Category Archives: Transfers

Arsenal top the Transfer League Table, is FFP working?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Arsene Wenger can’t spend money… he literally, physically can’t spend money… Arsenal have the money but Wenger won’t spend it… And if Wenger does spend the money he will never buy big name players because they have egos and he can’t handle big egos. I know you’ve heard it before because up until this summer that was the party line for the Wenger-out crowd.¹

But this summer everything changed. Arsenal went and did the unthinkable, they won the FA Cup and spent a boatload of money on Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers, and Matty Debuchy. And because of those facts Wenger can no longer be accused of not winning trophies, accused of not taking the FA Cup seriously, and can no longer be accused of being afraid to spend money on established international superstars. In fact, Arsenal top the Transfer League Table™ having spent a whopping £64.4m net.²

And Arsene can’t be accused of spending wrong, not in my book anyway. Last winter, when Arsenal were sort of challenging for the League title and lost three of our established star players at the same time many prominent voices were there telling Arsene to spend on a striker. Shane Long’s name even came up. Shane Long, the beer goggles of footballers. Begging Wenger to buy Shane Long as the winter transfer window closed was the equivalent of waiting until last call to find a hookup. Imagine waking up next to Shane Long all summer.

But Wenger is not the kind of manager who would just buy candy in order to satisfy sore teeth. Instead of Shane Long, he waited until this summer and bought Alexis Sanchez — a player with strength, vision, and deadly finishing, who will lead Arsenal’s attack for years to come. In defense, Wenger replaced an ageing Bacary Sagna with his younger international contemporary in Debuchy. And then brought in Calum Chambers in order to play what looks like one of three positions: right back, center back, and defensive midfield. It has been a lesson in astute spending so far as I can tell, though we should probably wait until the end of the season before we level judgement.

Incredibly, Wenger even paid “over the odds” to get Calum Chambers in³. £11m up front and a further £6m in performance bonuses is a huge chunk of money to spend on a 19 year old center back. But Chambers has impressed everyone at Arsenal this pre-season. Slotting in a center back he has been positionally perfect in defense, tough in the tackle, and even showed off his excellent dribbling technique in midfield a few times. With Wenger’s words about Chambers’ education (as a DM), technique (dribbling), and endurance I suspect Wenger sees Chambers as his holding midfielder of the future.

And while Arsene Wenger has been on this rather garish spending spree, the other traditionally spendthrift teams in the Premier League have been forced to sell players to finance their spending. For example, Liverpool spent nearly £100m bringing in Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, and Lazar, essentially buying all of Southampton, and financed most of that with the sale of Luis Suarez for £71m. Chelsea also spent £80m bringing in Costa, Fabregas, and Filipe which they financed by getting PSG to pay nearly £50m for David Luiz.4 And even Man City have “only” spent £25m resorting instead to getting players in on a free (Sagna) or getting them on loan (Lampard) from their sister club NYCFC.

On the surface it looks like financial fair play is working, then. Arsenal are spending the money they earn and clubs like Chelsea and City are having to cut back on their spending after being fined or warned by UEFA. Except that it does look a bit like these teams are trying to do an end run around FFP by buying up other teams or stashing players in leagues all over the world. Wenger put it thus:

It looks like all these “City” clubs will feed the main club. I heard that they want to buy five clubs all over the world. Look I don’t know well enough the rules but they (Man City) bought a franchise for $100m in the States to play next season. At the moment the players they signed cannot play until next year. So, they register in the clubs where they put them and they can get out on loan. Is it a way to get around fair play? I don’t know.

Lampard is needed at Man City simply for his passport — they needed an English player to meet various homegrown rules. He wasn’t going to play for 6 months so it made sense that he would look for a team to go on loan to. And despite the imaginings of Wenger, Man City have come out and said that they will pay all of Lampard’s wages. Still, I do have to pause when I see that City own three other teams in the world, Melbourne, NYCFC, and Yokohama and that they have designs to buy two more teams. It gives me pause because if they did own five teams they could, in theory, do exactly what Wenger fears: they could use those teams to buy up talent and then loan those players back to the mother team.

