By Tim Todd, Relatively Young Psychic Tandem War Elephant
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Arsenal’s current captain, Mikel Arteta, is getting up there in age and this season spent most of his time on the treatment table. Therefore, Arsenal need a new captain. And that Captain should be Francis Coquelin.
I don’t know if you know much about joke-craft but one of the main components of a good joke is an exaggeration at the end – a surprise. Which is why if someone came up to me in the pub and said “you know who should captain Arsenal next year? Francis Coquelin” I would probably spit my beer out in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. That guy might as well say “you know who should captain Arsenal next year? Ancient psychic tandem war elephant” because it’s just about as realistic.
The article is incredible. Even if we accept the premise, that Arsenal needs a new captain, despite the fact that Arteta is under contract for another year and the fact that Arsene Wenger absolutely adores Arteta, the players he names get increasingly more bizarre as the article builds.
He doesn’t even mention Mertesacker (current vice-captain, World Cup winner, and German international with 104 caps) and jumps straight to Koscielny, who he then decries as not bossy enough. From there he mentions Ramsey (and calls him a wanna-be center forward), calls Jack Wilshere a “punter’s choice” (but worries it would be rewarding mediocrity), and suggests Alexis might be good (except he no speak English good).
And then the punchline, Francis Coquelin. Because Coquelin leads AND marshals. Also Coquelin “covers a lot of ground” and “sits at the base”. These are the reasons why Coquelin should be captain.
Wait, you say, Coquelin was on loan to lower division Charlton for half the season? And there are strong suggestions that he might not even be first choice defensive midfielder next season because Arsene Wenger seems intent on buying a big name player for that position? Or how about the fact that he’s only had 69 total appearances for Arsenal? Or the fact that Wenger literally just gave an interview saying that Coquelin is just learning his position? NO MATTER. Did you see the part where he leads and marshals while roving and sitting?
ESPN paid a human being to write that. It’s all a bit Coo Coo for Coquo Puffs. Mertesacker will be captain, if, and I mean it’s a huge if, if Wenger decides for some insane reason to strip Mikel Arteta of his captain’s armband.
Wenger is slow to change and almost never makes rash decisions. This bothers the PeterWoods of the world who would be quick to install Coquelin as captain, then blame the player when the whole idea collapsed in upon itself.
Errors leading to a goal
Saves per goal
Goal kick %
Average kick length
One of the positions that most people seem rash to change at Arsenal is keeper. I’ll be the first to admit that when I see Ospina in the tunnel before a game I get a bout of nerves. I get nervous because I’m not used to seeing keepers who are so short get a start for many Premier League clubs. And given the fact that Arsenal have historically had our keepers targeted for rough treatment and for aerial battles, having a short keeper gives me extra fits.
But you know what? Ospina hasn’t done anything wrong and in many ways he’s an improvement over Szczesny so, I have to wonder if I’m wrong, maybe I should have faith in Ospina? Maybe, Arsenal don’t need a keeper this summer?
Take a look at the table above. Keeper stats should be taken with caution. As you know, I don’t have a lot of faith in keeper stats and the few times I’ve tried to create something like an index for keepers I’ve come up short. For example, last season I picked Mignolet as the best keeper in the League and every time he’s had a poor game (for example, against Arsenal) this season I get stick.
Basically, the more active a keeper, the better he looks. The less active the keeper, the more glaring the mistakes. This is especially true when you’re talking about keeper stats.
Look at the table above. Fabianski (the highest rated keeper in the League) has 5 claims a game. Is that a good number? How many claims should he be making? I don’t know. I do know that based on the fact that he’s made about 71 more claims than any other keeper it looks like he (or Swansea) have been targeted for crosses and high balls into the box. And despite all of that activity, Swansea are 16th in the League in headed goals allowed with just 6.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are 5th in the League in headed goals allowed with 11. However, since Ospina took over, Arsenal have only allowed 2 headed goals. That means during Szczesny’s reign of terror, Arsenal allowed 9 headed goals. And as you can see (above), Ospina makes about twice as many punches and catches per game than Szczesny. Does that mean Ospina is better at high claims than Szczesny, despite being a relative David to Szczesny’s Goliath? It looks like it.
