Category Archives: Transfers

transfer zone

The Transfer Zone: Arturo Vidal

By Tim Todd, Sr. Transferologist

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to fans. It is a dimension as vast as Roman Abramovich’s wallet and as bottomless as Sheikh Mansour’s warchest. It is the ground between agent and club, between May and September, and it lies between the pit of Twitter and the summit of unveiling day. This is the dimension of fantasy. It is an area which we call the Transfer Zone.

Today we present to you the case of a young man. A man with many go-faster stripes shaved into a very sharp hairstyle, a verbosely tattooed man, a man many people in North London want to call their own. This young man is about to play in the biggest game of his life, the “Champions League” final. But before kickoff, this man, named Arturo Vidal, is about to have his whole world turned upside down. For he is about to enter the Transfer Zone.

Reports are now widely circulating, including The Guardian, that Arturo Vidal has already agreed to personal terms with Arsenal. Juventus have also agreed to terms of around £25m. But for some unknown reason, Arsenal will wait until after the Copa America to unveil their new star center mid.

For many Arsenal fans, the team never truly recovered after they lost talisman and captain Patrick Vieira. Vieira was a towering physical presence in an otherwise artistic Arsenal team. But Patrick Vieira wasn’t just a meat shield, far from it. He mixed physicality with artistry and like a master painter had to get those pigments right every time.

The goals Vieira scored for Arsenal typified his approach to the game. Vieira would make a lung-bursting run from his deep, protective position, and use his sheer strength and will to get on the end of the ball and score. He did this several times against Chelsea and most famously against Tottenham: on that day, Arsenal won the League, at White Hart Lane.

Since Vieira left in 2005 to go to Juventus, Gunners have fairly consistently called on their club to “buy a defensive midfielder”. This “defensive midfielder” is a bit of a contentious tag because Wenger hasn’t deployed a true defensive midfielder since around 2008 when the Gunners lost three defensive mids in one season.

And the call for Arsenal to buy a “DM” has been so consistent that it is now a knee-jerk reaction from the fans. Ask nearly any Arsenal fan who their club needs to buy and they will say [pick one or two: a keeper, a forward, a winger, a defender] and a defensive midfielder.

It doesn’t even matter that a true defensive midfielder, not a box-to-box player but rather a bonafide meat shield in front of the Arsenal back four, has emerged for Arsenal this season in Francis Coquelin. Coquelin leads Arsenal in tackles and interceptions. He also throws in a fair number of clearances, blocks, and defensive aerial duels won. He’s fairly conservative with his passing and doesn’t turn the ball over a lot. This ticks every single box for traditional DM.

But Arsenal fans still staunchly believe that Arsenal need a “defensive midfielder.” Though now the story switches from needing just one to needing two, “in order to give Coquelin some healthy competition.” What I suspect is that Arsenal fans want someone more like Patrick Vieira: someone who blends the defense and attack seamlessly. Someone who could play along side Coquelin.

Aaron Ramsey was that sort of player last year. He was second on the team with just 0.1 fewer tackles per game than Arteta, Arsenal’s most defensive midfielder on a team without a true defensive midfielder, and he scored 10 goals, second on the team as well. But this season, Ramsey has pushed himself further up the pitch in search of goals and his tackle numbers have dropped off considerably.

Enter Arturo Vidal. There is no doubt why the rumor that Arsenal have already signed Arturo Vidal has Arsenal fans excited. Vidal is tagged as a defensive midfielder by some fans but he’s actually deployed as a box-to-box midfielder at Juventus. If there is any player in the world who most closely matches the Patrick Vieira mold, it’s Arturo Vidal.

Vidal leads Juventus in tackles and has led the Old Grey Lady in tackles every season he has been there putting up some eye-popping numbers like his 5.4 tackles per game in 2011/2012. These numbers aren’t just the best at Juventus, they are the best in the Serie A and he often led all of Italy in tackles – just like he did when he was at Bayer Leverkuzen in the Bundesliga. Despite his small frame of just 180cm, he is an imposing physical presence in any midfield. He doesn’t win a lot of headers, he doesn’t intercept the ball a lot, but he does boss the midfield with his constant work rate and no-nonsense tackling.

He is also a high energy player like Alexis Sanchez, his Chilean teammate and possible future  Arsenal teammate. This, along with the tackling, endears him to fans of the English game with its’ up-tempo style and in your face style of play.

