Category Archives: Transfers

Can Wenger find another bargain in Zlatan?

I came across this quote today in my research:

The following July I was contacted by Arsenal. Patrick was in negotiations with Ajax and I called him from Japan to tell him to go and sign for Arsenal, and that’s how the transfer was done. It was a fairly straightforward one because the fee had been fixed by Milan at around $5m, pounds 3.5m at the time, irrespective of who the buyer was. I told David Dein he should not hesitate over the signing because if he wanted Vieira to come to the club he had to act quickly, otherwise he would lose him.

I also convinced his agents at the time, although they were happy for him to go to Arsenal rather than Ajax anyway. They had had a financial problem in Holland because the Dutch had flinched a bit when it had come to Patrick’s salary. At Arsenal, on the other hand, they had immediately got everything they asked for.

The quote is from Arsene Wenger and as you can probably guess it’s about the transfer of Vieira to Arsenal. Speaking on the evening of Vieira’s return to Highbury on March 28th, 2006*, Wenger not only talks about the transfer deal but also reveals much about Vieira’s unique mentality and how he grew as a player while at Arsenal.

It’s rare that Arsene allows us a glimpse into transfer business. He almost never mentions a fee and rarely tells us how the deal got done. Wenger made the Vieira deal happen even though he wasn’t manager of Arsenal at the time. But his connections to players like Vieira and his intimate knowledge of French football helped to secure Vieira’s signature. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve been troubled by some of the trends I’ve seen in Arsenal’s transfer business. Just a few months ago Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang laughed off speculation that he would join Arsenal. Saying unequivocally “I do not want to join Arsenal.” This quote was followed up by a fan video showing a young kid asking Aubameyang if he will sign for Arsenal and the players saying no and laughing.

People will point out that the sources for these quotes is the Mirror and that’s fair enough but it follows a trend of recent Arsenal transfer failures. Luis Gustavo chose to stay in Germany and play for Wolfsburg instead of picking Arsenal. Some say because he wasn’t offered assurances of first team play while the Guardian simply stated that Wenger didn’t offer enough money.

People asked me yesterday who I want at Arsenal and I honestly can’t say. Not because I don’t know which players I would take but because I can’t tell who Arsenal can buy. Granit Xhaka? Sure! But there is stiff competition for the player and I wonder if Wenger is going to pay £30m to get a player this summer who has a £23m release clause set to go in effect in 2017?

As for forwards, if feels like Aubameyang won’t countenance a move to Arsenal. If he leaves Borussia Dortmund it will be for Real Madrid or something. It’s no surprise then that Higuain’s name has cropped back up. But Higuain was a failed bid during the Suarez debacle!

Higuain is the best striker in Europe right now, with 29 goals to his name but after the way Arsenal treated him it would be weird for him to join Arsenal. Is it any wonder then that Arsenal are linked to Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Zlatan is also killing it, scoring 27 goals and producing 11 assists for PSG in the French league. But he will be 35 in October and commands a salary of £1m a month.

The top players that Arsenal have signed over the last three years seem to be good deals. Özil for £40m was only done when Real Madrid dumped him, it’s not like Arsenal went out and pried him out of Real Madrid. Same with Alexis, Barcelona were offloading Alexis when Arsene bought him. And to a huge extent the Cech deal relied on the largesse of Roman Abramovich and on Cech agitating to make a move.

People will often say that “the Vieira days are over”. That the idea of finding unknown, powerful, midfielders with a winning mentality at a bargain have long passed. But I think that Arsenal’s last three big transfers belie that notion. It’s true that there are few unknowns left in world football but Wenger does still get the bargains on players being culled by big teams.

So, perhaps Zlatan is in Arsenal’s future or perhaps “a Zlatan”: a player who is clearly talented but is being offloaded by a big team. As for Zlatan himself, his would be a huge contract for a player who scored 35 goals in all competitions this season but also turns 35 years old next season. He is currently on £12m a year and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t ask for £15m a year to play for Arsenal (including agent fees, etc).

He could be in Arsenal’s future, as long as he doesn’t follow through on his threat to retire.


*The article is titled “A grateful embrace awaits Vieira” and is an excerpt from Vieira’s biography. This section is written entirely in Wenger’s first person, though I’m not sure it can be wholly attributed to Wenger because I don’t see any attribution on the web site. In fact, it’s attributed to Patrick Vieira!


