Rogues Gallery: Marc Overmars

By Les Crang


The photographs from a summer’s day at Highbury, with Wenger in his beige suit flanked by Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars, mark the moment Wenger finalised the jigsaw for his first title-winning team in England. Petit came from Monaco and would be transformed from a left-back into a powerful midfield partner for Vieira. Together they formed an imposing combination, able to both protect the defence and be an inventive springboard for the attack. As for Overmars, in came a flying winger whose directness and pace made him a brilliant creator and finisher. Amy Lawrence, The Guardian

Marc Overmars? What a player. Sometimes overlooked while players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit seem more remembered in the 1997-98 team. Ironically, the first Dutch player Arsene Wenger signed in June 1997 (Graham buying our first Dutch player in Glenn Helder and Bruce Rioch in Dennis Bergkamp). Overmars though is regarded as 12th in the list of the Arsenal greatest players. Unfortunately for Overmars, he is often overshadowed by his replacement, Robert Pires

My first memory of Marc Overmars was when Holland came to play England in a World Cup qualifier in in April 1993.

After taking a 2-0 lead England were undone by a one touch volley by Dennis Bergkamp. Then came the substitution that changed the game. David Lacey reported in The Guardian:-

The more crucial change, however, followed the substitution of Gullit, who stalked off to the dressing room in the 69th minute, leaving Keown with no one to mark.

This not only brought on Van Vossen, Holland’s eventual saviour, but enabled Overmars to switch to the right wing, where his acceleration led to the penalty. Holland’s reshuffle made them more of a threat. In the 85th minute, Winter’s sharp nod forward caught Keown out of position and Overmars outpaced Walker [a player who created a song after the 1990 world cup as ‘you’ll never beat des walker’] as the pair raced towards the penalty area. Walker pulled the Ajax winger back by his shirt, Overmars went down and Van Vossen sent Woods the wrong way with his penalty.

That pace to just turn and run at pace with players either having to take him down let him go was something we’d see in the future, but at the time Overmars was playing Ajax. A team that in 1995 would win the European cup, in which Louis Van Gaal was in charge of a team that included young players like  Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf as well as the experience of Frank Rijkaard. Ajax won 1-0.

Seven months later in December 1995 Overmars sustained a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for 8 months. This would be good news for Arsenal in 18 months time.

Although Wenger had joined us in in 1996 and had got a very good first year out of Paul Merson, Wenger saw Arsenal needed more players to improve their third place finish from the previous season. First though, Arsene had to sell and Merse was sold to Middlesbrough for £5,000,000. I remember the disappointment of losing Merse, he was a real ‘character’ in the team and a box of tricks. But I was pretty pleased when we signed Overmars for a mere £7,000,000 due to his cruciate ligament. I was stunned at how cheap we had got him. But that’s Wenger for you back then.

Its not just that Overmars was a good player he was also a good team player

Overmars first season at Arsenal was pretty much one to remember, in which Wenger could play his favoured 4-4-2 rather than United’s 4-2-3-1. Jonathan Wilson excellent book Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics has said even this could fluctuate saying:-

Arsenal did similarly in Arsene Wenger’s first full season in England, with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira deep, Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour wide and Dennis Bergkamp behind Nicolas Anelka, although Parlour and Overmars push on to produce something more akin to an old style 4-3-3.

Kevin Whitcher said of Overmars signing:-

With his negligible defensive contribution, he would have been unsuited to the 3–5–2 of the previous campaign and was purchased in the full knowledge that such a line-up was now obsolete.

This ability to have a fluid formation seemed the pinnacle of a great team. We had four strikers of different ability in Dennis Bergkamp (precision, accuracy and off the ball movement), Ian Wright (aggression, fox in the box and a burst of speed), Nicolas Anelka (youth, fast acceleration, good shot) and Ian Wreh (ability to nick important goals). Compare that to Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner and you can see why the present team seem to be over reaching. Out wide you would have Ray Parlour and Overmars. What surplatives could you give him that have not been said before on him?

For an Arsenal fan, wide players have been often our finest players and often overlooked. For example, in the title winning teams of 1971 and 1989 we had George Armstrong and Brian Marwood respectively (who won 1 cap between them) and who were so important to us winning the league. If you go back to the 1930’s you need only to mention Cliff Bastin as an example of the importance of our wing play. Before Overmars and after Marwood, George Graham had signed wingers. We had the fantastic Anders Limpar who football commentator Martin Tyler said of in 1991 ‘the man they are calling their new match winner’. He also bought a plethora of ‘indifferent’ wingers (Glenn Helder, Jimmy Carter and Eddie McGoldrick). Thankfully, once we saw Overmars, we could see we had a new Limpar.

