Category Archives: Transfers

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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

Buy all the players, buy all the managers, buy all the season tickets, BUY EVERYTHING

Wenger has to buy two quality players just to cover

Warning, this post is crap. I’m sick and I don’t really know what to think about anything any more. Nothing makes sense. But at any rate…

Now that the Luis Suarez deal is deader than that trend of women carrying around annoying little dogs in public and the Gustavo deal is deader than bros ordering Jager bombs, Arsene Wenger can turn his attentions elsewhere and fill out a squad that even he admits looks a bit thin.

Much has been made about the number of departures this season but if you look at who has left, this hasn’t actually been a banner year for players leaving. Transfermarkt.co.uk keeps a list of all the players teams buy, sell, and loan in or out every year and a quick look there reveals that so far this summer, Arsenal have only sold or released four players who made any significant contribution last season: Gervinho, Mannone, Santos, and Arshavin. Looking at all competitions Gervinho appeared in 26 matches, Mannone 13, Santos 12, and Arshavin 11.

Wenger has already ably replaced Santos with Nacho and so that leaves just three players gone who played in at least 10 matches for the Gunners last season. Of those three Gervinho is the most played (26 times) and the one who contributed the most. If last season is any indication, then Oxlade-Chamberlain will be promoted into the Gervinho role. Which is all well and fine. I think 26 apps for the young man is a good shout. Nothing wrong with promoting from within and especially since Ox is a very talented young man.

So, given that, and looking at the list of current first team players, you can also surmise why Wenger is being so calm in this transfer market. It’s clear that he tried to seize on what would have been the bargain of the century to get Suarez from Liverpool for £40m but was badly duped by Suarez’ people into thinking there was a release clause. That whole episode did not exactly cover the manager and club in glory.

Still, Arsenal currently have a core of 18 players who all played in 10 or more League matches last season:

Szczesny
Sagna
Mertesacker
Vermaelen
Koscielny
Monreal
Jenkinson
Gibbs
Rosicky
Arteta
Wilshere
Ramsey
Cazorla
Diaby
Podolski
Giroud
Walcott
Chambo

If you look at Wenger’s past three years he has used exactly 20 different players in each of those three years in 10 or more League matches. Before you think that’s an odd number Man U used 22 players last year, and 19 the year before. City has a huge squad but only played 20 last year and 19 the year before (remember this is the players who had 10 or more apps). And one reason that Chelsea struggled so badly was because they only used 17 players in League play 10 or more times and their core group of 8 players played 50 or more times in all competitions: Petr Cech played 65 times for Chelsea and 12 times for his national team. I dare say Chelsea will be rested and ready to play this year. So, 20 players is rather normal.

With Wenger’s 20 as a guide and with Mannone and Arshavin gone, that means by my count Arsenal are two players short. There are probably other ways to look at it but that’s my count at what I think Wenger is looking for.

The problem though is that depth isn’t just about numbers, if that were the case, nearly every team would have a chance to win the League.

Arsenal’s quality in certain positions is unassailable.

Cazorla is one of the top players in world football — a great dribbler and playmaker whose vision cuts teams apart and who isn’t afraid to have a pop from distance.

Arteta is often overlooked as a top player but he was my man of the season last year — he blends defense and pinpoint accurate passing with leadership on and off the field.

Koscielny is quickly gaining a reputation as a top center back and his partner in defense has 90 caps for Germany — Koz is a fearless defender who is not afraid to make a tackle and usually pulls it off, while Mertesacker is a huge man and calming influence on the back line.

The player I’m most excited about making the step up is Theo Walcott. I’ve now watched Arsenal’s 2012/2013 season probably a dozen times and I have to admit that he impresses me more and more every time I watch it. When he gets in behind the defense he is actually a tremendous finisher, Henry-esque. He curls in shots around keepers like no one I have seen since Henry.

The main bag on Walcott is that he can’t dribble, which is sort of true, but he has gotten better every season and last year won 47 of 108 attempts. That’s (43%) close to Eden Hazard (45%) and 6% higher than Luis Suarez (who was 37%, 95 of 255).

