Category Archives: Transfers

Khedira

Wenger after Khedira but where would he fit at Arsenal?

“Please do a stat comparison of Khedira and Schneiderlin!” – everyone on Twitter

If absence makes the heart grow fonder then ignorance makes the heart grow clamorous and there has never been racket so clamorous as the rumored transfer of Sami Khedira to Arsenal. It is a noise like a a chest full of kids toys thrown down the stairs. Squeaking, chirping, clanging, and ultimately some crying.

In terms of stats when I’m looking at defensive midfielders for Arsenal I’m looking for high numbers of tackles, interceptions, and long passes per game. I also want to see a low turnover rate and low dispossessed numbers along with high pass completion rate and a large number of passes per game. A high completion rate of long passes is a bonus, a high number of blocks per game is a bonus, and a high number of key passes is a bonus.

Shots per game are not something I look for in a DM. If I see a player with high numbers of tackles, interceptions, passes, and shots I’m looking at someone who is more likely a box-to-box midfielder. For example, Aaron Ramsey. 2nd at Arsenal in tackles per game, 1 interception per game, 3rd among outfield players for long balls per game, second in passes per game. Looks like a DM until you see that he is second in all those stats to Mikel Arteta and he averages almost +1 key pass per game over Arteta, almost +2 shots per game over Arteta, and almost +1 dribble per game more than Arteta. If Arteta is the prototypical Arsene Wenger DM, Ramsey is the prototypical Arsene Wenger box-to-box midfielder.

But is there an actual “prototypical” Arsene Wenger anything? Two years ago Arteta and Song played next to each other in midfield. They both had about the same number of tackles per game, interceptions, and passes. Song had more turnovers and dispossessed numbers, more assists (11!) and far fewer shots and fewer key passes. They both had about the same number of attempted long passes but Song was no where near as good at it as Arteta (88% v. 68%) and nor were his overall passing percents as good as Arteta. I joke but it did look a lot like Arsenal were playing with a holding attacking mid next to a defensive box-to-box player. I’ll let you sort out which was which.

All of which is to say that Wenger doesn’t have “prototypical” anything. I think he even may intentionally eschew such things. So, where does Khedira fit in all of this and what are Khedira’s stats?

Well, Khedira’s stats suck but they aren’t really his fault. First, he’s been injured and I don’t need to tell you that a player has to stay healthy to compete for places on a team like Real Madrid. Second, when he does play he plays next to one of the best midfielders of his generation in Xabi Alonso. What’s Khedira’s role in that team? He does a little of this, does a little of that. but takes a back seat to Xabi.

The result is that his stats look like crap. Let’s take the main three DM stats from last season, tackles, Interceptions, and long passes:

Khedira comp

Khedira’s not the main tackler, nor the main man to intercept the ball and is certainly not the deep distributor. Because Xabi, like Elvis, is everywhere on the pitch already doing all those things. But weirdly, even when he was at Stuttgart he never shone too brightly. His numbers there were pretty terrible to be honest and yet Real Madrid paid €14m to get him from Stuttgart and then paid him €100k a week in salary! So, we can’t look at his stats from his club football and draw any conclusions.

In the end, Khedira is an absolutely fascinating player. He’s not been given a free role at Real Madrid to showcase what he can do and yet despite his back seat role at Real Madrid, and injury nightmare, and despite his kind of mediocre performances for Stuttgart he’s been selected to play for Germany 51 times. (record scratch).

Yep, Khedira is a mainstay in the German national team. Has been since he was a kid. He’s captained the German U21 side and been selected in every senior team match he was available for since 2010. This is a German team with an embarrassment of players available in midfield to play the defensive midfield role and Jurgie Löw chooses Khedira over all of them.

We’ve also seen that he’s not “just a defensive midfielder” for Germany. He can go forward, he dribble, and he can set his teammates up for goals. As you might expect from a player who has had to play multiple roles over his career to get time at Real Madrid he is versatile and classy.

 

So, for once I have to put down the stats and ask “what kind of midfielder is Sami Khedira?” He’s a German international midfielder. A German international midfielder who is about to help his country win the World Cup.

And where would he fit at Arsenal? My guess is “in the midfield, somewhere, doing all kinds of cool things to help Arsenal win”.

Qq

Puma Launch

Arsenal get Sanchez on Puma Launch Day

They said it couldn’t be done, that Arsene Wenger would never sign big name players.

They said it couldn’t be done, that since we didn’t sign him before the World Cup his value would now spiral out of control and attract interest from teams like Liverpool, Man U, Man City, and Chelsea.

They said it couldn’t be done, that once the big teams came in for him Arsenal would lose out to them and their big money offers.

They said it couldn’t be done, that Nike wouldn’t allow one of their players to be use by Arsenal during the launch of the Puma kit.

They said it couldn’t be done, but Arsenal convinced a world talent, one of the star attractions at the World Cup, to eschew interest from other teams, and the Gunners have signed Alexis Sanchez.

 

Behind the scenes there are reports that Arsene Wenger personally courted Sanchez while “on vacation” in Brazil for the World Cup. Liverpool had wanted Sanchez as part of a make weight in the £75m deal that saw them lose their only quality player to Barcelona. But apparently, it was the personal touch from Wenger which convinced the Chilean to dump Liverpool and pick Arsenal. Also, there was a phone call between Sanchez and Steven Gerrard which Sanchez described as “sounded like I was talking to a dolphin in a broom closet, what kind of accent is that? I need to have players around me who I can communicate with and I don’t speak marine mammal.”

Maybe I’m just riding high but I remember when Arsenal use to be told that we needed to buy players like Joe Cole and Christopher Samba in order to compete.  Or how about this winter when people were seriously suggesting that Arsenal needed to buy Shane Long and Nikicia Jellyfish? That was a terrible time to be alive.