But Vidal is more than just a tackler: he also scores goals. He takes some of Juventus’ penalties, he scores goals from distance, and he even scored a header in Juventus’ match against Sampdoria. Along side Paul Pogba, Vidal plays that box-to-box role perfectly for Juventus.

And tactically, where he fits at Arsenal is fairly simple. He can play in the Coquelin role and add more offensive output — he had 4 assists last year and averages about 1.5 key passes per game. He can also play along side Coquelin when Arsenal need a more defensive set up. And he could play along side Ramsey when Arsenal need a more attacking lineup.

If Arsenal are buying Arturo Vidal, it’s not just as competition for Coquelin, he will push all of Arsenal’s central midfielders for a starting role. Well, all but the creative players like Ozil, Alexis, and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

If the rumors are true and Arsenal have signed Arturo Vidal, I suspect that Arsenal fans will be very happy this fall. They will have finally replaced the “defensive midfielder” they have been asking for since Vieira left.

Now, if the Gunners could only sort out that ‘keeper situation that has plagued them since Jens Lehmann left…

Qq

Stats today from Opta via whoscored.com

Van Persie and Rooney sing the body electric

Van Persie, Klopp, Szczesny, and transfers

By Tim Todd, chief senior editor at large (gained 4 pounds in the last month!)

Let’s get old school with today’s post and hit a bunch of Arsenal news stories all at once. If I ran this site at all like a business I would post each as its own “article” but I don’t. So, limber up those fingers because there is a lot of Arsenal news to talk about.

Surprise, van Persie is 5th highest paid player in the world

Robin van Persie is the 5th highest paid footballer in the world. Let that sink in for a minute. This is a player who publicly proclaimed that he was leaving Arsenal because he disagreed with the direction of the club and who was “suddenly” catapulted into the stratosphere as far as wages and endorsements are concerned. He makes more money than Zlatan Ibrahamovich.

There is never any doubt in my mind that when a player demands to leave a club the main reason is money. They will tell you it’s for football reasons or that it’s because of the “direction of the club” but as far as I can tell, the preponderance of the evidence points to money. In van Persie’s case, I suspect that he was tapped up in the winter before the transfer market opened up (something we are seeing now) and was told that if he joined United, they would not only top up his pay packet but also help him land huge endorsement deals¹. It was an offer too good to refuse.

He got lucky, frankly, and won a title in his first season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season, but he’ll never win another League title again. In fact, he may never win another piece of silverware. If that prediction comes true, Robin van Persie will have won 1 trophy with Arsenal and 1 with Man U.

We will never know what could have been but my feeling is that if van Persie had chosen to honor his time with Arsenal and repay the club for the four years he spent collecting a paycheck from the treatment room Arsenal would have won a League title with van Persie. Look at how close this club is now. Imagine Özil and van Persie playing together. It’s easy to see that Arsenal would have been serious contenders. I feel confident saying that even if van Persie is nicking a living off Man U.

Transfer Talk!

It’s international break and the transfer window closed two months ago and won’t re-open until… August? So, why is my news feed filling up with stories about Arsenal pre-signing no less than five players?

Apparently, the Gunners are after Luiz Adriano, Paulo Dybala, Carlos Castro, Dani Alves, and Mateo Kovacic. Also, Chris Smalling, Petr Cech, Schneiderlin, Marco Reus, and the remainder of the Borussia Dortmund team.

I know that clubs get their business done earlier than we probably think (see the van Persie story above) but is it now just so well known that clubs are tapping up players all over the globe that the papers, agents, players, and clubs can be so brazen about it?

My feeling is that Arsenal will buy someone this summer. It will probably be none of the names above. But long-term Arsenal need replacements for Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, and Szczesny.

Szczesny in particular. Did you know that he’s been dropped nearly every season he’s been at Arsenal? I have to wonder how much longer Wenger will persist?

Wenger to be replaced with Klopp

This is one of my favorite stories of the year. I’m not one to subscribe to the Metro or the Express but I do subscribe to ESPN’s Arsenal news feed. So, imagine my surprise when I found an ESPN article in my feed claiming that Wenger might be out the door this summer.

Ian Holyman, the ESPN author, claimed that there were “reports” that Wenger could leave before the end of his contract. Those of us who have been following Arsenal for more than a minute know that Wenger has always honored his contracts. So, what are these “reports” that Holyman referred to?

An article in the Express which, and again I wish I was kidding, used the fact that a betting firm “slashed” the odds on Wenger finishing his contract as the basis for their “report.” I get approached to write articles like this all the time. If that betting firm didn’t pay the Express to write that article I’ll be surprised.

