Puma Launch

Arsenal get Sanchez on Puma Launch Day

They said it couldn’t be done, that Arsene Wenger would never sign big name players.

They said it couldn’t be done, that since we didn’t sign him before the World Cup his value would now spiral out of control and attract interest from teams like Liverpool, Man U, Man City, and Chelsea.

They said it couldn’t be done, that once the big teams came in for him Arsenal would lose out to them and their big money offers.

They said it couldn’t be done, that Nike wouldn’t allow one of their players to be use by Arsenal during the launch of the Puma kit.

They said it couldn’t be done, but Arsenal convinced a world talent, one of the star attractions at the World Cup, to eschew interest from other teams, and the Gunners have signed Alexis Sanchez.

 

Behind the scenes there are reports that Arsene Wenger personally courted Sanchez while “on vacation” in Brazil for the World Cup. Liverpool had wanted Sanchez as part of a make weight in the £75m deal that saw them lose their only quality player to Barcelona. But apparently, it was the personal touch from Wenger which convinced the Chilean to dump Liverpool and pick Arsenal. Also, there was a phone call between Sanchez and Steven Gerrard which Sanchez described as “sounded like I was talking to a dolphin in a broom closet, what kind of accent is that? I need to have players around me who I can communicate with and I don’t speak marine mammal.”

Maybe I’m just riding high but I remember when Arsenal use to be told that we needed to buy players like Joe Cole and Christopher Samba in order to compete.  Or how about this winter when people were seriously suggesting that Arsenal needed to buy Shane Long and Nikicia Jellyfish? That was a terrible time to be alive.

Thankfully we had Wenger’s steady hand at the till through those choppy, shark infested waters. Imagine where we’d be if we were still paying for Joe Cole? I’d have long ago walked the plank.

Instead, here we are at the destination with a shiny trophy and the FA Cup.

Welcome to Arsenal Alexis!

Expect an announcement about Debuchy later today but since he’s only a defender I won’t make another post.

Look for a By the Numbers post about Sanchez over on Arseblog News tonight, comparing him to Rooney, Benzema, and Reus. (Any other suggestions numerically will be welcome).

Qq

I'm thinking of a mineral.

Arsene shuffles off the shackles of his critics and looks set to spend £60m+ in one summer

‘I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money.

‘Over the last few years some of the players that he has said were going to be world class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.

‘Over the last two seasons they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players. 

Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players.

‘He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future’, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years.

_Stewart Robson on TalkSport, 7 June 2013

If you’ve been following Arsenal for any length of time then Stewart Robson’s rant to TalkSport, reprinted in the Daily Mail linked above, covers a lot of familiar ground. Fans and critics (one and the same sometimes) alike would often say things like “Arsene Wenger is afraid to spend money”, ”Arsene Wenger is afraid to buy top talent because he can’t control them”, and ”Arsene Wenger won’t sign marquee players”. It was always an uneasy critique for me, I have shown time and again that Wenger, historically, spent big so I knew that he could but there was always a ring of truth to the criticisms because we all knew that Arsenal had the cash in the bank to spend however they wanted and they weren’t spending the money.

Arsene’s parsimonious reputation used to be something that Arsenal fans and the fleet street lickspittles cheered. We were the club who took Anelka for cheap and sold him on to Real Madrid for a huge profit. We got Sol Campbell on a free (though we shattered the wage record in the process). Vieira, Overmars, Petit, on and on, Arsene was hailed as a genius with an eye for finding world class talent on the cheap.

And Wenger didn’t “make” this talent, he bought ready-made talent. Almost all of the players you think of from the Invincibles era, except Ashley Cole, were well established world class international talent. Even Henry, who many point to as the huge diamond in the rough polished by Arsene, was a well known player outside of England before he signed for Arsenal. Two years prior to joining Arsenal, he was offered a deal to go to Real Madrid worth £150k/wk. That would be an astonishing contract to offer a 20 year old player even now, much less in 1997¹ and further proof to me that Henry was a well known talent before he came to Arsenal.