Arsenal may need to buy 10 players this summer

My followers are largely in the positive camp. We all, to a person, respect and understand what Arsene Wenger has given our club. When he retires he won’t need a statue at Arsenal because the Emirates Stadium is the monument to his legacy.

Wenger has consistently managed to keep Arsenal in the Champions League and as a result has also built up a massive cash reserve at Arsenal, £150,000,000. That’s an enormous sum. The Stadium only cost £390m to build, so, that cash reserve is 38% of the total cost of a new stadium. And that’s cash on hand before the season tickets are renewed and before the new TV deals are accounted for. Arsenal could have £200m easily this summer. And Arsenal are going to need that money because Arsenal are an ageing football club.

Arsenal have eight players who are over 30: Rosicky (35), Arteta (33), Cech (33), Cazorla (31), Mertesacker (31), Flamini (31), and Monreal and Koscielny (30). Four of those players are regular starters at Arsenal and despite the fact that Monreal and Cazorla have been outstanding for Arsenal this season, 30 is the age at which players (except keepers) start to decline, rapidly.

There are also a significant number of players who fans (and former players) feel Arsenal need to upgrade: Walcott, Ox, Wilshere, Ospina, and Gibbs to name a few. I would add Campbell to that list which isn’t going to be a popular thing to say but Campbell, while he does tackle pretty well, isn’t a very good footballer. For example, who would you rather have start for Arsenal on the right: Campbell/Theo/Ox or Mahrez? That’s what I mean by “upgrade”.

Arsenal also only started the season with a 22 man list for their 25 man squad. With Elneny in but Debuchy out that leaves three additional vacancies that absolutely need to be filled. With the money Arsenal have, with Arsenal’s injury history, and with the need to rotate, it would be criminal not to fill those three roster spots. It was criminal this year and might have cost Arsenal the title (if we don’t win, which there is still a chance).

In fact, using that list is a good way to see who Arsenal need to sell and where Arsenal need to buy.

Armando De Abreu, Gabriel
Arteta Amatriain, Mikel
Campbell, Joel
Cazorla, Santiago
Cech, Petr
*Coquelin, Francis
Debuchy, Mathieu
Flamini, Mathieu
*Gibbs, Kieran James Ricardo
Giroud, Olivier
Koscielny, Laurent
Mertesacker, Per
Monreal, Ignacio
Ospina, David *Szczesny, Wojciech
*Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander Mark David
Ozil, Mesut
*Ramsey, Aaron James
Rosicky, Tomas
Sanchez, Alexis
*Walcott, Theo James
*Welbeck, Daniel
*Wilshere, Jack Andrew

I put my choices for sell/retire in bold. I also sell Ospina and bring back Szczesny from gulag. And so, without selling any of the homegrown players (who have the * next to their names) I think Arsenal have to buy eight players this summer. If you want to upgrade the striker position or the wide right position, then that’s nine or even ten players.

Walcott won’t be difficult to sell. He has a huge salary but teams like Newcastle would love to have a speedy forward on their books. He is highly marketable (will sell shirts) and teams are about to be awash in TV money. On the right team, where he can use his speed and exploit space, he could be a 15-20 goal a season forward. Look at Vardy, he’s not a talented footballer, but on the right team, he’s a shark-eyed killer (who loves to racially abuse Japanese men in casinos). Walcott gives all the same as Vardy and none of the racial abuse. He’s a no-brainer for any mid-table team looking to play counter-attacking football.

Arsenal have their work cut out for them this summer and I asked my twitter followers who they think should do the spending. 60% chose anyone but Arsene. That is probably just an indication of the mood after the tough loss to Man U and I will do the poll again later this Spring to see if the sentiment is the same.

But I’m curious if you all see that Arsenal need to buy at least eight players this summer or if you think they could keep some of them? Also, who would you buy?



The stats that prove Elneny is going to be a great signing for Arsenal

92.4 – That’s the percent of passes that Mohamed Elneny completed in the Europa League last year. And that was the only number I read in an article with a headline similar to mine. His passing rate was compared favorably to Flamini and Coquelin but the problem is that it’s a number that proves absolutely nothing.