So, to conclude, ESPN used what looks a lot like an advertisement for a betting firm as the basis for “reports”.

I guess that settles that then?

Qq

¹This isn’t something unique to United, Arsenal do it too.

gabriel

Arsenal transfer deals done: is Arsenal’s squad complete?

Arsène Wenger made just two signings in January: a young prospective defensive midfielder and an experienced Brazilian center back named Gabriel. On the other end of the lading bill, Arsène also sent three forwards out on loan, giving valuable first team experience to Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell and finding a restive place at Inter for Lukas Podolski to practice his future in social media marketing.

In the end, Wenger didn’t buy the big, beastly, wins every tackle, tackles 20 times a game, tackles tackles, and tackles tackles of tackles, defensive (preferably a tall African francophone with little or no hair) midfielder that everyone wanted him to buy but he did find a good backup center back and unearthed a home grown defensive midfielder. So, where is Arsenal’s squad still weak? Is it still weak?

In goalkeeper, Arsène Wenger dropped Wojciech Szczesny after the loss to Southampton where Woj was caught smoking a cigarette in the locker room. Since then Wenger has handed the starting gloves to David Ospina. The 6′ Ospina looks a bit undersized for goalkeeper in the Premier League but he is an experienced international player and he seems to be adding to a sense of calm in the back line.

In all competitions for Arsenal, Ospina has played six times, only has one loss (Southampton in the League Cup), has only allowed a total of 3 goals. And since being called upon in January, Ospina has posted four consecutive wins with four clean sheets.

It’s often hard to tell if it’s the keeper or if it’s the team who should get credit for clean sheets. But it is common parlance to award the keeper the clean sheet. Ospina has earned the clean sheets a bit, he’s made 7 saves without letting in a goal in the Premier League and is averaging 2.33 saves per game, that’s more saves than Szczesny was being forced to make at 1.68 per game.

Where Ospina really shines though is in his long ball kicking. His overall pass percentage is poor, 59% compared to Szczesny’s 68% but if you peek behind the numbers you can see why: Szczesny played a lot of short passes this season and was very poor at long balls whereas Ospina plays few short passes and is very good at long balls.

Szczesny averaged 9.3 short passes per game, Ospina averages 1.7 with neither keeper making too many poor passes (Szczesny has one notable exception) which caused his team any trouble. But Ospina manages to complete 13 long passes per game (13/23.7 — 55%) whereas Szczesny only managed 4.9 per game (4.9/13.4 — 37%). Historically, Szczesny has been much better at the long pass than he is showing this year. I can’t tell whether this massive drop from a guy who used to pass 50%+ long passes is because of injury to Giroud or that Arsenal sold Sagna (Szcz was known to favor passing long balls out to Sagna) but the fact remains that he can’t seem to find a man to pass to and Ospina can. That ability to get the ball down field and find an Arsenal player is important to getting Arsenal out of trouble and keeping the ball out of our defensive third.

I know I have written a lot about keeper so far but it is the one position where I think Arsenal might be lacking, a bit. I think the starting spot goes to Ospina for now and this summer we will find out if Szczesny has a long-term future at Arsenal. My gut tells me he doesn’t. I suspect Wenger is fed up with his antics like Podolski, Frimpong, Song, and others who maybe didn’t take the job and the club rules as seriously as they should have.

In front of Ospina, Arsenal are stocked. At right back, Arsenal have Debuchy, Chambers, and Bellerin. Since Bellerin was given a chance he has done exceptionally well and basically wrestled the starting spot away from Calum Chambers. Bellerin is very quick to get back and he’s an excellent tackler — he’s only been beaten 3 times in 19 attempted tackles this year. His speed also allows him to get forward and he even scored his first Arsenal goal in the 5-0 win over Aston Villa. Debuchy is out for the season (basically) after Arnautovich shoved him and dislocated his shoulder but backing Bellerin up is Calum Chambers who is a decent right back in his own right.

At left back, Arsenal have Gibbs and Monreal. Both are very experienced and excellent choices for left back. Full stop.

In the center of the park, Arsenal have Mertesacker and Koscielny with a host of players who can play backup when either of those two need a rest. Chambers can come in for Mertesacker and the new signing, Gabriel can come in for Koscielny.