Similarly, Ospina’s distribution from goal kicks is superior to Szczesny. Ospina does benefit from having Giroud in the team, Giroud was injured during many of Szczesny’s matches, but even last season, when Szczesny would almost exclusively target Bacary Sagna who has since retired from football¹, Szczesny was a poor distributor only averaging 58% and 38 yards from goal kicks.
Ospina is not only more accurate with his long kicks, he also gets the ball up the field 10 yards further than Szczesny thus relieving pressure on the defense. And… he has been literally flawless with zero errors, whilst Szczesny made 6 in nearly the same amount of time on the pitch.
In fact, when I look at Ospina’s stats compared to the keepers mooted to replace him (the Cech stats are from last year) I have to wonder if Arsenal need to buy a keeper?
Maybe I should have more faith in Ospina, even if he is a little small, he has been pretty excellent for Arsenal in his short time.
If Terry Neill and Don Howe had shown us much at Arsenal it was how not to win games, whether in the League or Cups, disappointment would often follow. Under Terry Neill we had some horrendous defeats. Losing to semi-amateur team Winterslag in the UEFA Cup in 1981:-
Or the humiliating defeat at home to Walsall in 1983 which lead to his sacking:-
Under Don Howe we seemed to lose again in an embarrassing manner. The defeat to York away in 1985:-
Or, in the same year the 3-2 defeat away to Oxford United of the old Second Division (what would now be called the championship).
Although both defeats certainly showed how poor we often were, there was something bubbling under the surface. The young blood bursting through the team, especially in the Oxford game when Arsenal sent on a young substitute to shore up the defence.
The substitute? Tony Adams. Unfortunately, the game underlined how ineffective Don Howe could be when he chose Pat Jennings in goal over John Lukic, even though Pat had a bruised thumb. David O’leary in his biography was perplexed why Don did this.
Don Howe, the much maligned manager, had done something George Graham would profit from though. In a recent article I did on George Graham, Dave Seager made a very good point when I interviewed him, saying:-
When you consider GG reaped the benefits of the Howe regime bringing through some exceptional youngsters. Adams, Rocastle, Hayes and Quinn who became regulars immediately for Graham has all played 10 plus games in 85/86.
A very salient point indeed.
Anyhow, although George had started spectacularly well in his first season after taking over from Don Howe and Steve Burtenshaw in the 1986 close season. This culminated in the Milk Cup victory over Liverpool:-
George Graham though had spent a mere £50,000 in his first season on the cult favourite Perry Groves. Hardly the signing to get the fans excited in anticipation.
But George was building his team and instilling winning ways in the team, the club and even the supporters. George had said on joining the club ‘nobody’s been doing it around here [Arsenal] for years’. He’d also said ‘Eventually it will be my squad at Highbury but for the moment i’ll wait to see how things develop.’
The beginning of the 1987/8 season had brought refreshed hope to Highbury. In the previous year (1986/7), in the dour 0-0 draw with Oxford, the fans sang ‘spend some f***ing money.’ I’m sure I heard that at the Emirates?
Anyhow, George had spent and spent very well. His first signing had been one of my all time favourite strikers Alan Smith for a mere £750,000 from relegated Leicester City, who would replace the tall but unprolific and slow Niall Quinn. Kevin Richardson would come from Watford as a midfielder with an engine for £250,000. Plus George then signed Nigel Winterburn for £350,000 from Wimbledon and then Lee Dixon from Stoke City for £375,000 later in the 1987/8 season. Five players for less than £2,000,000. He’d made nearly all that money back on the sale of Anderson, Williams, Keown, Sansom, Robson and Nicholas alone.
The new side, cut of the old cliques that Jon Spurling had described in All Guns Blazing – Arsenal in the 1980s had slowly been dismantled. George was making the club the way he wanted. A strong defence, with two fast, young and (importantly) uncapped full backs that could press forward or defend from deep. Two centre-backs, one young, strong and vocal in Tony Adams and a elegant partner in David O’leary with tonnes of experience. A midfield that could choose Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Steve Williams, Kevin Richardson and Paul Davis in the middle (with Rocky and Richardson also able to play wide). Out wide you could have Perry Groves or Martin Hayes with Paul Merson and/or Alan Smith down the middle. Back up players would be Gus Caesar in defence, Niall Quinn as a back up ‘striker’. The spine was there, but a few pieces were still missing, but more of that later.
When I buy, the player must be right for Arsenal, not just in terms of ability, but in attitude….I intend to sign players who’ll fit into that pattern – not disrupt it.
