Category Archives: Transfers

We all just want to get lucky (with di Maria or someone)

Arsenal beat Fulham 3-1 at Crave Cottage on Saturday to cap off an opening week of football that took us on a clichecoaster ride of downs and ups. In fact, the more I think about cliches, this week has been exactly like that song by that band. You know the song, by that band, and how they are all “struggles, overcome, a little, but not permanently, and yet we endure.”

Oh wait, no I mean that song by Daft Punk, “Get Lucky.”

I don’t know why but in all my years following football I never gave luck its due. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a plebe when it comes to understanding football. But still, I’ve been following Arsenal since the before the turn of the century and you’d think that in 15 years or so I would have picked up on something so fundamental as the large role luck plays in football.

The fact I never gave luck much credence makes even less sense when you know how much work I’ve put into trying to find statistical correlations between shots and goals and games won. Or how I look so closely at errors and play in the final third. Or the fact that I have ever watched a Stoke City match, a club which relentlessly relies on the six-yard-box scramble to stay in the Premier League.

They’re up all night to get replay.

But Wenger plays the long odds: the season is a marathon, he’ll tell you, and you need to build a team that can run the marathon. So, one unlucky break shouldn’t kill the season.

Losing on opening day is really no different than losing on December 26th or May 8th. It’s all just a loss, mixed in with, hopefully, a lot of wins and a few draws. It doesn’t hurt any less for us fans and especially coming as it did on the tails of our summer of discontent but I do understand the long-haul theory.

I can also understand Arsenal fans anger at the referee in the first match. Arsenal don’t get the benefit of a clear penalty call by Anthony Taylor, who gives Villa two penalties, and makes a whole host of other poor calls. Meanwhile just down the Seven Sisters Road, them lot have scored just two goals so far this season and have had both from the penalty spot. Those who are looking for the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify Arsenal’s bodily fluids have been in full overdrive this last week.

But I’ll tell you what would fix the problem with referees instantaneously: instant replay. And don’t give me this guff about “delaying the game”. There are around 30 minutes or more of every game where the keeper is taking a kick, the players are throwing the ball in, someone is rolling around waiting to get treatment, Stoke are playing with their balls, etc. Football is a fast-paced game, but it is punctuated by plenty of down-time for kicks and arguing with the officials. Plenty of time for the rare instance of a review for an uncalled penalty or a penalty given.

Podolski just likes to have fun

Arsene Wenger admitted that he wants to hold on to Lukas Podolski after his two-goal haul against Fulham on Saturday and I see nothing wrong with that. Lukas isn’t the complete striker we all wish that he was and he’s actually not very consistent but he certainly adds value to the squad.

There was a lot of talk about his fitness last year and the fact that he played 51 times for club and country yet only completed 5 games is a clue that perhaps his fitness really was an issue. This is a player who averaged 80+ minutes per appearance over the three seasons prior, dropping to just 60 minutes average per app.

If he’s willing to take on a bench role he could be a super-sub. Though, I wonder if he’d willingly do that during a World Cup year.

Giroud’s putting away with aplomb

The one place that Arsenal have been lucky is that our big French forward has found his close-range shooting boots. I suppose I should have seen that coming but I was too busy fawning over Theo Walcott and his growth curve to see that Giroud would start finishing those big chances. He was 4 for 23 in big chances last season and that led everyone to conclude that he’s not a finisher. But he’s now 2 for 2 in that department and already off to a cracking start with three goals in three games.

Both goals had an element of luck to them but still all credit to Giroud for finishing. The goal against Fulham at the weekend was especially lucky, Ramsey takes a shot from distance, it gets tangled in legs and pops to Giroud who has the defender on his back and the keeper left to beat. Quick thinking little flick and boom he’s off watersliding into the corner flag.

We’re all uptight about Ramsey

You may have noticed this but Arsenal fans talk in metaphor based on a shared folklore. It’s like that episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where Picard is trapped on that planet with the Tamarian and he keeps saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”. Instead of Darmok we have “Rooney, bombing past Denilson against Man U” and “Fabregas backheel at Barcelona” or “Bin-bag in the bus to Liverpool” all metaphors for our shared experience of Arsenal.

