Category Archives: Transfers

slotted

Quote of the day: Welbeck to become like Auba and Henry

There is a lot going on in football today. For those interested in sport, you have the Champions League “classico nuevo” Barcelona v. Atletico Madrid this afternoon. For those interested in crime you have Antonio Conte’s appointment to Chelsea. If you prefer drama, Jack Wilshere was caught hiding behind garbage bins. If you are into transfer porn, the Guardian breaks down how it was that everyone missed out on Mahrez. If you’re into analytics, Adrian Clarke gives a great breakdown of the Arsenal win over the Watford Mooses. And if you’re more of a sci-fi fantasy nerd, Arsene Wenger has laid the groundwork for not buying any forwards this summer because he thinks Welbeck will become the next Thierry Henry.

No wait, but seriously, here’s his quote:

“Danny has all the qualities you need in the modern game. He has pace, he has stature. If he adds that finishing quality he has all you need.
“It is a bit unusual [to improve as a finisher at Welbeck’s age], but I have seen it before, especially from players who moved from the flanks to the middle.
“We have seen that with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang now at Dortmund, he was a very poor finisher on the flank. We have seen it with Thierry Henry. Hopefully we will see it with Welbeck as well.”

This is the kind of thing Wenger says that drives Arsenal supporters balls and it’s also the kind of statement that makes me scratch my head because I can’t find data to support what he’s saying. Here is the data that I have available:

Henry-Auba-WelbeckFirst line: I don’t have Henry’s shots data before 2002/03. That was the season Henry was 25 years old and already a central striker at Arsenal. Between 2002 and 2004, Henry was an average finisher, scoring just 13.5% of his shots. But it was his post-Invincibles season that he reached peak Henry and stayed there for one additional season, scoring 21.5% of his shots. After that, Henry hit the predictable break that happens to players as they get older.

Henry really is the prototypical striker. He starts out getting a lot of shots and converting a relatively sane number and then progresses to getting fewer shots but converting at a higher rate. You can see this in the progression of his shots in the second panel: he goes from scoring 23 goals on 164 shots in the 2003/04 Invincibles season to a super-efficient goal scoring machine in the next two seasons. He did score 30 goals in the Invincibles season, but 7 of them were from the penalty spot.

What you see with Henry is a player getting over 100 shots, scoring at a good rate, and keeping that up for 4 years. Finding a striker who will get 555 shots, score 92 goals and convert at a 17% rate over 4 years is tough to find.

Giroud, for example, got over 100 shots per game for three years, but scored at a 12% rate. Robin van Persie did it for just three years of his career, scoring 17% between ages 27-29 years old.

Aubameyang is an interesting player because he has hit the magical 100+ shots number for four of the last five years, but his finishing (remember this is minus penalties) is only around 15%. He did hit 19% so far this season and that could mean you will see one or two more good years out of him. Though that is questionable if he leaves Dortmund and has to take time to adapt to a new league.

I also added Lukaku because I think the Lukaku haters are hilarious. This is a kid who already has 399 shots in 4 seasons, where he has scored 56 goals. That’s a 14% conversion rate. My guess is that Lukaku will get 120 shots next season and score 19% of them, with the caveat that he has to play 30 games. That’s only 23 goals, but it’s 23 goals from open play. Not including penalties.

That said, Lukaku and Giroud are only in there for comparison. The real players I’m interested in are the ones who moved from wide to center. When Auba moved centrally his total shots per game went up as did his conversion (slightly), though like Henry it took a few years to really blossom. With Walcott, he too got more shots in a central role and his conversion rate went up but since then injury has killed his career. Van Persie’s shots numbers went up, but like Auba, it took a few years for him to really start converting. Then he demanded a trade.

As for Welbeck, the problem is the dearth of data available on Welbeck. There is no trend in his league games so I’ve taken all of his games, club, country, cup, friendlies, everything and mashed them together and I still can’t see a trend. Mostly that’s a problem with this season where he spent the whole year out with injury. In the League he has just 12 shots this season. Sure, he’s converted 25% of those shots but it’s still only 12 shots. But if he follows all the other players, it’s going to take a year or two in the central role (unless we are really lucky) to see him convert at the 17% rate that we would want to see.

Wenger is well known for his long-term planning and he’s pretty much spot on in his assessment that if it takes a year for Welbeck to get comfortable in the central role, he will peak at 27, the exact year that Henry peaked and one year after Auba. What will, of course, drive Arsenal fans nuts is the idea that Wenger is already planning to have Welbeck take a year to get comfortable in the center forward role instead of buying a ready-made center forward.

