slotted

Welbeck: athleticism, work rate, speed — the complete center forward?

by Naveen Maliakkal

If the signing of Alexis Sanchez represented a step towards athleticism and work rate, then the signing of Danny Welbeck represents a second step in that direction. In a way, one can see the Danny Welbeck signing as a refutation of Mario Balotelli as a footballer. Arsenal and Liverpool acquire Welbeck and Balotelli, respectively, for a similar fee. While Mario Balotelli is the once-in-a-lifetime talent, that rare blend of technical ability and physical gifts that could dominate football, he is constantly criticized for his lack of concentration, work rate, and understanding of how to play as a member of a team. On the other hand, Danny Welbeck, while athletic, is not in Balotelli’s league as a physical specimen. Welbeck does not come close to Balotelli when it comes to his technique, although his ability to circulate possession quickly (receive and move the ball quickly) is superior. If I had to pick the three best aspects of Welbeck’s play it would be his teamwork, his work rate, and his tactical intelligence, which for an English player is a rare commodity that should be cherished. These skills could become quite valuable at center-forward for Arsenal.

In some ways, I see Danny Welbeck as a kind of Robert Lewandowski-type at center forward. While he may never score 20 goals in a league season for Arsenal or generate the shot volume that Lewandowski does, he can drop deep and offer good link-up play; he has the quickness to be a threat on the counter and to get in behind defenders; he has the tactical understanding and the work rate to be involved in a pressing system to disrupt the opposition. His completeness as a football player allows Arsene Wenger to deploy this bundle of resources in some interesting ways.

Speed Kills

Last season, with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of the side, Arsenal had an extremely slow attacking front. It was painful to see Mesut Ozil try to keep the offense from completely tanking with a lack of options ahead of him. Coming from a team with of runs Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel Di Maria, this may have been the most frustrating period of Ozil’s playing career. Fast forward about six months and Arsenal have signed Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, with Oxlade-Chamberlain fit and Theo Walcott getting closer to returning to action. Arsene Wenger has certainly fulfilled his and Mesut Ozil’s need for speed (someone should totally edit that clip to have Arsene Wenger and Mesut Ozil’s heads on Goose and Maverick).

In addition to the obvious speed on the counter, the quickness of Welbeck will be important in the final third. His agility will allow him to get past defenders, exploit gaps in the lines, and create a bit of space to get shots on goal. Also, when he moves into a wide area, his quickness and his dribbling (though his inconsistency with his technique will lead to moments like this) will allow him to get past defenders. Finally, his quickness in passing will also help Arsenal in the final third. Too often this season, Arsenal have been too slow and too static in their build-up, which could easily be due to a lack of cohesion. While Welbeck may follow suit and play a slower, less risky style, his quickness of thought and passing could help Arsenal play at a faster tempo, circulate the ball more quickly, and create/exploit more openings in opposition defenses. In fact, his link-up play is another aspect of Welbeck’s game that will benefit Arsenal.

A Happy Medium between Giroud and Sanchez

While Welbeck does offer quickness, pace, movement, and some dribbling ability, he also has the strength and the experience to do some of the back-to-goal play that Olivier Giroud does. With the likes of Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott looking to run beyond the center forward, Welbeck’s ability to play with his back to goal will keep that attribute on the pitch, even when Giroud is not available to play.

Combine that ability to do what Giroud does with the pace, quickness, and movement of Alexis Sanchez, and the back line will probably not push up with the enthusiasm that they normally did last season when Giroud played up top. Not only will this prevent the opposition from compressing the space in midfield, it also helps to push the defense closer to their goal. This could mean more space between the center backs and central midfielders, space Arsenal players love to exploit. It could force defenses to defend deeper, helping to mitigate the damage of Arsenal’s turnovers in the final third, as the opponent has a longer distance to travel in order to threaten Arsenal’s goal. Against a side like Chelsea or Manchester City, whose center-backs have the physicality to neutralize the play of Giroud, a center forward like Welbeck could find more freedom when he drops deep, as the defenders will not be as enthusiastic in closing down the center forward. So while he may not provide the aerial prowess of the Frenchman, Welbeck can provide some of the attributes of Olivier Giroud, without some of the significant costs of fielding Olivier Giroud.