Chelsea have been doing something similar with the loan system in Europe, stashing players all over world football and especially at Vitesse Arnhem. The Chelsea scheme is a bit different to the City scheme in that Chelsea buy the players, sign them to a long term deal, and then loan them out for experience. But the effect is remarkable. Chelsea just sold Romelu Lukaku to Everton which helped finance the purchase of Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea, in essence, sold a prospect for an established star. It’s a great bit of business from the Chelsea perspective.

But is Financial Fair Play working? Arsenal, for the moment, look to be a beneficiary of the system, spending their money quite freely since it is money that they earned. And if the idea was to get clubs like City and Chelsea to reign in their spending then I guess FFP has worked to some degree. But what we know for a fact that FFP has done is force clubs like Chelsea and City to find alternative and creative ways to finance players. Chelsea is doing so by purchasing all the young players in the world and loaning them out while City is just buying whole clubs.

We have to wait until the end of the transfer window to know for sure if City and Chelsea have curbed their spending and to see where Arsenal finish in the net spend race. But for the moment Arsenal are top of the spending table and quickly destroying myths about Wenger and his management of the club. Arsene could even take us into uncharted myth-busting territory if he buys Carvalho from Sporting for £30m. Imagine that for a second, Wenger paying a huge sum for a young player who is an outright talented, physically imposing defensive mid… the negative naybobs might have to close up shop for the season if he did that.

Pre-season tours of America, spending lavishly on star names, developing young talent into superstars like Ramsey, winning cups… huh.. I guess we got our Arsenal back.

Qq

¹The new party line of the Wenger-outists is that Wenger has wasted the money. He should have bought X player instead of Sanchez, Chambers, or Debuchy.
²In case you’re keeping score, Wenger also brought in a new fitness coach and a new head of the youth team, spending money there as well. That is money which doesn’t show up in the Transfermarkt calculations. Both the fitness of the squad and the fact that the academy hasn’t produced any stars aside from Jack Wilshere were also major criticisms of Wenger last season.
³Yet another myth which has been squashed; that Wenger is afraid to buy English because they cost too much and because he’s had some bad experiences with English players like Franny Jeffers. But buying Chambers is part of Arsene’s new approach to re-Anglicizing Arsenal. He’s got Theo, Jack, Kieran, Alex, and now Calum who could all be starters for Arsenal now or soon. Arsene even went so far as to say “I hope England win (the World Cup) with six players from Arsenal!” So, I guess he’s got at least one more Englishman on his radar.
4That deal still leaves me stammering. How Chelsea turned one of the worst center backs I’ve ever seen play the game into Diego Costa and Filipe has to be the transfer deal of the season.

I MUST BREAK YOU

Arsenal approaching “most successful transfer window” status

I couldn’t sleep well last night and instead of doing the right thing and reading a book I turned on twitter. It’s a different world, twitter, at midnight than it is at 8am mostly because the British folks I follow are all waking up and pouring through the morning papers. By the time I normally join them at 8am my time they have settled the controversy and moved on to something fresh.

Most of my British friends were reacting to the news that Arsenal are having both Vermaelen and Monreal targeted (along with Cazorla) by various clubs. And with Arsenal’s defense looking rather threadbare at the moment I can understand the reaction.

I’m fairly certain that Louis van Gaal has put the bug in Vermaelen’s ear and offered the former Arsenal captain a starting role at Man U. My suspicion is that van Gaal wants to play 3 center backs, the formation du jour, and if you play with 3 CB then you really need 5-6 CB in your team to provide cover. The press have been fairly insistent that Vermaelen is on van Gaal’s radar and I can see why. Short of putting in a transfer request (which he may do next) Vermaelen upped the ante on his transfer machinations by spending time with Robin van Persie on vacation (Daily Mail, auto video, horrible reporting).