Ramsey seems to have an unusual number of strong metaphors tied to him. “Ramsey at Stoke” is the most prominent and will probably remain his most prominent metaphor, though he does seem to have been nudging the meaning of that metaphor slowly away from a sort of lode stone around his neck and into something much more triumphant. Maybe one day “Ramsey at Stoke won’t conjure up images of Ryan Shawcross breaking his leg but rather Ramsey getting a trophy winning goal.

Like Giroud and Podolski above I don’t want to get too excited by Ramsey’s play but the kid has been outstanding so far in the Arteta role. He’s leading Arsenal in tackles and passes, both things that Arteta did in his time, and he never hides when the club need someone to drop back and pick the ball up. A lot of defensive midfielders don’t want the ball, but Ramsey loves the ball.

He’s added a bit more guile to his game and watching him dance on the edge of the box then provide the pass for Theo to get the assist was pretty special. He followed that up with a goal and I wonder if it was a “Ramsey at Fenerbahce” moment?

We’re all in for Flamini?

I’m not kidding when I say that I have a Flamini shirt. I got it in 2008 when I went over and saw Arsenal play Blackburn on a freezing cold February night. Senderos got the opener in the 4th minute and Adebayor got the clincher in the 90th but in between it was Flamini who ran the show in the Arsenal midfield.

Flamini was so fantastic that night that the guy next to me remarked that Flamini was man of the match. I was all bundled up so he couldn’t see my shirt and I was still a bit shy about talking to strangers at games but I smiled broadly thinking I had bought well in the team shop.

The thing that gave Flamini that extra oomph was that he had a flare for the dramatic. Never one to just let a guy like Nani seal dribble all over the Arsenal midfield, Flamini would come from the other side of the pitch and put an end to that showboating.

By the time I returned to the States, Wenger was so full of praise for Flamini’s ability to control the tempo of the game and to get stuck in that he dubbed him “Flattuso”.

But the thing is, that was five years ago and he’s been a little used player at AC Milan during his time away. I can’t see him controlling the tempo of a game any more but I can see Cabaye doing that Flamini role with Cazorla.

 

Cabaye has gotten a rep as a pretty player but he has that flare for the nasty that marked Flamini down in everyone’s copy book with the phrase “prick” happily double underlined. Cabaye’s put in some rather nasty challenges, the one on Jay Spearing which had Kopites all reaching for their copy of Dr. Strangelove to see if the International Communist Conspiracy was against them the same way it’s against us (it’s a busy conspiracy).

I would welcome Cabaye at Arsenal. I liked him before he came to Newcastle and I think he’s got the bite we need, mixed with the class that Wenger needs. However you slice it, he’s a better buy than Flamini on a free. I mean, unless we just want someone to come on and kick people. In which case just play Frimpong.

And frankly? I’m kind of ashamed of my Flamini shirt.

Let’s raise our cups to the stars

Cabaye is the only player so far with a strong Arsenal link. I’ve said that phrase before and gotten people shouting at me but read it again, strong link. I’m hearing loads of rumors for other players but Cabaye is actually on strike and Pardew today said that they are looking for a quick resolution so I think that will happen Monday or Tuesday.

The Benzema deal was never going to happen, and his agent/dad/best friend’s cousin’s sister’s brother confirmed as much, but it was fun to dream for a minute that somehow Arsenal would steal the guy with the number 9 shirt at Real Madrid. Di Maria looks more likely than Benzema as they need to raise the money and Bale will take his place on the right side of the Real Attack.

Di Maria is a truly dribbly, left-footed wide player who has been deployed on the right to cut back in on his left in the trademark Mourinho fashion. He can play either side of the attack but would be especially suited to the left where Podolski is playing now.

In center back I wonder if Arsenal wouldn’t do better to just keep Sagna there and buy a fullback to compete with Jenkinson for the starting spot? I really like Sagna’s solid frame in the center of defense and he’s great in the air. He also seems to have lost a step since his two leg breaks and had some trouble keeping up with the speedy, younger wingers the last few outings at fullback. There are a lot of good right backs out there right now any of which would add depth to the club.

And finally, I’ve heard a lot about keepers this week and here’s my take on Wenger and keepers: I have no idea what he’s doing. This is a manager who tried in vain to get Schwarzer but wasn’t really going all out to get a keeper in for the last 5 years. It was more of a tepid attempt to sign a keeper than anything. And now I read that he’s after Casillas and Krul. Let me put it this way, I’ll believe that Arsenal have a new keeper when I see him playing for Arsenal.