After the breakup of the Invincibles, Wenger knew that he would have to go through a period of penury as the club struggled to sell off the Highbury condos and other real estate holdings around the old stadium and new. He also knew that the club had structured certain deals, such as the shirt sponsors and naming rights to the stadium to expire around now, meaning that he knew he had a finite time to manage the team on a strict budget.

So, he hatched a plan to buy young, actually untested and actually unknown, players and build them into a team that would at least keep Arsenal in the lucrative Champions League places, if not challenge for League titles. It nearly worked. In 2007/08 Arsenal challenged for the title up to the day that Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg. After William Gallas’ spat and Clichy’s error, the team quickly fell apart. Arsenal still managed to finish just 4 points off the winners in third place.

I will always be convinced that had van Persie stayed healthy, Arsenal would have won at least a trophy in those barren years. As it stood, he would end up playing more for Holland² than he would for Arsenal for much of that time. And Arsenal didn’t win anything and the young bucks grew restless.

Then Cesc went on strike, forcing a trade for far less than he was actually worth. And suddenly, the heart of Arsene’s plan was ripped out and sent packing to Barcelona.³ It was exactly the wrong time for Cesc to leave. Robin van Persie was finally ready to play a full season, he would and he would score 30 goals. Imagine what that team could have done if Cesc had stayed. Imagine where we would be right now with Cesc and Ramsey in midfield, van Persie up front, and with the financial firepower to land players of the caliber of Özil. That was Wenger’s vision.

Arsenal still had two years to go before we could buy players like Özil and in the interim what we got were people saying things like “Arsene can’t spend money, he’s allergic” and other such gems culminating in Stewart Robson’s pre-Özil screed above.

But Arsenal and Arsene are in a post-Özil reality. We have spent £42.5m on Mesut Özil, we have won the FA Cup, we have Ramsey coming on as a superstar and Arsenal are now being seriously linked to players like Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy. With the latter two almost certain signings.

We are no longer scraping the bottom of the transfer barrel. Arsenal are no longer the team that is being “snubbed” and instead are the team that Sanchez is snubbing Liverpool to come to. (Times, fee required.) Arsenal are no longer being swooped, we are “in a £60m swoop for Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy“.

Arsenal are the swoopers not the swooped. Arsenal are the snubbers, not the snubbed. And Arsene Wenger has shuffled off the shackles of his critics that he is afraid to spend some money.

We may not sign any of those players but the fact that we are being linked to them and being linked seriously, with what looks like an excellent chance of landing all three is a massive change from the time of the infamous post-Cesc trolley dash to now. And I have to say that I much prefer the now. It’s a great time to be an Arsenal fan.

Qq

¹The whole saga is recounted in Philippe Auclair’s extraordinary book Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top (Available for just $4 for Kindle, $9 in paperback, and $18 in hardcover).
²I’m aware that there is no such country as “Holland”. I find it funny, however, that both the Guardian and the Times podcast journalists almost always call the Netherlands “Holland” so, I’m making fun of them here.
³Cesc going on strike to force a move to Barcelona must have been like a death to Arsene Wenger. He had spent all this time and energy trying to build a team around this young man, his entire plan was built around Cesc. I find it extraordinary that Wenger persisted after that and not only persisted but rebuilt the core of the team on the fly and kept the club in the top 4. Name me another manager in the world who could have done that on a shoestring budget.

james

Can Germany beat Stoke on a cold Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte?

Colombian superstar James Rodriguez is the leading goal scorer at this World Cup with 6 goals. He’s also leading in the world in the stats category “being landed on by a giant cricket”.

James CricketDo not adjust your set, that is the actual cricket, or locust, or grasshopper. The debate rages online as to whether the bug in question is a locust or a cricket. I’m in the former camp, however, the temptation to call him Jiminy Cricket is too great and I have succumbed to the silly pun.

Regardless of the type of bug, it could not save Colombia’s World Cup. James scored from the spot to set up a tight final few minutes but in the end, Brazil gutted out a win. I say “gutted” but in reality Brazil played very pragmatic football from about the 70th minute on. And by “pragmatic” I mean “played like Stoke City”; rotationally fouling and hoofing the ball out on every clearance.