This mantra, of buying into the team and not the player would work to great effect in his first five years for George Graham.
Anyhow, although the league season of 1987/8 ended with us finishing a disappointing 6th position, George had got the team playing. Especially in the Cup games. In defense of the Milk Cup we had made our way through to the Semi-final, where we would meet the previous years League Champions, Everton. The first game was televised live on a Sunday. Arsenal had travelled to Everton. In a rather timid affair Arsenal won 1-0, with Perry Groves smashing home a nod down from an Alan Smith knock down:-
It was hardly a classic. But it was ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’.
The second leg home tie would be Wednesday the 24th of February, but prior to that Arsenal had another game, a 5th round FA cup game. Against Manchester United on Saturday the 20th of February. This would be a game in which all the old antagonism of Frank Stapleton’s departure in 1981 and the two semi-final defeats in 1982/3 against Manchester United had already started to create bad blood between the sides. With George Graham and Alex Ferguson, both aggressive winners in their management careers, this would only intensify the rivalry over the years. In George Graham’s first season at Arsenal, Manchester United had made sure Norman Whiteside to played dirty, kicking Rocastle until he retaliated and got sent off. Viv Anderson had to be restrained at the sending off*. Manchester United went on to win 2-0, with The Guardian recently saying of the game:-
Big Norman Whiteside kicked everybody up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and didn’t even get booked!” chuckled Fergie years later. David O’Leary said Whiteside was “like a wild nutter throughout the match”.
This match was watched by a monstrous, blood boiling 55,000 crowd with the 8,000 strong travelling Manchester army helping to create a vicious atmosphere.
The game can be seen below:-
Arsenal came out all guns blazing, taking a lead from Alan Smith and then Mike Duxbury putting through his own net to double Arsenal’s lead before half time. Duxbury was mocked mercilessly by the home fans shouting ‘take your mask off’. In the second half, Arsenal pressed with chances spurned by Hayes (not uncommon after his very successful first season the year before) and Alan Smith. Then, Brian McClair got a goal and Arsenal started to defend very deep.
With 89 minutes on the clock and Arsenal fans asking the ref to blow his whistle, public enemy number one, Norman Whiteside ran into Michael Thomas’ legs. Never a penalty, but given. Manchester United looked like they’d cheated a replay to a last minute goal (sounds familiar!) Up stepped Brian McClair, who prior to this had not missed a penalty. After an age, with the North Bank behind Lukic’s name screaming and shouting. Up he stepped. Lukic looked up. The ball goes sailing ten foot over the right post. Pandemonium in the North Bank. Plus a fair torrent of abuse too.
Better still, Kenny Sansom future replacement, Nigel Winterburn (he was playing right back, although naturally a left back at the time) ‘consoled’ McClair with a few choice words in his ear. A rivalry had been ignited. It also showed this team stood up to any perceived bullies (real or imaginary). The game showed the spirit of Mee’s Double Side of 1970/1. No surrender and give as good as you get if not better. Watch Nutty boy in all his glory here:-
Arsenal won the match and would play Nottingham Forest at Highbury in the 6th round. Life was looking good for George Graham’s red and white army.
Arsenal were the better team in the first half with David Rocastle, rounding the keeper and missing an open goal. In the last minute, an often overlooked event occurred. Arsenal earned a penalty as Martin Hayes ran onto a through ball. Southall chops him down and is not even booked. Our designated penalty taker was Hayes, who the previous season had scored 24 goals, 12 of which were penalties. Unfortunately, even prior to this game he had missed a few (including against Norwich in our last home game the previous season). Up he stepped and blasted over the bar. Hayes then stood down as designated penalty.
The second half, Arsenal streamed forward with Michael Thomas bursting through the middle of a scouse defence (something to be repeated just over a year later) to score. Then Smith had a header cleared off the line from a corner. Everton then equalised via Adrian Heath after Lukic pushed out a goalbound shot. Hardly great goalkeeping.
Arsenal pressed forward for the last half hour, with Perry Groves passing the ball to Rocastle, who stroked the ball into the far corner. 2-1. With Everton camping in our half, Winterburn broke down the right, hitting the ball straight into the centre-halfs face. The ball falls to Alan Smith who stroked the ball home. 3-1. Final score. A 4-1 aggregate win. The youngsters were looking good, and better still, another trip to Wembley against unfancied Luton Town.