Overmars got his first goals in a 3-1 win at the dell, in which in the excellent book of the 1997-8 season Gunning for the Double: Story of Arsenal’s 1997-98 Season said of the goal:-

Overmars opened the scoring by cutting in from the left wing, dribbling between two defenders and firing in low to the keeper’s right. It was a quality individual goal.

Overmars didn’t score until we totally destroyed West Ham 4-0 (all first half goals) with Harry Redknapp saying afterwards:-

We’ve played Newcastle, Manchester United and Arsenal in out last 3 games, and if  I had to pick a champion this season, I’d go for Arsenal.

Overmars got two goals with everyone praising Dennis Bergkamp to the hilt. I always find it ironic, that I thought Overmars was the best player that season because he didn’t get booked, sent off and suspended as Dennis did.

If Overmars was important in the win over West Ham United on that day, and to the Arsenal going top, I think as an Arsenal fan something just as important was the news coming from Leeds United on the same day: Leeds beat Manchester United and Roy Keane injured himself when he tried to take out Alf-Inge Haland. Manchester United certainly missed their hatchet man that season. Not that anyone really cared at Arsenal.

Although after the 3-1 defeat Arsenal against Blackburn, Arsenal would soon go 11 points behind to leaders Manchester United. Fortunately, Arsenal, Overmars, and Bergkamp hit a vein of form, which would culminate on Saturday 14 March 1998, in a must win game for both sides, with Arsenal 9 points behind but with 3 games in hand. In a fairly even game, the main difference was Overmars. Having twice gone close earlier in the match, with eleven minutes left, Ray Parlour punted a ball forward behind the Manchester United defence. Overmars headed it forward, burst into the box and with his third touch of the ball put it in the back of the net (see below).

The crowd went mental. I mean, lets be honest, what is better that winning at Old Trafford. Oh, Peter Schmeichel going down with a calf strain in the last minute. I remember the feeling of elation after that game. You could feel the title was ours to lose.

Arsenal had the title sewn up by May when they emphatically beat  Everton 4-0, with Overmars getting two of the goals, but everyone usually remembering Tony Adams crowning goal at the end.

Next up (after losing to Liverpool and Aston Villa) was the cup final against Newcastle. I’d personally put on a bet of Overmars first scorer 2-0 at 45-1. Crazy odds.

As the game proceeded both my day and Arsenal’s went brilliantly. Overmars obliged me with the goal and a 2-0 win.

After the final, Overmars had said he had appreciated what an FA Cup win meant:

This is all so amazing, especially to win so much in my first year. It’s special to win the FA Cup because it has this tradition as the oldest knockout tournament in the world.

A double in his first season and 16 goals. Although Overmars was there for another 2 seasons he never quite reached the heights of 1998 and in 2000 he and Emmanuel Petit left for Barcelona for a combined fee of £30,000,000. He never quite reached his potential at Barca either and retired four years later with a knee injury.

Overmars as a team player could also divide opinion with his club and international team mate Dennis Bergkamp said of him:-

The little man Overmars was just as bad. People forget what a fearsome player he was. He struck fear into the whole Premiership because when Dennis gave him the ball he was unstoppable. Just so bloody quick. But don’t let him in your room! If you had any chocolate or anything and Overmars has been in the room, wash bag and you’ll have deodorant in your toothbrush or something. It’s a way of handling the pressure. A football club is almost like an extension of school, really. In school you’ve got your pranksters, you’ve got people who want to make a noise.

Others such as Nicolas Anelka said of him in August 1998:-

Anelka labelled his Gunners team-mate Marc Overmars “too selfish”, saying: “I’m not getting enough of the ball. I’m going to see the manager soon because Overmars is too selfish.”

But then, Le Sulk never liked many people did he?

It was disappointing to see him leave. I always loved his turn of the shoulder and running at player and way he’d get between players. Back then Wenger could find a better replacement for a cheaper fee and he certainly did that when signed Robert Pires from Marseille. I always  feel Overmars is often overlooked, as Pires was such a favourite, but to me Overmars was like Limpar: enigmatic, lazy, exciting, and frustrating. But, most importantly, Overmars was a player that scored the winner at Old Trafford when we won the league.