Defensive Benefits

One of the most interesting aspects of Danny Welbeck as a center forward is his defensive ability. Sir Alex Ferguson often trusted Welbeck to shut down an opposing midfielder or smother an opposing full-back, while using his pace to remain a threat on the counter attack. This is why Ferguson played him in some of United’s biggest matches, despite his lack of an outstanding goal-scoring record.

A classic example of Welbeck’s ability as a disruptive force came against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the 2012-13 Champions League. While the game saw 11 men play against 11 men, Welbeck successfully marked Xabi Alonso out of the game, disrupting the Real Madrid’s rhythm.

We pick up the game right after Manchester United have taken a 2-1 lead on aggregate.

Xabi

Danny Welbeck is right next to Xabi Alonso, making sure that Real Madrid do not play the ball into him. Real Madrid try to work the ball on the right side only to have it come back to Ozil. With no options to play the ball forward to the left of him, Ozil looks to Alonso. Alonso points to the Manchester United goal as if to tell Ozil not to play him the ball. This makes sense as Welbeck is in position to intercept the ball or put Alonso under heavy pressure. Either of which could create a counter-attacking opportunity that could put United up 3-1, killing the tie. Instead the ball finds Gonzalo Higuain, who puts in a surprisingly good cross that no one touches.

He also has the pace to be a threat on the counter attack. For example, in this passage of play (start at about the 2:14 mark of this video) Welbeck starts right next to Xabi Alonso. In the time that it takes for the ball to be played into Robin Van Persie, Welbeck has already got past Alonso, who cannot track Welbeck due to his defensive responsibilities in front of the center-backs, and is running at full speed into the CB/FB gap. Van Persie slips the ball through to Danny Welbeck who has plenty of space in front of him.

welbz2

Now this clip also highlights the absurd athleticism that Raphael Varane possesses. Varane starts his recovery run while Welbeck is already at full speed and he still manages to catch up with the Englishman, keeping him out of a dangerous shooting position. However, look at all the free space on the left of the picture. That is the territory Varane has ceded in order to snuff out the threat of Welbeck. If Manchester United had someone with the pace of a Theo Walcott or Alexis Sanchez, who could make that run from deep in time, Welbeck has the ability to play a dangerous ball (notice his head is up) in on goal. Instead, Welbeck does well to pass the ball to Ryan Giggs who shapes a nice cross with the outside of his left-foot, looking for a classic Van Persie move (the back-post-run-smash-it-with-his-left one).

Too often, Arsenal attempt to press up front without coordination and with too few in number. This happens any time Olivier Giroud or Alexis Sanchez attempts to press two center backs by themselves, or when two Arsenal players try to press two center backs and a deep-lying midfielder. In these scenarios the opponent has a spare man that allows them the play around the pressure. Therefore, the most frequent result is a waste of energy by Arsenal players.

For Arsenal one could see how Welbeck’s tactical understanding and work rate could be used to great effect against the best teams, particularly those in the English Premier League. Without a player who can operate in a lone holding midfielder being brought in, we may see more of the 4-2-3-1 that we saw last season. Defensively, one could see Arsenal press with a front 3 of Sanchez/Welbeck/Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain. Against a team with two midfielders close to the back line, Aaron Ramsey could push up with Mesut Ozil to create a 4-1-2-3.

center back

Here the left winger can press the ball while denying a clear passing lane between the center back and the right back. This is something Alexis Sanchez adeptly does when he closes down an opponent. The center forward looks to deny the passing lane between the two center backs. With Welbeck’s agility, he can put himself in this position and close down the goalkeeper, should the center back attempt to play it back to his keeper. With the midfield trio marking the other midfielders, the right winger marking the left-back, and the two center backs + right back defending the opponent’s center forward and left winger, the best option for the center-back often involves playing the ball to his right winger. And this is exactly what the defense wants. If a successful pass is made, the team shifts to overload the ball-side and now we have a situation where the right winger and the right back have been cut off from the rest of their team, as a wall of five Arsenal players have set up a wall (Tom Thibodeau would be proud).