So. Why these games? They end in agonising defeat in the next rounds. In the F.A Cup we would lose at home to Nottingham Forest 2-1:-
Whilst even more painfully, we would lose the Littlewoods Cup to Luton, after leading 2-1 and having a penalty in the last 10 minutes (one that Winterburn subsequently had saved).
To me, these games showed what we had and what we were missing. What we had was a young side, with hunger and talent. The defensive and midfield spine was strong. Alan Smith was beginning to find the net (his first season he would score a respectable 16 league and cup goals). George had also started taking charge, selling players that spoke their mind or didn’t perform and replace them with players that would both work and not argue.
George Graham also showed us something we had not seen in ages. Fight. Winterburn reaction to McClair showed a side that wanted to win, by fair means or foul. George Graham instilled a winning mentality at Arsenal. He would often quote American coach Vince Lombardi sayings, especially:-
Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.
But what were we missing then? Well, it was pretty easy to see. We needed a right back, so Winterburn could play left back. We needed a new centre back, after the Luton Town debacle when Gus Caesar was the only cover we had for the injured David O’leary. We also needed a winger better than Groves and Hayes, that Smith could get on the end of. Plus, we needed to upgrade John Lukic. We did three out of four after these defeats. In January 1988 Lee Dixon came from Stoke City for £375,000, causing Kenny Sansom to have words with George, which the meant he lost his captaincy to Tony Adams and eventually his place (perhaps his best tactical decision in 1987/8 season and one that would pay dividends for Arsenal was giving Tony the captaincy). In the summer of 1988, George went back to Stoke and bought big, bad Steve Bould for £390,000. Defence sorted. We had 3 excellent centre-halfs and two young and aggressive full-backs from small clubs. These 5 players combined, would stay for a minimum of 11 years (Bould) to a maximum of 20 years (O’Leary).
But maybe one of George Graham’ unsung signings was Brian Marwood. Marwood was bought for £650,000 in 1988 from Sheffield Wednesday. A winger that could whip in crosses for our target man, Alan Smith. Smudge said of Marwood’s arrival:-
On his day Anders Limpar was out of this world while David Rocastle took some beating in his prime. The person that probably provided more goals for me than anyone thought was Brian Marwood.
Marwood was our game changer. A great example of Marwood at his best is most likely in the title season when we thrashed Nottingham Forest 4-1 (and Marwood had a penalty saved):-
It was not rocket science to see we needed a proper winger (what was the 1970-1 team without Geordie Armstrong?) Brian Marwood was replacing Perry Groves and Martin Hayes. Honest professionals, but not the greatest crossers, lets be honest.
George also did two other important things, often overlooked by some. He got a regular penalty taker to take penalties, first in Brian Marwood and then Lee Dixon. As we had players such as Rocastle, Merson and Smith bursting into the box, Arsenal regularly got 3-5 penalties a season. Hayes had missed three alone I believe in 1987/8 season. A penalty taker was a must in the squad.
Secondly, Arsenal and George had lost a final. A final they should have won. That defeat was a wake up call. If Arsenal had to win, they would play to the last minute until it was guaranteed. George would not allow his team to leave it to chance. George was never that kind of manager. Evidence of this is pretty clear. George Graham would have a further four Cup finals (3 for Arsenal and one for Spurs). He would win them all.
How much did a candy bar cost when you were a kid? I’m old enough to remember them being a quarter. The next big price rise came when they were 2 for a dollar, some time in my teens. Soon after that, I stopped buying candy bars and moved on to other, sweeter, distractions.
Yesterday, I saw a small bag of M&M’s for $1.88. My first thought, of course, was “that’s a ridiculous price, I remember when those were a quarter! I’m not paying that.” But then I realized that I don’t know what a bag of M&M’s should cost. I don’t have time to shop around and I think I could probably get them cheaper, per bag, at Costco, if I bought a box of 25. But I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what a fair price is because I haven’t bought a bag of M&M’s in years.
But, just like M&M’s, I quickly asked myself what do I know about the cost of buying a world class player? Maybe this is the right price, and if we want these M&M’s we all are just going to have to suck it up and pay.
Memphis Depay is the best player in the Eredivisie. This season he has scored 21 goals, provided 4 assists, leads the league in shots, is second in successful dribbles, and is even in the top 10 for key passes. He doesn’t do much defense, for a wing player, but that’s because he’s a winger in the same way that Thierry Henry was a winger: not so much a winger.