I’ve had a look at Gabriel’s numbers and they are OK but I will caution against using stats from a player who played in La Liga for a team who played a vastly different brand of football from Arsenal. His headed duels percentage (61%), for example, could be completely lost in translation from Spain to England. We will just have to see. Still, it was the one position Wenger needed to buy cover and he did with pundits comparing him favorably to Koscielny.

It looks a little like Chambers is covering two positions but he isn’t. I see Debuchy and Bellerin as the right backs and Chambers more of a central defender who can play right back.

In midfield, Arsenal have a weird situation. The clamor for the last three years was for Arsene to buy a dominating defensive midfielder to play along with Ramsey and Wilshere. Wenger even shopped around but for various reasons couldn’t land the player he was looking for. And then, one day, out of necessity, Wenger went back to the well and recalled Coquelin.

Coquelin has been at Arsenal since 2008 and has had several infamous starts at the club in the holding role and at right back before being loaned out to various clubs. On loan he failed to find a way into a permanent first team role and each time he returned to Arsenal, he would play once or twice and then go right back out on loan.

So, it’s all been a bit sudden that Coquelin is seen as Arsenal’s first choice holding midfielder. Recalled in December from Charlton, Coquelin has played just 463 minutes in the Premier League this season. Despite some solid defensive performances are we really ready to say that Arteta is the backup to Coquelin? Arteta is insanely accurate with a whole range of passes but Coquelin is significantly better defensively — in terms of tackles, aerial duels won, interceptions, and foot speed to cover the fullback positions. Which do you pick?

The good news is that Arsenal have a ton of midfielders who can all cover for each other: Coquelin-Arteta-Flamini, Ramsey-Rosicky-Ox, and Cazorla-Özil-Wilshere. Don’t get your pants in a bunch about me grouping these players like this, they play a variety of positions in the Arsenal midfield and the Arsenal midfield isn’t known for keeping a strict shape. I’m just suggesting that these players have similar attributes, more defensive, more link-up, and more attacking. For those of you without a colic I’m sorry I had to waste words saying that.

No matter how you reorder the midfield that is a pretty stacked list. Note that I have Ox and Wilshere pretty far down on the list, that’s some serious depth when you’re looking at Jack Wilshere as potentially third choice in the attacking midfield role. And notice that I didn’t even have to mention Diaby, Zelalem, or the new guy Bielik. Arsenal’s midfield is packed for choice and full of competition for places. This is the healthiest midfield in the League.

And up front, Wenger also has competition and depth. With Giroud returning from his injury layoff he has now relegated the hard-working and talented Danny Welbeck to a support role. And the same can be said for Alexis and his backup Theo Walcott. I know some of you will again get the hump because I’ve put a bunch of the British players down the pecking order but if you watch the work rate and sheer goal-scoring genius that a guy like Sanchez brings compared to what Walcott gave in his start against Aston Villa, you can see that Wenger is going to pick Sanchez over Theo all day, every day.

Now, I know that this looks like a 4-3-2 that I just created but that’s because Arsenal’s system is a bit odd. But to create a 4-3-3 you simply take either Özil, Ox, or Cazorla from the midfield and play them in the wide forward role.

As Naveen pointed out in his column prior to the Villa match, Özil likes to take up non-traditional positions wide instead of in the middle so it seems natural to me that Özil will start wide left and Cazorla in the middle — though where these two start and were they do their damage on the pitch are usually two different things. If you need another left sided player, Arsène can slide Alexis over there and start either Walcott or Ox on the right. This is the other area at Arsenal where Wenger might look to strengthen in the summer: he has a lot of right-footed players playing on the left. If he can get in a truly left-footed forward who works as hard as Alexis then I think the attack will be significantly strengthened.

Ospina
Szczesny

Debuchy(i)     Mertesacker     Koscielny     Gibbs
Bellerin     Chambers     Gabriel     Monreal

Ramsey    Arteta(i)     Cazorla
Rosicky     Coquelin     Wilshere(i)

Alexis     Giroud     Özil
(Walcott, Ox)     Welbeck(i)    (Alexis)

There you have it. Is the Arsenal squad complete? It’s about as complete as you could expect to get in the January transfer window. As Henry said on Sky, “in January you go for the player that is available… in the summer you go for the player you really want.” And for me it looks like Arsenal have two solid players in every position on the pitch.

That has to be a January transfer market well done by the boss and now Arsenal have time to work on a few things on the training ground ahead of the North London derby this weekend. With the Gunners just 6 points off 2nd place and -1 GD off 4th place, they look well positioned to make an end of season run to get back into the Champions League places, and possibly even higher.

Qq