenham didn’t really want to sell. So when Arsenal found out that Real Madrid needed a wad of dough to fund the raid of Arsenal’s rival the Gunners’ management aggressively pursued several Real Madrid first-team players. Higuain seemed the most likely but let’s not forget that there were also stories about Arsenal contacting di Maria and Benzema. As we now know it was Real Madrid’s President, Perez, who decided that Mesut Özil was the one he would sell and every Arsenal fan has been thankful ever since.

So Arsenal took £40m, broke their transfer record, gave it to Real Madrid, which Real used to buy Arsenal’s closest rival’s best player, and in return Arsenal got the best playmaker in Europe. And as a direct result, Arsenal are top of the table, 11 points above last year’s champions.

“Players like Goetze don’t want to sign for Arsenal” they said

Now here we are in the January transfer window and Arsenal’s management has been aggressively pursuing Schalke’s Julian Draxler. Draxler is rated among the very best young prospects in Europe and with the stats he’s putting up at the moment you can see why.

Draxler plays in a dribbler’s league and among the dribblers is prodigious. Sorting all the players in Europe’s top 5 Leagues by individual dribbles per game, the Bundesliga is home to 13 of the top 20 individual best dribblers: Draxler is second in dribbles per game (5.1) just behind Balon d’Or runner up, Franck Ribery (6).

Comparing Draxler to Ribery, Draxler is dispossessed less (2.3 v. 4 per game), turns the ball over less (0.9 v. 1.3 per game), but is also fouled less (0.9 v. 2.2), creates less for teammates (1 KP v. 2.9), shoots less (1.8 v. 3.2), and scores a lot less.

That latter, the scoring, has been a bit of a problem this season. Last year, when he was 19 years old, Draxler scored a very respectable 10 goals in the Bundesliga and 1 in the Champions League and this year he has just 1 in the Bundesliga and 3 in the Champions League. I went back and looked at his shot positions and the problem is that Draxler takes far too many shots from outside the 18 yard box.

It’s not that he doesn’t penetrate, he dribbles in and around the 18 yard box, but he’s just not finding teammates nor his shooting boots when he does penetrate. He’s scored a lot of goals from distance (6/14) and so he no doubt has the talent to hit those shots but getting goals from close range is the bread and butter of top strikers: it’s the major difference between Suarez’ finishing last season and this. But, Draxler is only 20 years old and if you consider that players reach their peak between 24-28 this kid has a huge upside.

Given his current form and potential upside, it’s no surprise that Arsenal have courted him, going so far as to give the young man a tour of the facilities last week. And today, Schalke’s general manager has been quoted saying that “We continue to hope that Julian remains, but there are factors that we cannot influence.”

Draxler wasn’t supposed to be a January transfer target for anyone but Schalke are reportedly in financial trouble and have been for a few years now. This admission that Draxler could leave in this window is seen by many as the club desperately asking for bids.

Not only that but Lewis Holtby, former Schalke player and current Tottenham benchwarmer, is being lined up by the German team as Draxler’s replacement. Which would mean that once again, Tottenham could be clearing the way for Arsenal to sign a major target. Thanks Spurs!

If it’s true that Schalke need cash and are willing to let Draxler leave in January only if Tottenham will loan them Holtby then this is quite an incredible story. Just imagine, 6 months ago we were told that players didn’t want to join Arsenal, and now Arsene might not only get one of the world’s hottest young talents but might get him at a bargain 6 months earlier than expected, thanks to Tottenham.

Heads on both sides of North London would explode if that were to happen.