right back

The only easy pass available to the right winger is a pass back to the right back. If that happens, the Arsenal players can swarm the right back and try to win the ball back. In this case, the left winger and the center forward have to understand their roles. The left winger has to close down the right back, while denying the passing lane from right-back to center back. This is why such a pressing strategy would work best on the side with Alexis Sanchez, as he is Arsenal’s best presser. The center forward has the role of free safety (he is the Earl Thomas of this whole thing). If the right back tries to hit the ball across the field, either to the far-side midfielder, center back, or to the left-back, the center forward has to have the intelligence and the athleticism to both position himself properly, react properly, and to be able to make a play on the ball. A player like Welbeck, with his athleticism and intelligence, is more than suited for this role.  Without this kind of player, it is too easy for the right back to hit a speculative ball across the field to safety, meaning that the entire effort would be for naught (and probably disincentivizes attempts at pressing high up the pitch like this).

Now that was an example of the high pressing that Danny Welbeck at center forward can help allow. However, unless a team has ridiculous fitness levels and/or has an enormous amount of the ball (2011 Barcelona represent a prime example of the “and” case), high pressing over the course of a 90 minute match can impose too much of a physical tax. While it may prove effective for a period, consistently pressing like this will leave a team shattered later in the match. This could lead to fatigued pressing, which the opponent can rip through and find themselves in advantageous situations. Fatigue could lead to a side defending too deeply and failing to apply pressure to the opponents midfield, making it only a matter of time before the opponent exploits the gaps in their defense (Arsenal did this in the final 15 minutes against a fatigued Everton to steal a point). Fatigue also leads to slower counters and sloppier technique which can decrease offensive effectiveness and increase turnovers, giving the opponent more opportunities to take advantage of tired defenders. One has to look to allocate resources properly in order to play a 90 minute game. Fortunately, Welbeck offers a method of defensive disruption that allows Arsenal to more sparingly use the high press and still remain an effective defensive unit.

Like in the second leg against Real Madrid, Welbeck can look to drop into midfield, disrupting the rhythm of an opposition side. This could prove particularly effective against Premier League sides. Looking at Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs, Everton, and Manchester United, none have center backs that act as playmakers (Chelsea sold their only playmaker at center back to PSG for a sum that facilitated their summer spending). There are no Mats Hummels’s, Gerard Pique’s, or Andrea Barzagli’s in the Premier League. So when allocating defensive resources in a non-high pressing situation, the center backs may be the position to divest from so to invest in more important areas. With Danny Welbeck in the side, as opposed to Olivier Giroud, Arsenal have a center forward who can drop into midfield and has the combination of quickness and strength to challenge various types of deep-lying midfielders. Arsenal could have a 4-4-1-1-0 kind of shape with Sanchez and Walcott/Oxlade-Chamberlain out wide, Welbeck dropping deep to pressing the deep-lying midfielder, and Ozil the highest up the pitch, acting as counter-attack decision maker and incisive passer to set Arsenal’s runners on goal.

Liverpool (Gerrard), Everton (Barry), Tottenham (Bentaleb) and Manchester United (Carrick) all have deep-lying midfielder who they like to play through. Even Chelsea, though both Fabregas and Oscar come deep to receive the ball, and City, though the rotate in midfield quite a bit, would be disrupted by Welbeck’s harassment of Nemanja Matic and Fernando. If Arsene Wenger attempted this strategy, particularly against Chelsea or Manchester United, there would be a sense of irony to employing such a tactic, as these two sides have used it to such great effect against Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud Supersub

Against Everton, Olivier Giroud came on and helped Arsenal score two goals to earn a point against Everton. While one could argue that the rest of the team’s understanding on how to play with the Frenchman played a role, another issue may have been Giroud ability to abuse tired defenders. When trying to defend a lead or a tied match, the last thing that center backs want to deal with is a physical striker coming off the bench. They are less aggressive in trying to close down the center forward, less likely to win headers, and more likely to cede positions too close to goal (to make a basketball analogy, this is like conceding deep post position to Marc Gasol). In this scenario, where Giroud comes off the bench, the Frenchman has not been worn down battling physical center backs and more easily bully them. Therefore, the signing of Welbeck could allow Giroud to become the excellent “Plan B” center forward. Against inferior sides, against whom Arsenal will look to dominate possession and lack commanding center backs, Wenger could reverse the roles. While trying to take the lead, Giroud would serve as a battering ram, allowing Welbeck to take advantage of physically worn out defenders, especially if the opponent has to chase a goal. How Wenger uses his center forwards once Giroud returns from injury could be quite interesting.