That said, I doubt that Arsene is going to start the season with two first choice center backs. That would be extremely illogical even for Wenger who loves a gamble at times. I’ve been pouring through Wenger’s quotes over the last few years and one thing I can guarantee you is that he is well aware of the toll that the World Cup takes on his team and team preparation. Mertesacker didn’t play a ton of minutes in Brazil but he has been playing and practicing almost non-stop for over a year now and even the break that Wenger is affording his World Cup winning stars isn’t going to be enough to recharge a player who will need to start another 50+ games this season. The same goes for his partner, Laurent Koscielny.

So, Arsenal have two center backs who are potentially dead tired and just one backup center back who is the former captain, is potentially disgruntled, and looks to be engineering a move to save his career. That’s the worst situation I’ve seen in the heart of the Arsenal defense since Arsenal bought Silvestre and completely understandable that folks would be nervous.

Arsenal have to be well aware of what it would look like to sell Vermaelen to Man U. The board have, no doubt, been hanging on every proclamation by the professional cranks like Piers Morgan all summer. Would Vermaelen be a huge loss, though? Especially if he was replaced with a decent option? That is a tough question.

I have a Vermaelen shirt, which is to say that I loved him in his first season at Arsenal. I remember when he first came to us and he was this raw player who had a steely look about him. But even in his first season there were signs that something just wasn’t quite right about him and his positioning.

Zonal Marking made a rather extensive post about Vermaelen’s problems with communication and with positioning in his very first season. And even boosters like me only had to hope that he would get better the more he played with Arsenal.

Sadly, it never happened. He was injured for a long time and it took several different surgeries to get him back into the first team. Then he was made captain of the club and the same errors kept creeping into his game. In fact, Vermaelen led Arsenal in errors leading to goals in each of his last two playing seasons at the club before he was dropped for Koscielny. I want to be clear, Vermaelen isn’t a crap defender, but rather his style didn’t work well at Arsenal and I suspect it will work very well in a three man back line where he can be more aggressive because he’ll have two other center backs sweeping up behind him.

I don’t think the facts about his career at Arsenal are in dispute. I think what’s in dispute is whether Arsenal can find a replacement at or above his level who is willing to be third or fourth string at Arsenal. That’s a tough sell. Players of Vermaelen’s quality don’t want to make a move to a team so that they can sit on the bench. For that reason alone (and not because it would be “taking the pride out of it, Gazidis”) I’m inclined to hang on to Vermaelen and tell him that he’s just not for sale even if that means biting the bullet on his free transfer next summer.

But just as important as hanging on to Vermaelen, I hope Arsene has identified a young player to come in and take over next summer. Well, maybe not “take over” but rather start to bed in and be prepared to take over as Mertesacker’s role diminishes. I suspect that with the World Cup taking its toll on our Big World Champion German, the young, fresh player might get some playing time right from the start.

It’s been a great summer for transfers at Arsenal so far. We’ve brought in Sanchez and Debuchy and a decent goal keeper (Ospina) is on his way. Arsenal have also been linked with a host of defensive midfielders for two years now so Wenger clearly has his eye on Arteta’s replacement. With Arsenal already approaching £50m net spend, adding a player who can play CDM (and CB in a pinch) whilst keeping Vermaelen would make this easily the most successful transfer window in recent memory.

Qq

64-wilshere-agame-gt

Welcome Debuchy but what about Jenkinson? And if Arsenal buy a Khedira what about Wilshere?

Not much special going on today so let’s talk a bit about transfers.

Debuchy’s signing was announced yesterday and this is fantastic news because that marks Arsenal down as having bought 2 of the 5 positions that they need filled this summer. The best part is that we have made two major signings and we haven’t yet played our first pre-season friendly.