The facts are that anyone taking Elneny’s Europa League stats and saying that they prove anything is simply selling you clicks. Maybe you like to click for people. I’m not going to judge.

I actually suspect that these people are anti-stats. These writers have to know that comparing two players from two different teams playing in two different competitions, with one of the players having a sample of 5, without any context of how their respective teams play doesn’t tell us much about the two players.

That last bit about “how teams play” is very important when looking at player stats. For example, Man U and Arsenal are #1 and #2 in terms of possession, and as you know possession is essentially just passing. So, since both teams are passing the ball more you’d think that they don’t intercept the ball as much, but Arsenal are 4th in the League (they usually lead the League) in interceptions with 19 per game and Man U are 13th with 15.3. If you were to look at any of the Man U players interception numbers and try to make a comparison to an Arsenal player, you’d be comparing players who are playing on teams with two different playing styles.

A similar thing happens with Elneny and Basel. Basel is 10th in the Europa League in possession with 56%, but they are 32nd in interceptions per game. Unlike Arsenal, they don’t play the passing lanes as much on defense and as a result all of their player’s interceptions numbers are low. So, comparing Elneny’s 2 interceptions per game to Coquelin’s 2.7 doesn’t work as a straight across comparison.

It doesn’t even necessarily work as a percentage. Elneny intercepts about 11% of his team’s interceptions while Coquelin about 14%. Does that mean Elneny won’t intercept the same number as Coquelin? I wouldn’t bet on it. Wenger will make Elneny play the way he wants. That will mean being more aggressive going for the interceptions.

Similar with tackles, again, Basel have 56% of possession just 0.7% less than Tottenham. But Spurs have a very aggressive pressing style and are 4th in the EL in tackles, while Basel are 39th! So, looking at Elneny’s tackle stats, where he averages just 2.4 tackles per game, and comparing them to Coquelin, who averages 3.4 tackles per game is like comparing.. uhh.. two different things.

You can look a little more closely at Elneny’s stats and see some things that are interesting. For example, he has made 12/14 tackles this season in the Europa League. A high percentage of tackling is very good. And it’s especially good because 2 of his successful tackles were in the 18 yard box. It’s a small sample, but shows great promise as a player who gets back and puts in the kind of last ditch tackles that have made Coquelin a fan favorite.

As for Elneny’s passing stats mentioned at the top of the piece he is, of course, good at that. More important than his 92.4% overall pass completion rate is the fact that he completes 75% of his long passes. They do have a target man who wins 4 aerials a game but that’s not at all like Liverpool who have Benteke winning 6 per game. So, 75% long passing indicates someone who is talented with the long pass. This is important because some people see Elneny as the long-term replacement for Arteta and the Arsenal captain in his heyday (two years ago) averaged 86% long passing.

Elneny’s passing stats also have another weird quirk: he only made one sideways pass in all five games this Europa League campaign. 1/460 passes sideways, all the rest were forward or backward. I can’t tell whether that’s just how Basel play, super vertical, or whether the stats keeper just considered all of his passes to be vertical but that strikes me as slightly odd.

All of this, however, is based on just five Europa League games. We don’t know how Elneny will perform once he’s dropped into the cauldron of blood and spikes that is the Premier League. Michael Yokhin’s article for ESPN paints the picture of a quiet player who just loves football and doesn’t like to court controversy, which for some reason (combined with his very unassuming stats) reminds me a lot of Gilberto. According to the interview in Aargauer Zeitung (some parts quoted in the ESPN article) he’s a devout family man and very religious. But I think the best part of that interview was the suggestion that he loves to sacrifice himself for the team:

Running is part of my job, I like to permanently be in motion. As a child I often played ten hours or even longer in the street – I think there I learned to run nonstop. My duty is to the team to help with my strengths. And if my colleagues see how much I run, then they automatically run even more. 

More than the stats, which look good even if the sample is small, it’s the fact that he wants to work hard for his team and to lead by example which I think will get him through to the next level.

Elneny has drawn a lot of comparisons over the last few weeks, without anyone seeing him play a single minute of football, but if I were to compare him to anyone it would be Arsenal’s Gilberto. An unassuming character with the talent to get the job done.

Exactly the kind of player Arsenal need.