Conclusion

Welbeck has the potential to be a complete center forward. He will probably not become an elite goal-scorer, but he will provide a set of skills that allows him to carry out various roles for Arsenal (I spent around 1500 words describing the defensive possibilities he opens up for Arsenal). When one considers the contribution he can make now and his potential to add goals to his game, this could prove a shrewd signing for the Gunners that could see them set at the center forward position for the next five seasons.

Wenger

Footballistically Speaking: the British Core

In September 1996, Bruce Rioch compiled his famous transfer wishlist consisting of 1066 fullbacks and two strikers. He then demanded that the board buy all the players on his list. That hadn’t quite angered everyone at the club so he followed up his wishlist by benching Arsenal’s leading goalscorer, Ian Wright.

It was all too much for the Hill-Woods, Fiszmans, and Deins, who were in charge of Arsenal at the time and they summarily sacked Rioch. I always like “sacked” as the word for “fired”. So many connotations.

After the sack of Rioch Arsenal were now officially a “club in crisis”. I imagine Peter Hill-Wood running around the office, shirt tie undone, frantically pressing the “send” button on the fax machine while David Dein, hair mussed, glass of Scotch in hand, slaps the Ceefax monitor repeatedly yelling “WORK, YOU JAMMY GOITER!” For some reason in my imagination there were pages of paper flying all over the office as well.

Except none of that happened. As usual, the “crisis” was the press projecting their own uncertainty over Arsenal’s situation onto the club and publishing nonsense. The only real crisis at the club was which bottle of champagne to open when they unveiled new manager, Arsene Wenger.

Dein had hatched the plan to bring Arsene Wenger to Arsenal years before they fired Rioch. Rioch’s hamfisted transfer machinations just gave the other board members reason to get behind Dein’s plan. Before anyone on Fleet Street could even type “crisis” Dein had Wenger flown in to meet the team, take in his first game, and even give a few choice words to the British press.

And what choice words he would give. On the idea that there was a crisis at Arsenal he said:

There have been lots of stories about a crisis, but to me everything looks quiet here. I have been surprised by the mental strength and character of the players because it has not been easy for them.

But what’s truly crazy is that everything printed in the month before he officially takes over his first Arsenal game (12 October 1996, 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers) is prescient.

Writing in the Guardian, David Lacey opined:

Is it too much to hope that Arsene Wenger will usher in a new age of reason in English football? …If Wenger makes a go of it then more foreign coaches will surely follow him here.

Wenger’s success opened the doors for managers like Jose Mourinho. They should show a little more respect.

But what’s weirder is that even before his first game in charge he was already talking about tactics and changing the English game. When Wenger was appointed, the 3-5-2 was all the rage in England, it was a phenomenon which perplexed him in 1996 and probably perplexes him to this very day:

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football philosophy

Technique, pressure, 4-3-3, quick, co-ordinated movements: Wenger was looking into the future, the Barcelona future, back in 1996.

But what struck me the most in all those interviews was that Arsene Wenger was then, and is now, a firm believer in the “British Core.” Arsenal bought Danny Welbeck from Man U for £16m last week and with that purchase, Welbeck represents Wenger’s 6th English starter on this Arsenal team: Welbeck, Walcott, Wilshere, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Gibbs. If you cast the net further and include British players you have Aaron Ramsey in the group as well.

If you’re new to supporting Arsenal this seems like a departure for Wenger. Since the Invincibles, Wenger and Arsenal have been almost synonymous with foreign players. So much so that Wenger has been accused of ruining English football and of undermining England’s World Cup squads¹. Never mind that England failed to qualify for World Cups before Wenger was even a manager and haven’t won a World Cup since 1966, it was all Wenger’s fault. This is despite the fact that Wenger has recently been quoted saying that he wants England to win the World Cup with 6 Arsenal players.