Fener 0-3 Arsenal: Wenger hoping to get a full house at transfer market poker

Relief is the operative word as Arsenal’s 3-0 thrashing of Fenerbahce, on their home ground in Hell, provided the much needed pressure release valve from the boiling emotions of the fans, manager, and players. But as much as the performance highlighted Arsene and Arsenal’s good points, pressure will begin to mount anew amid fresh injury reports, reports that Arsenal have been rejected out of hand again in their attempt to purchase much needed players, and with the North London Derby looming as a sort of Transfer Judgement Day for Arsene and Arsenal.

Arsenal outclassed Fener from the off. Walcott was uncontainable down the Fener right hand side and Arsenal’s midfield quatro of Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Rosicky ran and passed circles around the huffing and puffing Miereles and Emre.

That the Turks resorted to kicking the Arsenal players shouldn’t come as a surprise but what surprised more was their inability to even get close to the Arsenal midfield. In all 90 minutes, Fener only made 13 tackles. That’s about half the number Villa made in order to stop Arsenal’s defense. Instead, the Turks relied on clearing their lines and trying to get out on the counter attack.

And clearing their lines Fenerbahce did exceptionally well, managing 45 of 46 clearances while Arsenal were 21 of 23. I like to use clearance dominance as a barometer of how much pressure a team is applying to the other and yesterday Arsenal doubled the offensive output, in that category, of Fener. Which is just about the same amount of shots that each team took 9 for Fener, 16 for Arsenal.

Arsenal’s dominance came from a rampant Wilshere and Ramsey who were given the freedom to run all over the Turkish midfield (as sloppy as the field was). In some statistical twist of fate, Wilshere was fouled 8 times against Villa and completed just 2 dribbles but completed 8 dribbles against Fener and was fouled just twice.

Ramsey had the type of game that many of us have been wanting to see from Ramsey for a while. He “bossed the midfield” leading Arsenal in passes, tackles, and interceptions. Which inexplicably led Arsene Wenger to pronounce after the match the Ramsey is now a physical presence in midfield. I love Aaron Ramsey and he is a great tackler in terms of timing (he was a 90% tackler last season) but he’s not a dominating physical presence. Fener gave him space and he astutely took advantage of that – dancing around the top of the D, Ramsey cut left, dragged back right, dribbled left, dribbled right, found the hole, placed the slide-rule pass for Walcott who had cut in behind the Fener back line. Walcott made the cross look easy, Gibbs did the hard work of finishing. And Arsenal took the lead. The same for his goal, that was also all about time and space afforded by a lax Fener defense. Credit to Ramsey for having a footballing brain and the patience to wait until the right opening appeared. I’m not sure how often we will see him afforded that type of Michael Carrick* time on the ball this season.

Szczesny had a good game, made two great saves and got kicked in the face. This is the thing about Szczesny that confuses people, they see that game and think “he’s great! He save the clean sheet! We don’t need a keeper!” but for some reason they forgive the performance against Villa. Szczesny is an inconsistent performer at best. That’s why I have been beating the drum for Wenger to buy a keeper for two years. Consistency isn’t about being perfect ll the time but rater about being “more better more of the time” in my opinion Szczesny is good but he’s not at that level. Why shouldn’t Arsenal have a top goalkeeper? Because he has Arsenal bedsheets? I have Arsenal bedsheets, would I be a good keeper?

And for the second time in as many games, Arsenal suffered a major injury to an already depleted back four as Webo (who wobbles but doesn’t fall down) kicked Koscielny in the face. Watching the replays again I think Webo deserves a red card. But alas, getting that red card won’t bring Koscielny’s face back any sooner. And as mad as I am that Koz was kicked in the face I’m even madder that I have to write this:

Arsenal moved Sagna to right-footed center back and the giant, slow, right-footed, Mertesacker to left-footed center back where he looked extremely uncomfortable trying to clear with his left, pass with his left, and defend on his slower left foot.

What makes me angry is that we are in this situation because Arsene Wenger has not purchased anyone. And what makes me even angrier is that Wenger is saying things like “the window, for me, opens now.” No, actually, with £150m in the bank the window opened on the same day that it opened for everyone else.