Qq

 

Granit Xhaka

Wenger linked to Mkhitaryan, Xhaka, and Geurreiro in massive shakeup of Arsenal

“Here, Mertesacker should be SCREAMING at Chambers to look at Deeney and to stand on his toes. He should know where he is: one in front one in behind. They both need to be touch tight, sandwiching the striker. Instead, Deeney is allowed to nip in front, to win the flick on and from there Gabriel is in trouble. Maybe he was too tight to Ighalo. Maybe Gibbs could have been a little closer. But the real mistake here was to let Deeney head the ball on so easily.” – Adrian Clarke, commenting on Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Watford on The Breakdown via arsenal.com

The Guardian are reporting that Arsenal are scouting three new players in attacking midfielder Mkhitaryan, center mid Xhaka, and left back Guerreiro. If Arsenal land any one of the three Arsenal could look to take offers on players who are currently playing in their respective positions.

Mkhitaryan is the most exciting name on the list. Arguably the Bundesliga’s best player, Mkhitaryan has put together an outstanding season this year, scoring 20 goals and laying on an additional 25 assists in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund.

Mkhitaryan is also Borussia Dortmund’s top dribbler, top shot maker, and second in shots taken. But while he is an offensive machine, he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties and is 3rd on the team in tackles per game and gets an impressive 1.6 interceptions per game. Not bad from the Bundesliga’s leading playmaker.

Mkhitaryan is comfortable in any of the three positions behind the main striker though he is most often deployed wide on both the left and right. He is a mostly right-footed player having taken 65% of his shots with his right foot.

Mkhitaryan is also a set play specialist, he takes most of Borussia Dortmund’s corners and is 56% accurate on corners. Though he’s not anywhere near the level of Mesut Özil on crosses and corners, as Özil creates 1.8 key passes per game from crosses and Mkh averages 0.7; while Özil creates another 1.1 key passes per game from corners compared to Mkh who averages just 0.5.

Thus, I don’t see Mkh taking over the number 10 role at Arsenal but rather continuing his great form as a wide player, especially on the right. This poses a significant threat to Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Joel Campbell who have all played in that position with varying degrees of success this season.

Mkh could also be asked to play in a Cazorla role in center mid. His is an excellent dribbler and a much better passer than his recent “low” percentages of 76-81% suggest. In the Arsenal system, the Cazorla role acts as second creator and is often asked to break pressure from midfield through solo dribbling. Both of these are skills Mkh has in his toolkit.

Deeper in midfield, Granit Xhaka is also being linked to Arsenal. Xhaka is a bulldog of a midfielder. Weighing in at a whopping 180lbs, he has almost 20lbs with 2 inches height advantage over Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin. Comparing tackles and interceptions across leagues is dangerous but Xhaka does put in solid interceptions and tackle numbers of 2.8 and 2.5 per game respectively.

Xhaka can.. lose his rag sometimes and while he is a 75% tackler in the Bundesliga, he also has 3 red cards this season. He also has a love for the long pass and attempts 11 per contest, 7 more than Coquelin. But he’s only completing about 66% of those long passes — it’s hard to tell from the stats if he’s not good at long balls or if his teammates are not good at winning them. From what I’ve seen of his games (on TV only) I’d say it’s the teammates.

Xhaka would be huge competition for Coquelin’s place, though I can’t say he would win the starting spot outright.

And finally, Arsenal are linked with Lorient left-back Guerreiro. This tiny Portuguese player is listed as having played both the left back and left midfield positions by WhoScored.com. I have never seen him play or if I did I didn’t notice him. His stats suggest that he’s an attacking fullback (high dribble, shots, key passes, and turnover numbers) but how well he will work as a defender in the Arsenal system is a complete mystery. The Guardian are suggesting that he could replace Gibbs, which is the second time I’ve heard a major paper say that Arsenal are looking for offers on Gibbs leading me to believe that Gibbs is being shipped out.

Arsenal being linked to a number of players is never a shock. However, what gives these three more weight is that they address three known needs at Arsenal: a right-sided forward to score goals, an upgrade/competition for Coquelin, and a backup/eventual replacement for Monreal. It’s likely that all three players are simply being linked by their agents in order to get better deals, though in the case of Mkhitaryan Arsenal can offer him Reus-like wages, along with International sponsorship deals which should utterly destroy whatever wages Borussia Dortmund can offer. The same goes for all three players, Premier League teams simply offer substantial wage increases over European teams.

Whether that is attractive enough for any of these players to leave remains to be seen. In the most likely scenario, Mkh and Xhaka will stay in Germany and Arsenal will get the unknown Portuguese left back.

Qq

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.

Qq

*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!