This is the ugliest Brazil team in recent memory. Jogo Bonito is out, Jogo Stokeito is in, and their pragmatism makes a certain sense. Brazil has spent about a brazilian dollars staging this World Cup under the promise of upgrading the infrastructure for the people. The reality is that most of the money has gone to stadiums that will see little or no future use (read this article on fivethirtyeight It’s brilliant), promised infrastructure upgrades have been dropped, people are being displaced out of their homes, and the Brazilian people are pissed off. Brazil is a veritable powder keg waiting to go off, which I suspect will happen if their national team don’t win the whole tournament.

Talking to the Game Podcast, Alyson Rudd and Gabriele Marcotti reported that the officials in Brazil have been told to keep the cards in their pockets. The theory goes that fewer cards equals more scoring and that was certainly the case in the group stages. But a funny thing happens in knockout phases when you refuse to issue cards: the emotions run hotter and the result is that people get seriously hurt, like Neymar did against Colombia.

Neymar’s horrific injury is the fault of Juan Zuniga. He jumped up, put his knee into Neymar’s back, and broke his spine. But I watched that whole match and I think it was an injury that could have been prevented had the referee issued a card to Zuniga earlier in the game for either one of two horrible fouls. Or maybe even those fouls could have been avoided had the referee taken control of the game by talking to the players rather than running up to them face-to-face after every foul call and standing there with an empty expression. Because, and again, not excusing Zuniga’s behavior but, he was retaliating against a Brazil side which seems to have found a rhythm in rotational fouling.

That whole game devolved quickly with Brazil targeting Cuadrado and James for a kicking and uglying up the game with fouling to stop play. Once the ref lost control of the game an injury was almost an inevitability.

That’s something I’m hoping we don’t see today as Brazil face Germany in the semi-finals. That said, the knockout phase of any tournament is hugely emotional, add to that the weight of the fans in the stadiums all supporting the home team, put the contest in a stadium like Estádio Mineirão in the far flung Belo Horizonte and I have to wonder about the psychology of the referee today.

I’m not saying that Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez (hobbies include reading the Bible) is going to cheat but rather that if there is any grey area on any call, it’s going Brazil’s way. That’s just human nature. Germany have to know this. They have to know that in order to win they will have to be inch perfect in every way.

And Brazil know that they can take advantage of the way that the officials are calling games. They did so against Chile and Colombia, targeting James and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez¹ both times and getting away with a boatload of dirty play.

In the Chile-Brazil match, Sanchez was fouled 7 times and was dispossessed an incredible 14 times. He was dispossessed so much because he cut a lonely furrow up front for most of the game but the truth is that a lot of those times he was dispossessed would have been fouls had any other team committed those tackles.

It was a similar story in the Colombia-Brazil match. James and his partner Cuadradro (a player I have identified as a top talent here before) were each fouled 6 times and Cuadrado was dispossessed 8 times.

It’s no surprise, then, that Brazil lead the World Cup in fouls committed per game. In fact, Brazil are basically Stokeing their way through this World Cup. They are third in aerial duels won, they are joint leaders with Costa Rica with 10 yellow cards, they lead in tackles per game, they lead in fouls per game, they are second in overall defensive actions per game, third in clearances per game, and they play long ball football, averaging just 5 short passes per long pass.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53

You can take all of those stats and flip them on their head for Germany. I won’t bore you with all the numbers so suffice it to say that Germany are playing like you would expect of a team comprised mainly of Bayern Munich stars: they keep possession, they pass short and quickly, they don’t foul often and they don’t clear the ball often. They also play the high line which so incenses Stewart Robson and as he likes to chirp on about constantly, they “have to earn the right to play.”

So there it is, beautiful football versus pragmatic football. Which team will win on a cold night in Belo Horizonte?

I’ve seen this movie before. I’m going with Stoke. From a long throw. With a goal-mouth scramble.

Qq

¹DUDE, Arsenal are really close to signing him! Arsenal are about to announce Debuchy, Sanchez and possibly Lars Bender! What a crazy summer!?!?!? More on that tomorrow.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53