One thing though, don’t expect Draxler to contribute much this season. He’s apparently ruptured a tendon and is out until March. Just in time to face Bayern Munich in Munich?  (sourced via Daily Mail, unreliable)

Qq

Action Jackson Martinez

Jackson Martinez is not a replacement for Walcott, he might not even be a replacement for Giroud

If I see another article that links Jackson Martinez to Arsenal as a replacement for Theo Walcott I think I might flip into a Dan Smith ankle-breaking rage. No matter how highly some might rate “Action” Jackson Martinez he’s no replacement for Theo Walcott. Jackson doesn’t whip crosses in to a center forward from a wide position, Jackson doesn’t keep the opposition on their heels with his quick bursts of speed in the channels, Jackson doesn’t take corners, Jackson doesn’t dribble, and Jackson doesn’t score goals from counter attacks. Action Jackson, as it turns out, isn’t so full of action.

What Jackson does very well is all the things Giroud does well. In fact, it’s amazing how similar their numbers over the last two years in the Champions League.

Games Goals Shots SoG Conversion SoG% Aerial DRB KP AST Disp Turn
Martinez (CL 2013/2014) 6 2* 26 7 8% 27% 23/45 4 8 0 14 17
Giroud (CL 2013/2014) 6 2 10 3 20% 30% 18/35 3 2 1 11 29
Martinez (CL 2012/2013) 8 3 22 6 14% 27% 11/34 2 9 0 20 20
Giroud (CL 2012/2013) 7 2 14 7 14% 50% 21/44 1 5 4 12 10

Giroud has been slightly more efficient, but when we are comparing 13 games to 14 games I’m loath to say that there’s any real difference at all. Though, the one place where I would give Giroud a clear advantage is in the assists category: 5 v. 0 is a really good return, even if Arsenal are easily the overall better team and that fact would inflate a player’s assists. Still, looking at the fact that Walcott scored 21 goals and made 14 assists in all competitions for Arsenal last season, and did so from a variety of positions but mostly on the right, should give you great pause about thinking a center forward like Jackson is his replacement.

This raises another question. When I first started following Jackson last year I was excited by him as a prospect for Arsenal — he seemed a great goal scorer in a league that was highly rated by FIFA and the pundits, and a center forward on a team producing talent like Hulk, Moutinho, and Rodriguez by the buckets. But now we’ve had two seasons with Martinez in the Champions League and two seasons at Porto, in a league where, let’s face it, this season Fredy Montero is the leading goal scorer, and I’m wondering if this guy is worth €20m much less the €40m Porto want?

You probably don’t know who Fredy Montero is: he used to play for my local club Seattle Sounders and he was a halfasster.** Fredy was clearly the most talented player on the Sounders but he was also the single most frustrating player I’ve ever seen play the game.

But now here he is in Portugal scoring 13 goals in 14 games and having seen him play in person many times and watched his career in Latin America after the Sounders, it really makes me question the quality of Liga Sagres that this guy is their leading goalscorer. Not only that, but 4 of Fredy’s goals are headers, and he’s 5’7″. Suddenly, Jackson Martinez “master of the aerial duel and leading goal-scorer in Portugal” is starting to look a lot weaker.

So, as more and more evidence has piled up and with Porto now asking a ricockulous €40m transfer fee (plus whatever else the player, his agents, the tax man, and everyone else gets in this deal) I have cooled significantly on Jackson. To me, he looks like a carbon copy of Giroud at best and the question then is do we need more than two Girouds at Arsenal? Two €40m Girouds? Isn’t Giroud plus the greatest striker that ever lived inside Bendtner’s head enough? I think so.

To replace Theo you have to get a player like Draxler. Or perhaps the much touted 21 year old from Real Madrid, Álvaro Morata on loan? I’m probably the only blogger who will admit that I’ve never seen Morata play football. But when it comes to “upside”, taking a 21 year old player like Morata on loan for £1.7m versus signing a 27 year old for £33m from Porto who has been passed over by every other club and who is playing in a league where the leading goal scorer is Fredy Montero seems like a no-Brianer**.

Have you seen Morata play? Can you give us a verdict? Moreover, should Arsenal have three or four Girouds?

Qq

*All headed goals
**Not a full disaster, just a half-assed-disaster.
***My uncle’s name is Brian, trust me, this makes sense.