There was some speculation earlier that perhaps Arsenal didn’t need to buy a right back after Sagna left and the Debuchy signing put that to rest. Debuchy is a 28 year old French International with 18 months of experience in the Premier League starting every weekend. I think it’s also symbolic that Wenger bought the French player who kept Sagna from starting during this World Cup. This may be unpopular because Sagna was a fan favorite but Debuchy is an upgrade on Sagna.

Debuchy is younger than Sagna and he’s a more balanced player. When I compared Debuchy to Sagna and Aurier, the difference is stark: Aurier played as an attacking wing back at Toulouse, Sagna kind of didn’t do either defense or offense and instead was more of a passing outlet, and Debuchy was smack in the middle of the two.

Particularly impressive were Debuchy’s defensive stats for Newcastle. Comparing him against his own team’s percentages he made 17% of Newcastle’s tackles, 12% of their interceptions and 10% of their fouls.

Sagna wasn’t horrible but rather Debuchy was just very active defensively. Debuchy also can fill in for Sagna in the aerial duels department: Sagna has long been an outlet for Szczesny and Debuchy will hopefully continue in that role, he did after all win 4/5.7 headers per game at Newcastle.

 

I know that many people thought (hoped?) Jenkinson would get the starting job and some people went so far to suggest that Jenkinson and Bellerin could do the job but I think this signing puts that idea to bed and tucks it under Jenkinson’s Arsenal bedsheets. Wenger left the door open to Jenkinson saying that he can compete for the spot and further that he hasn’t made his mind up about who will be starting but that said I see this as another transition year for Jenkinson.

The crucial pairing, and probably deciding factor, will be right back and right forward. Jenkinson and Walcott do not seem to get along well in that regard. My observations are that Jenkinson tends to park far too forward and expect Walcott to cover for him. Walcott, being a striker, naturally doesn’t like this. The two of them publicly fought on the field several times with Walcott telling Jenks to stay back and Jenkinson shining Walcott on.

That issue is only going to be exacerbated with the signing of Sanchez who is an outright striker and will not cotton to having to run all the way back to defend for Jenkinson. And I have no problem with this, we didn’t buy Sanchez for £30m to play right back, we bought Sanchez to do the minimum defense up front (pressing and harassing) and to win us games with goals.

Sanchez’ strengths at Barcelona were that he took almost all of his shots inside the opposition box, which is what led to his outstanding conversion rate. You want a striker with a 30% conversion rate? He needs to play deep in the opposition area. For Sanchez to be an efficient goal scorer we need him to have the freedom to get in the opposition 18 yard box and cause havoc. He can’t do that while defending in our final third so that the fullback can whip in crosses to no one.

One other oddity that Wenger mentioned in the interview about signing Sanchez is that Sanchez could play in any of the positions up top, including through the middle and “with Giroud in a 4-4-2″. Now, I don’t know if Wenger is messing us or not and I struggle to think who he might play on the wings (Ox, Podolski, Cazorla, Rosicky? Özil would be wasted out there) but there might be a clue in there as to why Wenger is looking at Khedira. During Wenger’s most successful era he played with two in base of the midfield: Parlor and Vieira, Petit and Vieira and it was Gilberto and Vieira. That’s why Khedira and Ramsey is a mouthwatering prospect in midfield but it leaves so many questions: where to put Özil, and probably most worryingly, where does Wilshere fit into all this?

Wilshere’s stock has fallen off a bit (and I am not at all talking about his smoking) with even some of the most famous Arsenal personalities starting to wonder about his development. At this point in his career I’m more of the mind that he suffered a bit from his injury and frankly he suffered in light of the hugely successful season Aaron Ramsey had.

But the fact remains that he can’t take Özil’s place as the creative midfielder, he doesn’t seem to have the engine to take Ramsey’s place in midfield, and he’s not a defensive midfielder (at least not that he has shown so far). He’s also not a wing player, a forward, or a defender. So, if Arsenal splash the big cash on a player like Khedira or Bender where does Wilshere fit?

With Jenkinson on the bench? And how long will he be happy doing that?

Qq