Thankfully we had Wenger’s steady hand at the till through those choppy, shark infested waters. Imagine where we’d be if we were still paying for Joe Cole? I’d have long ago walked the plank.

Instead, here we are at the destination with a shiny trophy and the FA Cup.

Welcome to Arsenal Alexis!

Expect an announcement about Debuchy later today but since he’s only a defender I won’t make another post.

Look for a By the Numbers post about Sanchez over on Arseblog News tonight, comparing him to Rooney, Benzema, and Reus. (Any other suggestions numerically will be welcome).

Qq

I'm thinking of a mineral.

Arsene shuffles off the shackles of his critics and looks set to spend £60m+ in one summer

‘I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money.

‘Over the last few years some of the players that he has said were going to be world class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.

‘Over the last two seasons they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players. 

Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players.

‘He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future’, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years.

_Stewart Robson on TalkSport, 7 June 2013

If you’ve been following Arsenal for any length of time then Stewart Robson’s rant to TalkSport, reprinted in the Daily Mail linked above, covers a lot of familiar ground. Fans and critics (one and the same sometimes) alike would often say things like “Arsene Wenger is afraid to spend money”, ”Arsene Wenger is afraid to buy top talent because he can’t control them”, and ”Arsene Wenger won’t sign marquee players”. It was always an uneasy critique for me, I have shown time and again that Wenger, historically, spent big so I knew that he could but there was always a ring of truth to the criticisms because we all knew that Arsenal had the cash in the bank to spend however they wanted and they weren’t spending the money.

Arsene’s parsimonious reputation used to be something that Arsenal fans and the fleet street lickspittles cheered. We were the club who took Anelka for cheap and sold him on to Real Madrid for a huge profit. We got Sol Campbell on a free (though we shattered the wage record in the process). Vieira, Overmars, Petit, on and on, Arsene was hailed as a genius with an eye for finding world class talent on the cheap.

And Wenger didn’t “make” this talent, he bought ready-made talent. Almost all of the players you think of from the Invincibles era, except Ashley Cole, were well established world class international talent. Even Henry, who many point to as the huge diamond in the rough polished by Arsene, was a well known player outside of England before he signed for Arsenal. Two years prior to joining Arsenal, he was offered a deal to go to Real Madrid worth £150k/wk. That would be an astonishing contract to offer a 20 year old player even now, much less in 1997¹ and further proof to me that Henry was a well known talent before he came to Arsenal.

After the breakup of the Invincibles, Wenger knew that he would have to go through a period of penury as the club struggled to sell off the Highbury condos and other real estate holdings around the old stadium and new. He also knew that the club had structured certain deals, such as the shirt sponsors and naming rights to the stadium to expire around now, meaning that he knew he had a finite time to manage the team on a strict budget.

So, he hatched a plan to buy young, actually untested and actually unknown, players and build them into a team that would at least keep Arsenal in the lucrative Champions League places, if not challenge for League titles. It nearly worked. In 2007/08 Arsenal challenged for the title up to the day that Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg. After William Gallas’ spat and Clichy’s error, the team quickly fell apart. Arsenal still managed to finish just 4 points off the winners in third place.

I will always be convinced that had van Persie stayed healthy, Arsenal would have won at least a trophy in those barren years. As it stood, he would end up playing more for Holland² than he would for Arsenal for much of that time. And Arsenal didn’t win anything and the young bucks grew restless.

Then Cesc went on strike, forcing a trade for far less than he was actually worth. And suddenly, the heart of Arsene’s plan was ripped out and sent packing to Barcelona.³ It was exactly the wrong time for Cesc to leave. Robin van Persie was finally ready to play a full season, he would and he would score 30 goals. Imagine what that team could have done if Cesc had stayed. Imagine where we would be right now with Cesc and Ramsey in midfield, van Persie up front, and with the financial firepower to land players of the caliber of Özil. That was Wenger’s vision.

Arsenal still had two years to go before we could buy players like Özil and in the interim what we got were people saying things like “Arsene can’t spend money, he’s allergic” and other such gems culminating in Stewart Robson’s pre-Özil screed above.

But Arsenal and Arsene are in a post-Özil reality. We have spent £42.5m on Mesut Özil, we have won the FA Cup, we have Ramsey coming on as a superstar and Arsenal are now being seriously linked to players like Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy. With the latter two almost certain signings.

We are no longer scraping the bottom of the transfer barrel. Arsenal are no longer the team that is being “snubbed” and instead are the team that Sanchez is snubbing Liverpool to come to. (Times, fee required.) Arsenal are no longer being swooped, we are “in a £60m swoop for Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy“.

Arsenal are the swoopers not the swooped. Arsenal are the snubbers, not the snubbed. And Arsene Wenger has shuffled off the shackles of his critics that he is afraid to spend some money.

We may not sign any of those players but the fact that we are being linked to them and being linked seriously, with what looks like an excellent chance of landing all three is a massive change from the time of the infamous post-Cesc trolley dash to now. And I have to say that I much prefer the now. It’s a great time to be an Arsenal fan.

Qq

¹The whole saga is recounted in Philippe Auclair’s extraordinary book Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top (Available for just $4 for Kindle, $9 in paperback, and $18 in hardcover).
²I’m aware that there is no such country as “Holland”. I find it funny, however, that both the Guardian and the Times podcast journalists almost always call the Netherlands “Holland” so, I’m making fun of them here.
³Cesc going on strike to force a move to Barcelona must have been like a death to Arsene Wenger. He had spent all this time and energy trying to build a team around this young man, his entire plan was built around Cesc. I find it extraordinary that Wenger persisted after that and not only persisted but rebuilt the core of the team on the fly and kept the club in the top 4. Name me another manager in the world who could have done that on a shoestring budget.