Arsenal are like the tortoise and the hare in the transfer market, except we’re neither the tortoise nor the hare but Sluggo the snail. No one knew Sluggo was even in the race until one of those movie moments when the camera zooms from long shot (usually through a pair of binoculars) of the tortoise and the hare duking it out at the end of the race to focus in on poor old Sluggo just barely crossing the starting line. The tortoise wins the race, the Hare comes second and then Sluggo will be shown again, after credits, just finishing the race in total darkness. They will probably make a sequel to the tortoise and the hare and call it, “Sluggo, spend some f*cking money”.

I’m joking but I’m going to admit that Arsene and I are on a break. I can’t listen to the man talk right now without thinking that somehow I’m taking crazy pills. The transfer window opens now? Right, so how did we transfer Gervinho out? And, so how is it that everyone else, except Man U, got their business done early and without paying absurd transfer fees to do it? Magic? Cheating?

And then the analogy to poker, he made. It’s not poker. There is nothing poker-like about it. This doesn’t require some lucky draw, or a bunch of bluffs to get the pot. This is buying, not gambling, STOP GAMBLING.

Gah.

It’s maddening, really. I mean, we should be sitting back right now and laughing our asses off at Man U’s inability to buy even a single player but we can’t because we can’t even have a bid accepted for a player either. And don’t you, dear reader, start with the “you can’t know what you can’t know” game about transfers. Yes, I can and do know, we have been roundly rejected by at least 6 players and teams. That’s not special knowledge that’s common knowledge. If you choose to reject that, then that’s on you. Just one question, what’s the sand taste like that you have your head buried in?

Sigh…

Anyway, Arsenal play Fulham this weekend and I’m really looking forward to seeing the starting lineup. Hopefully we have a few buckets of plaster lying around, maybe we can use some of the pound notes from the bank and make a plaster of Paris, left-footed center back? Or a keeper? Or a striker?

Oh, an good job against Fener. Congrats and all that on 11-0-0 record in Champions League Qualifiers, Arsene.

Qq

*Teams routinely drove me nuts last season as they played off Michael Carrick giving him freedom to do whatever he wanted with the ball. And whatever he wanted was usually something banal.

walcott-mask

Arsenal 2013-2014 season preview: Theo’s gilt chance

Welcome to Arsenal’s Premier League Season Preview. Tomorrow is the first game of the new season and Arsenal are live here in the States on NBCSP for the 7amkickoff. In case you’re not excited by the upcoming season, let me take the whip you’ve been using to beat the dead horses of Suarez and Gustavo and use it to instead whip you into a frenzy over the new season.

First, I will break down who the competitors are for the top four spots. Then I will give my analysis of Arsenal and hopes for players in the second section. And finally, we’ll save transfers for last and I will write that section in moon runes which can only be read by the waning crescent moon on September 1st.

Chelsea, City, United, Spurs
No matter what you think of the man personally, you have to admit that Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho is no fool. Inheriting a team which played a torrid schedule of world football last season (Petr Cech played 65 games for Chelsea and nearly 80 for club and country) and which struggled in the League and the cups owing to that schedule. Without all that distraction this year, Mourinho will make sure that Chelsea come out the gates strong.

He is often thought of as a defense-first style manager owing to his being the one who first said he would “park the bus” against Arsenal. But who wouldn’t want to park the bus when you have speedy counter attacking midfielders like Hazard, Mata, Oscar, de Bruyne, and new boy Andre Schurrle? Rumor has it that Jose is ready to hand Lukaku a starting berth in the center forward role, which means that he will basically have the exact same formula for the first Chelsea team he used to steamroll the League: conceding just 12 goals, losing just once, and gathering an incredible +79 GD on the way to a 95 point tally. For me, Chelsea are the favorites to win the League.