Why the odds makers have Everton as favorites to win Sunday

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the differences between sports betting in the US and in the UK. As an example in the conversation I pulled up the odds for the Everton-Arsenal match for this weekend and I was surprised to learn that Everton are the bookmakers favorites to win the match: 40% Everton win, 30% draw, 32% Arsenal win.

I have to admit that I don’t gamble on sports. I don’t know why, other than it seems like gambling on sports would ruin sports for me. I’ll have a flutter every once in a while, but nothing serious, which would require me to build a model to find value in the Premier League market.

That latter bit would be the part that ruined sport because then I would have to see my favorite team as just another data point in the model rather than as some romantic metaphor.

But the bookmakers don’t mess around. The fact is that Everton have been favorites in this fixture now for two years and by basically the same margin. And in this same fixture last year you might remember that Arsenal were lucky to escape with a point.

Despite dominating the possession stats, Arsenal found it very hard to break down Everton’s defenses and only managed 3 shots on target. That includes Theo Walcott’s 1st minute goal which set Arsenal up for the draw. Meanwhile, Marouane Fellaini dominated the Arsenal midfield and as a result, Everton created 9 shots on target. That game also featured a poor clearance by Sagna which led to the Fellaini goal, a brash tackle by Gibson which I think should have seen him off, and a lucky escape by Arteta for a tackle on Pienaar in the box. It was a game that in many ways mirrored some of our worst performances of the season: sterile domination and an error prone defense.

From a sports-writer’s perspective it’s easy to tell why Arsenal aren’t favorites in this game: injuries and recent form.

Even with the great news that Aaron Ramsey is on his way back, you have to admit that Arsenal’s injured list reads like a who’s who of Arsenal starters: Walcott, Wilshere, Koscielny, Ramsey, oh and Özil. Meanwhile, Everton look almost certain to recover Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley for this match. Add to that the fact that all their regular starters, like Romelu Lukaku (who has scored 4 goals in the 8 appearances since his return from injury), and you can see that Everton are significantly healthier than Arsenal at the moment.

Recent form favors the blues as well. In League play, Arsenal have won just 3 of their last 10 matches, going 3-4-3 and taking just 13 points from a possible 30. Everton, on the other hand, are on a 5-match winning streak and have a 6-1-3 record in the last 10 games. Those three losses were all to top seven teams (Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham) but they were also all away games.

And head to head, home record v. away record, again favors the Toffees. Everton are 11-3-1 at home, losing just once to Sunderland (0-1) and drawing to Tottenham (0-0) and Liverpool (3-3). However, what is keeping the bookies’ odds close is the fact that Arsenal have the second best away record (29/48 points) and 4th best goal scoring record in away games (27 goals scored).

You could, however, simplify all of these arguments and just look at goal difference. In their seminal work Fitness, chance, and myths: an objective view on soccer results Heuer and Rubner lay out a compelling argument for why goal difference is the key stat for determining the relative strength of a team. This is something I have felt was true for a long time but never put the work in to prove it. Again, using goal difference, you can see why Everton are favorites. Despite their rather good record in terms of both results and goals scored, Arsenal’s away goal difference over the last three seasons has been just +14 (it is +/-0 this season) while our overall goal difference has been +79. And that figure is largely buoyed by Arsenal’s best-in-the-league away defense last season where we only allowed 14 total goals.

This season is another odd one. The Gunners have scored 27 away goals and have conceded 27 for a 0 GD. However, as you know, 17 of those 27 goals came in just three games. If we abstract those big losses out, Arsenal’s away record goes from one of the worst in the League to the best in the country, scoring 23 and conceding a measly 10 in 13 games. In fact, if we take out the big away losses in 2011-2012 (against Man U and Blackburn) Arsenal go from having the 11th worst away defense to the 3rd best. So, without the five big losses in away games the last three years, Arsenal actually have a pretty solid away defense conceding just 44 goals in 51 games but 29 goals in those five games. mentioned above. I guess when Arsenal lose they really are the best at losing!

If there is any “value”* to be found in the stats above it’s that Arsenal’s away record is so strange over the last three years that you might take pause. On the one hand, Arsenal have the most consistent, stingiest away defense in the League over the last three years. On the other hand, Arsenal also have allowed 29 goals in just 5 games.

Can Arsenal get a win in these circumstances or are the odds-makers right?

*The difference between the odds on offer and the probability of a result going in favor of the gambler.