Think of them like collectables

How big a loss is Walcott and can Arsenal replace him with Gnabry and Ox?

First, a disclaimer: I actively dislike the “Arsenal’s record with X player is Y and without X player is Z” stat. I hate this stat because every season there’s one of these that’s published and it supposedly shows a player’s impact on the team but in reality they tend to just illustrate flukes, streaks, or minuscule differences that look big because of the way they are being presented.

Remember that stat about how Arsenal never lost when Djourou played a full 90 minutes? That made all the rounds until Djourou reverted to form and was shunted back to Deadwood.

But for whatever reason this stat captivates people, moreso than actually meaningful stats. So, when WhoScored tweeted:

People took a look at that difference in win% and thought, “oh no, Arsenal are going to lose 5.5% more games!” But, if you look at what that number actually means, you see that if you extrapolate +5.5% over the 8 seasons they measured, Arsenal would have won 9 more total games. Total. In 8 seasons. Twitter user @dorkkly made this graphic to illustrate the concept:

Dorkly

Some people took exception to me pointing that out on twitter and claimed that over the last three or four years Walcott’s impact has been greater. So I looked at that and sure enough, Walcott has had very little impact on the overall points difference for Arsenal whether he plays or not. The +5% win rate is the same but the PPG? 0.04.

walcott

 

This is Arsenal’s leading goal scorer last season, 14 goals and 10 assists, making almost no impact? Something tells me that this “X wins with and Y wins without” stat is at best misleading and at worst may be just downright wrong. Do you really think the club would have found 24 goals from someone else last year?

Maybe they would have. Maybe that’s when Cazorla steps up or Podolski steps in? Those contributions, though, have to come from somewhere. To paraphrase, those 24 goals aren’t going to score themselves. And most folks think Gnabry and Ox will step in and fill Theo’s speedy boots.

I really hope so, but based on my analysis this is a huge step up for them.

per-90

 

It’s difficult to say with both Ox and Serge because both of them have played precious few minutes and we know that most players need minutes, consistent minutes, to put down good stats. Gnabry, in particular, has so little data that I’m actually ashamed of putting those states in that graphic above. I’ll probably receive a stern warning from the Statslords for “excessive use of small sample sizes” but instead of looking at that chart and saying “they’ll never replace Walcott” look at Walcott’s numbers as targets.

Both players are better dribblers than Walcott and that’s based on both data and anecdotal evidence, so that’s a huge plus in their book. They are exactly the kind of player we want to help us break down teams that park the bus.

Gnabry and Ox also have that surprise factor, in that defenses don’t have experience dealing with their eccentricities so they can use that to their advantage, especially in the next few months.

What you might be tempted to think will go missing are Walcott’s crosses and key passes but here’s the thing… A lot of Walcott’s successful crosses and key passes come from corners. Corners that Cazorla and Özil can and will take from now on. That leaves the two young bucks to get crosses from the by-line in to others in the box, a Walcott specialty. With their control and dribbling ability, I think both of them will be able to perform that function admirably.

The big question for me is where Arsenal will get Walcott’s goals. Notice I didn’t do a “Per 90″ for goals and assists. That’s because goals and assists are unlike other stats in that they are rare and change games radically. This is where I am most hesitant to say that Arsenal will replace Theo easily. Walcott has a knack for scoring (or assisting) early in matches and this has been huge for Arsenal in the last year. Those early leads have allowed the Gunners to sit back soaking up pressure rather than camping in the opposition half trying to break down a team playing for a 0-0 draw, like Chelsea.

So, in some ways I think Walcott can be replaced: crosses, dribbles, and even shots will be redistributed among the others. But where I’m a lot less sure is in the place where it really matters: goals. 24 goals last season (scored and assisted) is a huge burden to place on the shoulders of two young men. The whole team is going to have to step up to fill in that stat.

And maybe they can? I mean, after all, without Walcott, the team only averaged -1.5 points per season less over the last 4 years.

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