Category Archives: Transfers

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.

Vermaelen misses everything

The decline and fall of Thomas Vermaelen

If the Times of London are reporting it as fact it must be true: Thomas Vermaelen, he who has the same agent as Robin van Persie, has agreed to personal terms with Manchester United. Arsenal have not agreed to a transfer fee with Man U, but the player has gone out and found himself a suitor to fill the hole in his life.

First thing’s first, since he’s under contract at Arsenal this could be, probably is, tapping up. That is, unless Arsenal agreed to let him talk to United. If not, then any agreements that the player makes with another club could result in a fine or even a transfer ban. I doubt anything will come of that little fact but that fact exists. While it “happens all the time” it doesn’t make it any less “a violation of the rules.” Kind of like diving.

That aside, the news that Vermaelen is looking for a team after spending a year on the bench isn’t surprising. He probably just wants to move on with his career and at 28 years old is looking for one last big contract. Man U are offering him £100k a week which Arsenal will certainly not match for a player who is a backup center half.

The fact that Vermaelen wants out of Arsenal should illustrate just how difficult it is going to be for Arsenal to get and keep a “sub-world-class” backup defender. Arsenal need to get a player in who is good enough to start at a club like Arsenal and yet OK with knowing that he might not start, ever. That’s a tough sell. That’s why I am not surprised that we haven’t signed a backup defender yet, even though that caliber of player is almost certainly not in the World Cup.

What would be surprising is if Arsene lets Vermaelen go and especially if Arsene lets him go to Man U. The idea that Arsenal would lose Cesc to Chelsea, Sagna to City, and Vermaelen to Man U in the same year is… uhh… not sitting well with a lot of fans. In fact, it’s giving some folks the “right ‘ump”.

Just footballistically it’s hard to fathom the idea that Arsenal would let him go. Sagna was Arsenal’s backup to the backup in the center back role and with him and Vermaelen gone that would mean Arsene needs three positions covered. He could do that by buying a defensive mid who can play center back and a right back who can cover there as well, but if you told me that Arsenal will head into next season with just two outright center backs I would do a facepalm that lasted at least 30 minutes. Maybe even a double facepalm for an hour.

I’m also not entirely certain why Manchester United want him badly enough to risk censure by tapping him up. I know Vidic is leaving but Vermaelen is not at all the type of defender that Vidic is. Vidic is the Mertesacker on that team, Vermaelen is a Koscielny and not even a very good Koscielny.

Verm 09-10 Verm 10-11 (INJURED) Verm 11-12 Verm 12-13 Verm 13-14 (7 Starts)
Aerial % 58% 73% 56% 55% 62%
Interceptions 2 3.6 2.3 1.6 1.4
Clearances 7.1 5.8 4.1 4.5 5.6
Blocks 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.7 0.1
Pass% 83% 88% 89% 86% 91%
Long pass % 62% 69% 65% 55% 78%

Vermaelen played the sum total of three seasons at Arsenal. His first season he was an instant fan favorite for both his defensive aggression and his ability to score goals.

Vermaelen scored on his debut against Everton in 2009. Then went on the rest of that season and scored 8 goals total for the Gunners including a strike against Man U. But despite his heroics going forward people were already questioning his defensive nous.

As far back as 2010, Vermaelen’s best season at Arsenal, Zonal Marking was calling him out for his lack of positional awareness. It was a scathing review which called into question Vermaelen’s basic defensive ability.

Vermaelen was also lauded for his aerial ability in his first season and I suspect most of that applause came because he won headers for goals. But Vermaelen has actually never been that good in the air. It’s one thing to win a header in a corner situation and a whole different thing to go up against a lump of a center forward and win 1 v. 1. So while he scored a few goals he consistently lost those 1 v. 1 battles.

Koz 10-11 Koz 11-12 Koz 12-13 Koz 13-14
Aerial % 53% 61% 64% 53%
Interceptions 2.8 2.8 1.6 2.8
Clearances 6.9 5.1 4.9 7.3
Blocks 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.7
Pass% 85% 85% 83% 94%
Long pass % 53% 48% 49% 85%

I forgave his occasional defensive lapses at first because he seemed just eager to win the ball and I figured Wenger would calm the beast inside him. Then he went down with an injury, well it wasn’t an injury, it was a congenital thing with him having an extra thick tendon in his legs or something.