Kroenke to hand Wenger £100m key to the powder room, who would you blow it on?

The world’s worst kept secret is that Arsenal have a bunch of money in the bank. How much is available to spend, to lavish on the wealthy players and their wealthy agents or to put into the pockets of billionaire owners? The answer depends on who you ask and what their agenda but there is no doubt that even after last summer’s £35m net outlay and even accounting for the increased wages to Ramsey and others, the Gunners still have a sizeable stash of dry powder in their Arsenal.*

Erring on the side of having a huge reserve, Jeremy Wilson penned a piece for yesterday’s Telegraph which positively plumped for the rather rotund figure of £100m. The article is written in such a way to intimate that Stan Kroenke himself used that figure:

There will be no pressure from Kroenke to overhaul a young squad that was top until February and is in the FA Cup semi-finals, but he will make transfer funds of around £100 million available for key signings, notably a striker and holding midfielder.

There are no direct quotes from Stan Kroenke specifying “£100m on a striker and center mid” and the entire article actually reads more like a PR piece than an interview.

Not that that is a criticism. I find it bold that the club have decided to not only say that they will spend money but to say that they will spend what amounts to a lot of money. The article by Mr. Wilson is too close to the source, too familiar, for the club to deny that they authorized (or even sought out) its publication. And with Kroenke’s name now firmly attached to the figure of £100m and the idea that it will be spent, instead of Gazidis’ previous allusions to spending, combined with a fairly unequivocal assertion that Wenger will be free to spend that money, I feel confident that Arsenal will see perhaps two major signings this summer.

And Arsenal need at least two signings. Kroenke (or a spokesperson) has already outlined the need for a striker and a defensive midfielder and Arsene Wenger’s attempts to sign both of those positions this summer are strong indicators that those will be the main areas of concern.

There will be a lot of competition in the striker market with Chelsea possibly releasing all three of their main forward options and diving headlong into a major spending spree named Diego Costa. Still, there are some interesting options (possibly) available for Arsenal should we hunt for value. Josip Drmic has already been mooted as an Arsenal target as well as Bayern’s Olivier Giroudzukic and (does Wilson read my blog?) Porto’s Jackson Martinez. And there are still other players like Heerenveen’s Finnbogason who has very quietly put together back to back 25+ goals seasons in the Eredivisie. And of course, there is Arsene Wenger’s magic touch, which turns up gems like van Persie or Cesc Fabregas who are not already on everyone’s statistical radar.

In the defensive midfield position, Wenger tried to sign both Lars Bender and Luis Gustavo this summer and all signs point to Arsene getting Lars this summer. Defensive midfield is one of the most contentious positions among Arsenal fans with many casting a wistful eye back on the days when Arsenal could play a 4-4-2 owing to the dominance of Patrick Vieira. I haven’t seen a player of Vieira’s ability available but perhaps Arsenal don’t need one? Looking at Ramsey’s numbers he feels more like a Vieira, what with leading Arsenal in tackles and passes and having tidied up his possession ad dribbling. Ramsey also seems to have that winning mentality that Vieira has: how often have you seen him score the winning or tying goal for Arsenal when we really needed it? So, perhaps just a replacement for the ageing Arteta is in order? That is a much easier player to find than a Vieira.

The other three positions that Arsenal will be looking for are right back, center half (at least one), and keeper (backup). Those three signings will be hugely contingent on what happens with Sagna (right back and 4th center half), Vermaelen (captain backup half), and Fabianski. I suspect all three of those players are going to leave Arsenal this summer. That brings my total players needed to five.

Thankfully, with new sponsorships coming on board all the time Arsenal’s powder room is looking rather full. And with Kroenke now talking about handing the keys to Wenger it looks like we might be in for a season of player acquisitions unseen be Who would you spend the money on?

Sponsor Deals Running Out

Did you know that the contracts for two of Arsenal’s main sponsors, Carlsberg and Citroen, expire this summer? Neither are huge contracts, Carlsberg was in the realm of $5m a year, which is bigger than Man United’s deal with Singha, rumored to be just £2m a year but every pound counts these days especially when you’re running a self-sustaining club like Arsenal.

Whether Gazidis and the board can secure bumper new contracts, as they did with the shirt and stadium sponsors, remains to be seen but the point is that behind the scenes Arsenal are essentially constantly at work securing new deals. There is a lot to be done to get commercial revenue up to the level of clubs like Bayern Munich and Manchester United but the signs have been encouraging so far.