Depay is also 21 years old and has a penchant for the dramatic, both on and off the field. Apparently, the kid is over confident and prone to the behavior issues that come with that. So much so that PSV got him a “life coach.” You know what a life coach is? Someone who has taken the idea of “friendly advice” and turned it into a career. Imagine the ego required to be the guy who offers friendly advice for a living. Now imagine the guy who NEEDS to pay for friendly advice. What are their conversations like?
Footballer: Hey, I was thinking about going out this weekend with my crew and getting some hookers, smashing up a hotel, and then spending the night passed out in the back of a taxi. After that I was going to get in a fight outside of a McDonald’s. What say you, life coach?
Life coach: Why don’t you just work out, read some quotes on the internet, and listen to the Smiths instead, Mr. Barton? I just saved you £20,000, my fee is £2,000 pounds. I shall send over an invoice tomorrow. Get some sleep!
It’s a well known fact that Arsenal would never take a £25m chance on a player like Depay even though he ticks many boxes for the gunners: precociously talented? Check. Hard-working kid who keeps his nose clean after practice? Uhhh.
Wenger has taken chances on certain players, Bendtner and Arshavin the best examples, but Arsene paid a tiny amount for Bendtner compared to what Man U are putting out there for Depay and that was during a period of austerity at Arsenal when only in the most dire emergency would Arsene spend even £16m on another famous problem child, Andrei Arshavin. But awash in money, Man U isn’t afraid to throw it around carelessly, wasting time, money, and squad spaces on Falcao, van Persie, Fellaini, and now (perhaps) Depay.
Meanwhile, supposed Arsenal target¹ Paul Pogba has reportedly turned down a massive contract offer from PSG of £210,000 per week. We don’t know the real details and the whole story smells strongly of an un-neutered agent but I think it’s safe to say that Paul Pogba is angling to be one of the highest paid players in the game next season, at the ripe old age of 22.
What were you doing when you were 22? Could you imagine if you were a multimillionaire? A multimillionaire whose only job was to play soccer? In front of 80,000 fans? For one of the biggest teams in the world? I’m having a nervous breakdown just thinking about it.
But Pogba has always been the kind of kid who knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to go get it. At 19, he left Man U for a move to Juventus and “just” £20,000 a week. Then manager Alex Ferguson, one of the most successful coaches in English football history, couldn’t convince Pogba to stay and when the Frenchman left, a clearly bitter Fergie said,
“Pogba signed for Juventus a long time ago as far as we’re aware,” Ferguson told MUTV. “It’s a bit disappointing because I don’t think he showed us any respect at all. To be honest, if they carry on that way, I’m quite happy that he’s away, from me, anyway.”
Pogba’s close control coupled with his imposing physicality and footspeed marks him out as one of the rarest of players in world football right now: he can win you the ball back in midfield and start your attack, driving like a spear into the heart of the opposition defense.
So, maybe he’s worth £250k a week (£13m a year) plus the £50m+ that Juventus want to let him out of his contract? But think about this insanity: he’s 22 and that £250k a week is a starting salary. If he’s as good as everyone thinks, he will be renegotiating his contract next year or the year after, why wouldn’t he expect a raise? By the time he is 27 years old and right in the prime of his career, if he is still the top midfielder in world football, how much is his salary going to be? Three years ago he was at Man U making a relative pittance, he moved to Juventus for a signing on bonus and £23k a week and now he’s asking for £250k? In three years, if he continues to impress, why not £2m a month?
The candy-bar analogy breaks down when you’re talking about someone like Pogba, he’s unique. But what happens when one player gets a huge salary is that it drags all the other player’s salaries and transfers up with it. I’ve seen this happen time and again in the NBA, NFL, the EPL, and even in academia. I suspect that with Depay we are seeing a club willing to spend a ton of money on a chance player and having to put that money out there because it’s the “going rate”. In that case, then yes, our M&M’s are soon going to cost us $10 a pop.
That’s the reality that clubs are facing going forward. It’s not just the huge transfers now. It’s not just the huge salaries now. It’s that these salaries are only going to get crazier. The demands of the players more onerous. And the ones who are going to shoulder the burden, as we have seen with increased ticket prices and with more invasive advertisement, are the fans.