But this isn’t a new thing with Arsene. He has always respected the fact that a team based in London needs to have British players at the core. He might not have been able to pay the inflated prices that some British players are sold for — players like Lalalalala, Millner, Carroll, Downing, and Cahill — but he kept trying to buy British players. He just had to do so slowly and on a budget, bidding on Cahill and Smalling, and buying Walcott, Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlain as youths so to avoid the inflation they would generate after they played a single game for their national team.

And if we go back to 27 September 1996, before he had managed a single game, he was already clear that his policy was to maintain and grow a British core:

Wenger

Rather than ruining English football, Arsene Wenger has given so much. And he continues to do so.

Qq

¹That article is from 2014. Despite Arsenal’s clearly consistent policy of buying local players, he’s still criticized, that’s how ingrained the notion is that Wenger is ruining English football.

Sanchez

Sanchez and Welbeck: buying assets at the right time

Buying Assets at the Right Time

When it comes to center forwards, players seem to reach peak performance at 24 and start to decline after their age-27 season. Back in the early 2000s, when Italian clubs spent money freely, the richest clubs tended to spend large sums on attacking players 26 years and older. Maybe it was the stereotypical lack-of-faith-in-youth of Italian clubs, a desire to win now, and/or the belief that the money would always be coming in. While some investments paid off, such a transfer strategy often results in a waste of club resources. If one purchases a center forward at 27, like Edinson Cavani, and assume that it will take a year for him to adapt to a new league and/or new teammates, then you take a hit in the value you can get out of the player in year one and pay for decline years of his age 28, 29, 30, and 31 seasons¹. For some players, particularly ones who depend on work rate and athleticism (Cavani) or an explosive burst/pace (Falcao, Fernando Torres) these decline phases can see a player fall off a cliff. This can leave a team with a hole they need to fill in their squad and an immovable asset (see Fernando Torres’ entire career at Chelsea). This type of purchasing policy requires a vast expenditure to consistently replace declining players and possibly buy-out/sweeten the pot to ship out bad assets. This constant roster turnover also hurts the quality on the pitch, as it prohibits the creation of an intimate understanding between the players on the pitch.

In more recent times, we can see that the richest clubs have focused on purchasing players age 25-and-under. The most striking example is Real Madrid. In the first Galacticos era, they purchased Luis Figo at 28, Zinedine Zidane at 29, an already past his prime Ronaldo at 26, and David Beckham at 28. In the second era of the Galacticos, Real Madrid purchased Cristiano Ronaldo at 24, Karim Benzema at 21, Mesut Ozil at 21, Angel di Maria at 22, Luka Modric at 26,  Gareth Bale at 24, Isco at 21, James Rodriguez at 23, and Toni Kroos at 24. In fact, the one time they acted like they did in the early 2000s led to an enormous waste of resources on a past-his-prime Kaka, who they purchased at the age of 27².

x axis = age y axis = goals per game

x axis = age
y axis = goals per game

This policy makes more sense for a club looking to maximize on field success over a longer period. By purchasing players at the very beginning or pre-peak, a club can extract more value out of the player. Also, the year that may be spent acclimating to the league and/or teammates happens further away from the decline phase of the player’s career. It allows the team to grow together, to develop that familiarity and cohesion, with the system and each other.

Manchester United and Arsenal: A Tale of Two Different Agendas

Given what I have just written above, why would a club look to invest in a center forward who is in the decline phase of his career? The most obvious case would be if a club has a strong preference for their team to reach a certain goal in this season. If football ended after this season, I would love Arsenal to blow all their money on a Cavani. To quote John Maynard Keynes (I understand the irony of my referencing of Keynes), “…this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.”

When looking at Manchester United, they are desperate to get back into the Champions League for 2015-16. Whether it is due to clauses in commercial deals that effectively penalize them for not being the in the Champions League or the realization that the allure of Manchester United is not as powerful of a recruiting tool as they thought, especially when it comes to players outside of the British Isles, United seem willing to ignore the future costs of their accumulate-points-now strategy. With Robin Van Persie’s health always a concern and Wayne Rooney making Alex Rodriguez’s contract look good, United decided to pay a loan fee of 6M pounds, according to the BBC, and rather high wages.³ Essentially, United have decided to gamble on the idea that three supposedly world class strikers can make up for extreme deficiencies at the back, especially if they play a back three, at fullback/wingback, and in holding midfield.