One of the things that I keep hearing people say has been overlooked but which actually hasn’t been overlooked is how Man City have quietly brought in several new faces at the start of the season and strengthened what was already a very strong squad. In case you were one of the poor souls who had overlooked that, you’re welcome. City spent £90m “quietly” to land Jovetic, Negredo, Fernandinho, and Jesus Navas. They also made a bit of a surprise move and landed Manuel Pellegrini, former Malaga manager, to head up their squad. Pellegrini is a highly regarded manager who spent one year at Real Madrid with the most expensive team ever assembled and… was sacked at the end of the season after failing to win any trophies owing as much to Barcelona’s dominance as to an embarrassing cup exit to 3rd division Alcorcon. In fact, Pellegrini has never won a major trophy. Still, City have, on paper, one of the strongest squads in the League: Kompany is my favorite center half, Zabaleta is underrated, Yaya Toure is one of the best midfielders in the world, and while Aguero is coming off a bad year you’d be somewhat foolish to think that will continue. They will be a strong team.

Manchester United’s appointment of David Moyes was a breath of stale air. In United, English football have a rock that they can tie off to and be secure in the knowledge that things never change. United will play some sort of 4-4-2, they will try to score goals from wide positions, they will whip in crosses, and they will score from corners. Praised for what he did with limited resources, Moyes managed to put together a competitive Everton side on a shoestring budget. But in all those years at Everton, Moyes only made one cup final appearance, and got Everton to Europe just once. I used to be a big Moyes supporter, clouded in my judgement because I really do like Everton, but Moyes has never proven himself and his record against top four clubs (he has won just 15 games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man U and lost an incredible 59 times) speaks volumes. The thing you will hear people say is that “they are champions” and that’s true, under Sir Alex Ferguson’s guidance, Manchester United won yet another title with a team with a core group of 5 players over the age of 30. Players that Moyes cannot seem to replace, in a system which demands a certain style of football, playing in front of a fan base that is used to winning every trophy. The stage is set for a huge tragedy as Moyes falls on his knife in cold December and pizza face takes back over to rescue them from 5th place.

And then Tottenham. The upstarts who want to gain entrance to the top of the table and who have lavishly for years trying to get there but who will live or die by the left boot of just one man: Gareth Bale. Bale accounted for 47% of Tottenham’s points last season. He won them 11 games. And while they have been excellent at collecting parts (unlike Arsenal) they are not good on the whole: defensively, they are very weak despite so many oohing and ahhing over Vertonghen and Lloris. It really all just comes down to one player at Spurs, Bale. And I say that regardless of the fact that they landed one of the tubs I’ve been thumping for Arsenal to get for a year and a half in Ettienne Capoue. Without Bale, they will not finish in the top 6 much less the top four. With him, they are contenders for 4th.

The Arsenal

Arsenal finished in fourth place last season by just one point on the back of a run of 10 matches unbeaten which started immediately after losing to main rivals for 4th place, Tottenham 2-1. Moreover, that run started after Arsene Wenger dropped the captain and starting center half Thomas Vermaelen and benched keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

But that narrative about Arsenal’s season propped up by a 10 match run is actually a bit thin. The changes had started in January, right after back to back losses to Man City and Chelsea. From that point on Arsenal played 16 matches, won 12, drew 3 and lost just one. Those 16 matches account for 42% of the season but 39 of Arsenal’s 73 points, 53% of the total haul. Moreover, Arsenal conceded just 11 goals in that run, regaining an early season defensive nous which saw Arsenal tout the second best defensive numbers in the League finishing with just 37 goals allowed. That run of 16 matches represented an incredible 29% of Arsenal’s total goals conceded.

Everyone hailed Arsenal’s pressing defense at the time but worryingly, by my count, in that run of 16 games Arsenal still allowed a normal number of gilt chances for the opposition. Instead of denying the opponents good shots what happened was that the opposition failed to convert. All season, I counted 53 gilt chances wasted by the opposition and 14 scored. 11 of those gilt chances were scored before the run of 16. That means, prior to the run of 16, Arsenal’s opposition scored 11/40 gilt chances and after the run they scored 3/27. To put this another way Arsenal allowed about 1.8 gilt chances per game before the run and 1.7 and the opposition scored one every two games before but just one every 5 after. In fact, in that final run of 10 matches, the opposition created 12 gilt chances and scored zero.

This probably matches well with your recollection of the final 10 games as most Arsenal supporters were on pins and needles as the defense let players like Lukaku have cracks at Arsenal’s goal from very good scoring positions. Most of that is down to the quality of the opponent but not all: Berbatov missed, van Persie put a wide open header softly into Szczesny’s arms, and Michu missed in the Swansea away match I attended.