Forwards also need to get shots and Walcott’s shots numbers have grown every season. He is now at an all time high for shots taken, shots on goal, and his conversion numbers are among the best in his short career.

He also converted a career high 38% of his shots on goal, converted 50% of his big chances (Opta’s count), and led all Arsenal players with 21 goals last season. He is also a consistent assists provider and takes Arsenal’s corners and set plays. Not signing the ball hogging Luis Suarez could be the best thing that happened to him this summer.

Gibbs is another player that I rate highly, he has started to produce and gave Arsenal three assists from the left back position and also cut down on the number of mistakes he made. WhoScored’s metric places him as 5th best left back in the League.

Sagna was the best right back in the League two years ago. And despite making a bushel of errors last season was still good enough to keep Jenkinson on the bench.

The next tier of players, however, have significant weaknesses. 

Szczesny saved Arsenal some points last season, for example his blinder against Sunderland, and from what I can tell he didn’t cost us many in return — though not from lack of trying. Still, he is a significant liability on defense since he is weak in the air and occasionally his decision-making is horrid (remember Jordan Henderson’s gaping goal miss because Szczesny was on walkabout?). He also can’t kick — all his long punts go to Sagna.

Vermaelen is another player I have lost faith in. More than just the errors he committed (leading all outfield players with 6) the way he plays causes panic in the back. I know he was played on the left for three League games last season but there’s a reason why he was benched and the team got better — because he wasn’t very good. And yet he’s Arsenal’s captain.

There are other problems with Arsenal’s depth as well. Arteta played a career high 43 matches for Arsenal last season and ended the season with ice-packs on his knees. He’s 31 and really needs someone to spell him from time to time, like every January when he is injured. Can Ramsey step up and take that role? He was an excellent tackler (90%) last season, but his dribbling is still low for an Arsenal midfielder (he is a 48% dribbler). Ramsey is also just a 74% long ball passer, whereas Arteta is close to 90%. I like Ramsey, maybe he can make the leap forward. He already looks a better dribbler than last year and he is one of those players who wants to improve himself.

I can do this all day but I’m going to stop. Because looking at this team, with the lack of quality in depth at several positions we just have to hope beyond hope for a miracle.

Qq

baleless

Arsenal should gazump Real Madrid and sign Bale

Many Arsenal supporters hate Gareth Bale. I’m not one of them. I happen to think he is the most exciting player in the League. I also happen to think Arsenal should be bold and try to prise him from Tottenham. Of course, it will never happen but here’s at least some reasoning why I think it should.

First, let’s just start with what Bale did for Tottenham. We often complain that Walcott, for example, scores meaningless goals. That the young Englishman will get the 4th goal in a 5-2 blow-out for example, and there is merit to that argument. Game winning goals matter more than other goals. But that’s actually what makes Bale’s season last year so special: his goals won Spurs 11 League games:

Sunderland 1-0
Southampton 1-0
Man City 3-1 goal and assist
Swansea 2-1 goal and assist
West Ham 3-2 two goals
Newcastle 2-1 two goals
West Brom 1-0
Villa 4-0 hat trick
Liverpool 2-1 goal and assist
West Ham 3-1 scored the second goal
Reading 3-1 scored the second goal

His goals also nabbed one draw (Norwich 1-1). That means all totaled, Gareth Bale’s offensive contribution gave Tottenham 34 of their total 72 points. 47% of their total points were from Bale. Moreover, 16 of his 21 League goals directly went to winning his team points. This matches up well with our perception of Bale as a match winner. The kind of player who just wants to win at all costs.

Bale is also a long distance specialist scoring 9 goals from outside the box. That’s more than any other player in the top five leagues. He shoots more than anyone from distance as well, but his conversion rate was a very respectable 9.4%. To put that into perspective, Luis Suarez only converted 12% of all of his attempts and if you remember that he converted 16/30 from big chances but 7/157 from the rest of the field meaning Suarez has a 53% conversion in great positions and 4% conversion rate from everywhere else on the pitch. Bale is double that, from distance. An amazing number, truly.