One might say that this gamble is worth it. Falcao is an elite goalscorer who can help Manchester United score their way to a Top 4 place. That may be a fine argument if Falcao was an elite goalscorer. However, a deeper dig into the numbers by some in the analytics community has shown that Falcao’s production is not particularly special. Before the Summer of 2013, Benjamin Pugsley wrote a three piece breakdown of Falcao (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3) that gives you the feeling that Falcao is a very good player, who stats are inflated by a large number of penalties, but at the wrong point in his age curve to make a significant investment desirable.

Michael Caley confirms this suspicion in these two figures, showing that Falcao has produce good, but not elite goalscoring numbers.4

and…

It is not that surprising that Atletico Madrid and Colombia looked much more dynamic without Falcao, who appears to lack the elite goalscoring ability to make up for all of his other deficiencies and the sacrifices an XI need to make when playing with him.

Maybe Manchester United did not know about how penalty fueled Falcao’s stats were. But with the resources at their disposal, it would seem unlikely that they would be unaware of this. Instead, I would posit that their desperation to make the top 4, combined with a lack of acquirable targets to strengthen defense and midfield, due to a lack of Champions League football and United being in what appears to be a three/four team fight for 3rd and 4th place, led to their higher valuation of the potential production now of a Falcao5. It also led to their lowered evaluation of Danny Welbeck.

Arsenal seemed to operate in a completely opposite manner to Manchester United during this transfer window. They upgraded at right-back (if you do not believe me, watch Manchester City-Stoke to see how much of a liability Bacary Sagna is going forward at this stage in his career), goalkeeper, 3rd center-back, and in the attacking trio/quartet, and did so without a hint of desperation on their part.

In reality, it would take quite a bit of good fortune for Arsenal to win the Premier League this season. With Chelsea making massive improvement in areas that previously represented major deficiencies in their roster, this is their title to lose, especially with the African Cup of Nations damaging City’s ability to compete.

Realistically, with all these new signings, the goal for Arsenal is to figure out how to play with one another and figure out which system works best, while finishing in the Top 4. With so many players age 25 and under in this squad, there will be quite a few players who will improve or still be in their prime for the 2015-16 season. You would also believe that, with likely fewer areas of need to address in the transfer market, Arsenal will have a better time trying to find the right holding midfielder (maybe William Carvalho in January or a move for a stop-gap like Daniel Baier) and center-back to fill out the squad. Also, with the ticking time bomb that appears to be Manchester City’s squad, the path to the title may prove easier for an improved Arsenal side next season.6

Given that viewpoint, the signing of Danny Welbeck makes plenty of sense for Arsenal. In Welbeck, Arsenal have purchased a player before he hits his prime, who can grow with the young core at the club and has many of the attributes one would want in a center forward. He is remarkably quick; he is strong; he has a work rate that would make Alexis Sanchez proud; he passes well; he can play with his back to goal; he moves into good spaces; he is English (which means he is less likely to leave the club). He seems to fit with the Alexis Sanchez signing and the idea of maximizing the production of Mesut Ozil.

With Olivier Giroud out until 2015, Welbeck will finally get the opportunity to play up top and gain that confidence. He is already a very good football player. He just needs to add goal-scoring to his game to become a very good center forward, one that I would start ahead of Olivier Giroud. In this way there is some Aaron Ramsey to him where one looks at him and thinks, “If he ever gained confidence with his finishing and delivery of the final pass he could become a very good player.”  If this development occurs, Arsenal will have their own version of Robert Lewandowski (although Welbeck probably will not be of that overall quality, but will play at a faster tempo than the Pole). Given the future market of center forwards, it may prove an immensely wise investment to buy a center forward who is more a footballer than a goal-scorer, and rely on goals from other positions.7

Conclusion

Arsenal did not make the investment in current period point-accumulation, in a forlorn attempt to win the title. They made the right investment for the club. They have acquired an asset with limited downside, and significant upside, especially when one considers the future of the center forward market. They bought a player who improves their team and fits with the direction in which the club appears to be going. Finally, they bought a player who is young enough to grow with the rest of the core at Arsenal. For a club who style requires continuity and cohesion, this may be the most underrated aspect of the signing. So while many fans may have desired the short-termism that Manchester United have displayed this window, in an effort to improve the center forward position, I believe that this long-term approach will allow Arsenal to do more with the limited resources they have, allowing them to better compete with their richer competition.