When he came back from his injury in his third season, all the same problems were there as they were in the first and he still scored goals (6) but people forgave him not winning headers and making basic errors because he was “returning from injury” or at times being played out of position.

But in his fourth season, I think people were pretty clear that he was no longer a starting center back for Arsenal. It was the performance against Liverpool where Arsenal made two comedy errors to allow Liverpool to score two goals which earned Vermaelen the drop from Wenger. I wrote:

The first goal Arsenal conceded was simply blightful. Sagna lost his footing when Suarez’ lame pass was inches from the Arsenal defender. Then Glen Johnson crossed what was essentially right at both Mertesacker and Vermaelen. The big German was too slow to get to the ball but the little Belgian was there and all he needed to do was kick the ball out of play. Instead he took the biggest swing and a miss in the history of the sport, the momentum of his swing was so great that it flung him dramatically in the air and landed him square on his face. He couldn’t have executed that move any better on the set of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Arsenal then lost to Blackburn in the FA Cup, Bayern in the Champions League, and another double-clanger from Vermaelen in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham. The next game, Vermaelen was dropped. Arsenal’s captain, dropped.

It had been coming all season. People were calling for him to be dropped earlier in the year but as I wrote before January, you can’t drop the captain, because it’s the nuclear option. Once you drop the captain it will either force everyone else to shape up or it will cause the whole team to melt down.

In this case the team took the hint and from the 2-0 win over Bayern all the way to the end of the season, Arsenal halted the “negative spiral” and finished the season in 4th place. It was an end of season run anchored to a rock solid defensive partnership between Koz and Per.  

Per 11-12 Per 12-13 Per 13-14
Aerial % 63% 69% 68%
Interceptions 1.7 1.5 1.7
Clearances 4.4 4.8 7.1
Blocks 0.6 0.6 0.5
Pass% 89% 92% 93%
Long pass % 64% 73% 82%

Koscielny and Mertesacker are more than just a partnership. During the FA Cup trophy presentation, as each player was passed the cup so they could lift it in celebration, Koscielny insisted that he and Mertesacker lift the cup together.

Merte-koz

In the end, Vermaelen’s odd lack of positional awareness never went away. That along with his two years of error-prone football culminating in a nightmare game against Tottenham left Wenger with no choice but to drop the captain. Once he was dropped, Koscielny grabbed his chance with both feet and made the position his own. Arsenal haven’t looked back since.

Frankly, I don’t understand why Man U want him and why they want to pay him so much. With Vidic gone, they need a new center half, but this is Arsenal’s backup CB and he has earned that backup role with his consistently poor performances. Not only that but he’s not the same kind of CB that Vidic is: he’s not a monster in the air (Vidic wins 70% of his AD), and he’s not a defender who sits back and clears danger (Vidic led Man U with almost 11 clearances a game last season). Is he being hired as a backup? For £100k a week? Does Louis van Gaal rate him as a starting center back at Man U? Has he not watched the guy play and seen that he lacks the basic calmness needed to be a top center back?

There are some rumors that Arsenal want Tom Cleverly or Chris Smalling in return for Vermaelen. No to Cleverly (Denilson?) and yes to Smalling. Smalling isn’t nearly as rubbish as United fans make out and Cleverly is as rubbish as everyone makes out. Smalling is also only 24 years old, he’s 6’4″, and he counts as homegrown.

As much as I want to be angry that Arsenal might sell another player to Man U, I’m having a real hard time getting worked up over this one. Vermaelen is a bit of a time bomb and if van Gaal thinks he’s going to shape him into a world class center half he’s got a lot of work to do. If Arsenal can trade Vermaelen for Smalling I would take it. Smalling is British, young, makes less money than Vermaelen and has potential that I don’t see in Verm. No matter what Arsenal do we have to have a replacement backup center half right away.

I understand some of the comparisons to van Persie: he went behind our backs and negotiated a deal with Man U, we stuck by him while he was injured, we stuck by him when he was crap (until he was utter crap), and we would be selling a player to a title rival. But I just think this deal is a lot less van Persie and a lot more Silvestre. Maybe van Gaal can turn him into a world class defender but where I’m at with his career at Arsenal I have to say that a straight up swap for Smalling would see Arsenal get the better end of the deal.

Qq