These long distance goals open teams up to inside threats and should also keep defenders tight to him. As a result, he should have more successful dribbles but he was a bit lacking there. He was one of the most prolific dribblers in terms of attempts but only completed 43%. That’s about on par with Theo Walcott (47/107), whom many think is a terrible dribbler (he isn’t, Suarez is only 37%, for example).

Bale also has tremendous growth potential. Spurs were a pitiful team last season and his teammates only created 12 “big chances” for him. But to Bale’s credit, he converted 7 of those 12 chances. To give you a comparison, Giroud was presented with 23 “big chances” last season and he scored just 4. Big chance conversion is the bread and butter of strikers. They shouldn’t have to rely on long distance shots, dead ball shots, and other attempts to get their goals.

Bale also creates chances for others, leading his team with 75 key passes. Bale creates his own shot, she scores from distance, from set plays, and converts his big chances, he isn’t a huge turnover machine (he is actually pretty evenly split in my analysis with 10.35 positive actions per 90 and 10.65 negative actions), and he wins his team games. That’s why Spurs want £80m for him.

The problems with Bale are the fact that Spurs want £80m for him and that his numbers last season were so astronomically good that you have to worry if he can repeat the feat.

The £80m problem may be bigger than Arsenal can manage, I suspect. Looking at the first team names, the Gunners only have 18 players who are reliable starters:

GOALKEEPERS
1 Wojciech Szczesny
21 Lukasz Fabianski
DEFENDERS
3 Bacary Sagna
4 Per Mertesacker
5 Thomas Vermaelen
6 Laurent Koscielny
17 Nacho Monreal
25 Carl Jenkinson
28 Kieran Gibbs
MIDFIELDERS
7 Tomas Rosicky
8 Mikel Arteta
10 Jack Wilshere
16 Aaron Ramsey
19 Santi Cazorla
24 Abou Diaby — not reliably healthy
26 Emmanuel Frimpong — not good enough
31 Ryo Miyaichi — not even close
STRIKERS
9 Lukas Podolski
12 Olivier Giroud
14 Theo Walcott
15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
22 Yaya Sanogo — first year
30 Ju-Young Park — no
52 Nicklas Bendtner — he is listed on the official site, just to make it look like Arsenal have numbers, they don’t.

If there is any hope that Arsene plans to buy some players, it’s got to rest on the fact that the Gunners are sitting there with just 18 first team players. With such a threadbare first team at least part of Arsene Wenger’s sizeable warchest has to be spent on bringing in 3-5 players. If Wenger were to spend all of the Swiss Ramble’s estimated £70-100m, we might get real close to Tottenham’s Bale-valuation and have some money left over to get in a couple of £10m players. But it would be real close and maybe even impossible.

I say that while wondering how much of his transfer would be recouped in increased sponsorships, television appearances, winning trophies, shirt sales and the like? Bale already sells a lot of shirts and his face is used on ads in Times Square — we can only imagine what his impact would be to Arsenal’s global profile: it would be the biggest signing Arsenal have ever made, hands down. That has to be worth something. £10m a year?

The biggest problem is that last year was a real break-out season for Bale and questions have to be asked whether he can do it again. Andres Villas-Boas improved Bale’s game by giving him the freedom to roam and raid the opposition defenses from both sides of the pitch, especially his favored right to left cut back and *bang* distance shot. Wenger’s Arsenal would give him the same freedom but can he do it again?

So, is he worth £100m? I think you’d be paying over the odds. But honestly? Not by much. He is 24 years old, if you put him on a five year deal, that’s £20m a year amortized in transfer costs. How much of that is recouped winning trophies, bigger sponsorships, more television time, and so on? We don’t know that answer. There’s also the fact that you’re taking the best player away from a hated rival who has been threatening to overtake you in the League table. How much is that worth? If sports are about fantasies and doing a job on your rivals then taking Bale from Spurs seems like it would be worth £100m alone!

The only problem is if he caught lightning in a bottle last season. If he continues to perform at the same level, or above, then it seems to me that it would be well worth the money.

Qq

Hey Spurms, do us a favor love and buy somefink? Cheers, bye, bye, bye.

Or this…

Brilliant.