Naveen

¹Looking at Edinson Cavani, his peak seems to fit perfectly with his three years at Napoli. Napoli then sold a player about to hit his decline to PSG. That’s about as good as one can do when it comes to extracting value out of an asset as a player and as a saleable asset.
²The richest clubs’ more intelligent spending may be the reason why we have seen the domination of football by the richest clubs, particularly in the Champions League. Also, it may mean that clubs like Arsenal have to look at the age 21 and under bracket and the age 25-and-under assets of richer clubs look to move out, in an effort to acquire elite talent.
³This becomes hard to figure out as Falcao played in Monaco, where contracts are negotiated on net wage terms and his gross wage was his net wage due to the lack of income tax.  If he was making X per week at Monaco, then United would have to pay him X/(UK income tax) to provide him the same net wage. I’ll settle on a wage around 300k-375k per week, with no idea on how much Monaco will contribute to paying his wages.
4I (Tim) have also written about Falcao in a much more in depth way than just goals scored. Falcao is a weird player in that he has almost no positive stats (shots on goal, successful dribbles, key passes, assists, etc) and a boatload of negative stats.
5If the option to buy was a wink-wink promise to an agent and/or a desire to get around FFP, United could be stuck with Wayne Rooney and Falcao into their 30s and possible Van Persie as well if they extend his contract. Therefore, if they do not make it into the Champions League, they could find themselves stuck with three declining, highly-paid front-men,  with little ability to upgrade on those toxic assets. Even if they do get into the Champions League, the future market for center forwards looks quite grim.
6Here is the list of Manchester City players under the age of 26: John Guidetti, Matija Nastasic, Dedryck Boyata, Eliaquim Mangala, Stevan Jovetic, and Scott Sinclar. Here is the list of outfield players 28 and older (so not including the problematic hamstrings of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, and Fernando): James Milner, Vincent Kompant, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Alexander Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernandino, Yaya Toure, Bacary Sagna, Martin DeMichelis. With many of these older players locked up to long-term deals that could look quite ugly in the future, City will have to find a way to ship out their toxic assets to bring in new shiny ones that complies with FFP. Maybe that was the reason they started NYCFC, not to bring players in, but as a way to ship players out.
7Another reason to love formations with two wide forwards responsible for goal-scoring (along with the ability to pin a back 4 with only two players)? Look at the CF position in three years (age at the start of 2017-18 in parentheses): Messi (30), Ronaldo (32, who will probably play more as a CF as he ages), Ibrahimovic (35), Cavani (30), Falcao (31), Dzeko (31), Suarez (30), Higuain (29), Aguero (29), Benzema (29), Van Persie (34), Lewandowski (28), Sturridge (27), Destro (26), Immobile (27), Balotelli (27), Costa (28), Lasogga (25), Morata (24, at Juventus, will probably go back to Real Madrid), Lukaku (24, if his technical ability Everton could make a truckload of money selling him to one of the super-wealthy clubs)…and now the punts on talent…Timo Werner (21, but German so he’ll wind up at Bayern), Domenico Berardi (23 and Juventus property), Michy Batshuayi (23), Anthony Martial (21), Ante Rebic (23), Yaya Sanogo (24…if he just becomes 07/08 Adebayor he becomes one of the most valuable commodities in the world). That 25-and-under group looks pretty grim and with clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, PSG, and Manchester United with more money than Arsenal, it would appear that Arsenal need to adapt and look for profit opportunities elsewhere, rather than trying to compete dollar-for-dollar with richer clubs. Or they could start producing center-forward talent, but when was the last time they did that? Though, maybe they would produce more if idiotic labor regulations allowed Arsenal to pick kids out of South America at very young ages