Looking at this positively I have to hope that form follows from results. In other words, the good results of the final run emboldens the players. Giving them confidence in their abilities as defenders. In fact, that’s all we can ever ask of our players is that they get better every season, learn from their mistakes, and grow. Szczesny, in particular, made some great saves to deny some of those players and save Arsenal points. So, I will be looking for his growth over the coming season and whether or not Arsene can find the right mix in midfield which will help to shield the back four and limit the number of these gilt chances the opposition are sometimes gifted.

We know that finishing begets finishing is often the case with forwards and the Arsenal forwards were actually quite rapacious in the final four games, finishing 6 of 8 gilt attempts and hitting the woodwork twice (both Walcott). I have tipped Walcott to have a real break out season this year and I stand by that. He is one of only a very few “double-double” players, guys who can get you double figures in both assists and goals over the course of a season. I also think Giroud has room to grow in terms of both his ability to hold up the ball and in turning to attack the opposition when he does have the ball. He is often decried as a player who doesn’t score away goals because he got just one in League play (10 home) but in the other cup competitions he scored 5/6 goals away and against teams like Bayern as well. Giroud’s overall problem last season wasn’t home or away it was putting away gilt chances. By my count, in League play Giroud scored just 2 of 23 gilt chances and hit the woodwork 6 times. If gilt chances are the bread and butter of forwards, he’s getting plenty of butter, he just needs to get some more bread.

In midfield Arsenal have the return of Jack Wilshere. Arteta had a fantastic season, Ramsey was great, though needs to work on finishing, and Cazorla is the standout player of the club: our modern equivalent of Dennis Bergkamp, running the show from the number 10 spot. But it’s Jack who is a threat from so many different ways. His dribbling ability (58%) is outstanding considering where he operates in the Arsenal lineup and he’s another one of the Arsenal players who tackles in the high 80% range (85% and Ramsey is 90%). What I think we’d all like to see from Jack this season is how well he and Ramsey get along in midfield.

Ramsey is a pure runner and will make himself available for his teammates to make a pass to all day every day. He works very well with Arteta then who is always looking for a teammate to pass to. But Jack is more attack minded and somehow the two of them struggled on the pitch both in terms of shielding the defense and in terms of generating offense. This partnership needs to grow in order for Arsenal to have a successful League campaign.

Injuries too could play a major part, they have for every season since moving to the Emirates. Arsenal really need everyone fit and 100% ready to play this season. Though, to that end, we are off on the wrong foot with Arteta and others either out or “struggling to pass fit”.

Transfers

Nope, Arsenal haven’t added anyone except for Sanogo. In fact we have been rejected by Higuain, rebuffed by Liverpool, and Luiz Gustavo slapped us in the face today choosing Wolfsburg over Arsenal. This is a problem with an Arsenal team who haven’t won anything for a while shopping on the top shelf and looking for bargains. Players simply do not want to join us unless they are of the Luis Suarez variety (read: desperately in need of a makeover). Moreover, we seem to be stuck on this idea of “valuation” and players meeting our “valuation”. The reality is that you as fans and Arsene Wenger as manager of this club need to throw away this old notion of “valuation”. Teams and players know that they have us over the barrel. Top players like Lewandowsi will not make the switch from a Borussia Dortmund side who were runners up in the Champions League to an Arsenal side that looks happy to win 4th place every year. At least they won’t do that without a significant incentive. I still feel confident Arsene Wenger is going to add two players. However, I grow less and less confident that they will be the top top quality that we always say we buy and more of the Gervinho quality. But hey, there’s uhhh, 16 days left in the transfer window who knows what gemtacular bargains Arsene might find?

Conclusions

I do believe that Arsenal have a strong core of young players who, with a few additions of actual quality, could push on and really give the Chelseas and Citys a run for the title. However, without some additions this thin squad will not only look threadbare but given the injury history of some of the main players might start to look like the decks of the Marie Celeste. But first match is tomorrow, so we go to war with the players we have, not the players we wish we had. And no matter what happens or how I feel about the transfer season, I really do love the Arsenal and will cheer on anyone in red and white tomorrow.

See you, then, at 7am. For the kickoff.

Qq