Warning, this post is crap. I’m sick and I don’t really know what to think about anything any more. Nothing makes sense. But at any rate…
Now that the Luis Suarez deal is deader than that trend of women carrying around annoying little dogs in public and the Gustavo deal is deader than bros ordering Jager bombs, Arsene Wenger can turn his attentions elsewhere and fill out a squad that even he admits looks a bit thin.
Much has been made about the number of departures this season but if you look at who has left, this hasn’t actually been a banner year for players leaving. Transfermarkt.co.uk keeps a list of all the players teams buy, sell, and loan in or out every year and a quick look there reveals that so far this summer, Arsenal have only sold or released four players who made any significant contribution last season: Gervinho, Mannone, Santos, and Arshavin. Looking at all competitions Gervinho appeared in 26 matches, Mannone 13, Santos 12, and Arshavin 11.
Wenger has already ably replaced Santos with Nacho and so that leaves just three players gone who played in at least 10 matches for the Gunners last season. Of those three Gervinho is the most played (26 times) and the one who contributed the most. If last season is any indication, then Oxlade-Chamberlain will be promoted into the Gervinho role. Which is all well and fine. I think 26 apps for the young man is a good shout. Nothing wrong with promoting from within and especially since Ox is a very talented young man.
So, given that, and looking at the list of current first team players, you can also surmise why Wenger is being so calm in this transfer market. It’s clear that he tried to seize on what would have been the bargain of the century to get Suarez from Liverpool for £40m but was badly duped by Suarez’ people into thinking there was a release clause. That whole episode did not exactly cover the manager and club in glory.
Still, Arsenal currently have a core of 18 players who all played in 10 or more League matches last season:
If you look at Wenger’s past three years he has used exactly 20 different players in each of those three years in 10 or more League matches. Before you think that’s an odd number Man U used 22 players last year, and 19 the year before. City has a huge squad but only played 20 last year and 19 the year before (remember this is the players who had 10 or more apps). And one reason that Chelsea struggled so badly was because they only used 17 players in League play 10 or more times and their core group of 8 players played 50 or more times in all competitions: Petr Cech played 65 times for Chelsea and 12 times for his national team. I dare say Chelsea will be rested and ready to play this year. So, 20 players is rather normal.
With Wenger’s 20 as a guide and with Mannone and Arshavin gone, that means by my count Arsenal are two players short. There are probably other ways to look at it but that’s my count at what I think Wenger is looking for.
The problem though is that depth isn’t just about numbers, if that were the case, nearly every team would have a chance to win the League.
Arsenal’s quality in certain positions is unassailable.
Cazorla is one of the top players in world football — a great dribbler and playmaker whose vision cuts teams apart and who isn’t afraid to have a pop from distance.
Arteta is often overlooked as a top player but he was my man of the season last year — he blends defense and pinpoint accurate passing with leadership on and off the field.
Koscielny is quickly gaining a reputation as a top center back and his partner in defense has 90 caps for Germany — Koz is a fearless defender who is not afraid to make a tackle and usually pulls it off, while Mertesacker is a huge man and calming influence on the back line.
The player I’m most excited about making the step up is Theo Walcott. I’ve now watched Arsenal’s 2012/2013 season probably a dozen times and I have to admit that he impresses me more and more every time I watch it. When he gets in behind the defense he is actually a tremendous finisher, Henry-esque. He curls in shots around keepers like no one I have seen since Henry.
The main bag on Walcott is that he can’t dribble, which is sort of true, but he has gotten better every season and last year won 47 of 108 attempts. That’s (43%) close to Eden Hazard (45%) and 6% higher than Luis Suarez (who was 37%, 95 of 255).
Forwards also need to get shots and Walcott’s shots numbers have grown every season. He is now at an all time high for shots taken, shots on goal, and his conversion numbers are among the best in his short career.
He also converted a career high 38% of his shots on goal, converted 50% of his big chances (Opta’s count), and led all Arsenal players with 21 goals last season. He is also a consistent assists provider and takes Arsenal’s corners and set plays. Not signing the ball hogging Luis Suarez could be the best thing that happened to him this summer.
Gibbs is another player that I rate highly, he has started to produce and gave Arsenal three assists from the left back position and also cut down on the number of mistakes he made. WhoScored’s metric places him as 5th best left back in the League.
Sagna was the best right back in the League two years ago. And despite making a bushel of errors last season was still good enough to keep Jenkinson on the bench.
The next tier of players, however, have significant weaknesses.
Szczesny saved Arsenal some points last season, for example his blinder against Sunderland, and from what I can tell he didn’t cost us many in return — though not from lack of trying. Still, he is a significant liability on defense since he is weak in the air and occasionally his decision-making is horrid (remember Jordan Henderson’s gaping goal miss because Szczesny was on walkabout?). He also can’t kick — all his long punts go to Sagna.
Vermaelen is another player I have lost faith in. More than just the errors he committed (leading all outfield players with 6) the way he plays causes panic in the back. I know he was played on the left for three League games last season but there’s a reason why he was benched and the team got better — because he wasn’t very good. And yet he’s Arsenal’s captain.
There are other problems with Arsenal’s depth as well. Arteta played a career high 43 matches for Arsenal last season and ended the season with ice-packs on his knees. He’s 31 and really needs someone to spell him from time to time, like every January when he is injured. Can Ramsey step up and take that role? He was an excellent tackler (90%) last season, but his dribbling is still low for an Arsenal midfielder (he is a 48% dribbler). Ramsey is also just a 74% long ball passer, whereas Arteta is close to 90%. I like Ramsey, maybe he can make the leap forward. He already looks a better dribbler than last year and he is one of those players who wants to improve himself.
I can do this all day but I’m going to stop. Because looking at this team, with the lack of quality in depth at several positions we just have to hope beyond hope for a miracle.