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alexis-sanchez

Firmino, Remy, Vela, Mandzukic, Hulk, Balotelli, Falcao, Drmic, Lacazette, Morata, Griezmann, and Sanchez: a follow-up on the strikers fans wanted Arsenal to buy last year

Last season there were a number of strikers that fans wanted Arsenal to buy. I promised to follow up on those strikers over the season and report back to you on how each of their seasons went to see if Arsenal “missed out” on the player or “dodged a bullet.” Here are those players and their season in stats.

Remy

Few players over the years have tickled the collective fancy of Arsenal fans like Loic Remy. It’s probably because he’s French and kinda, vaguely, not at all, looks like Thierry Henry. But beyond not looking at all like Thierry Henry, that’s where the comparisons end.

Whereas Henry was almost never injured for Arsenal and score 24+ League goals per season for five consecutive years, Remy has never scored more than 15 goals in a league season and hasn’t played more than 30 games in league play since 2011.

There is a long story as to why Remy went to Chelsea rather than Liverpool or some other team but suffice it to say, Chelsea plumped £10.5m for him, paid him £5m a year, and took him on as their third or fourth striker.

While Arsenal fans wanted to bring him in as a second striker or even as competition for the starting role, Chelsea just put him on the heap with the other strikers they had stockpiled: Costa, Schurrle, Remy, Drogba, Salah, etc. This is something that only a club like Chelsea, with some 25 players on loan, can afford to do.

And it paid off. Remy played when needed, scored 7 goals in just 668 minutes and scored back to back game winners against Hull and Stoke to help Chelsea win the League. He didn’t contribute much else, he had just 17 total attempted dribbles and five total key passes, but those two goals down the stretch were crucial to Chelsea’s title run.

In a sense, Remy represents a new economic reality of the Premier League. Clubs like Chelsea and Man City can and will stockpile 12 goal a season strikers, pay them £5m a year, and use them when needed.

Carlos Vela

Two years ago Vela had a career best 16 goals and 12 assists season so when Arsenal fans found out that Arsenal had a £3.5m buy-back clause in his contract they, naturally, wanted the club to exercise that option. Arsenal, instead, settled with Real Sociedad for £9m plus incentives.

Vela suffered a short season after a knee injury kept him out for two months. So, he ended the season with just 9 goals and 3 assists, which is a huge drop from the season before. Many of his other numbers are down as well, dribbles dropped from 2 per game to 1.4 and his key passes numbers went from 2.1 to 0.7.

However, in addition to the knee injury Vela was hobbled by the fact that Sociedad sold his strike partner Antoine Griezmann and the fact that he had to play for former Everton manager David Moyes. Sociedad went from a team that scored 66 goals one season to a team that scored 44 goals the next. This is what we like to call “The Moyes Effect.”

There was nothing wrong with Vela. Vela probably would have helped Arsenal. But Vela did not want to return to Arsenal. He made that abundantly clear via agents and other mouthpieces. He was happy in Spain because RS were on the verge of getting into Europe and he was playing with one of the brightest talents in the world. I suspect he will soon regret that decision as he gets a second bite of Moyes’ sour apple.

Mandzukic

Here’s a player who sharply divides opinion. Some fans consider Mandzukic an upgrade on Giroud but the stats don’t bear that out, at least not this season when he made the jump down from Bayern Munich to Atletico Madrid. In fact, this season, he’s been almost exactly the same as Giroud:

Giroud Mandukic
Minutes 1867 1945
Goals-pens 14 9
Assists 3 5
Goals+assists/90 0.82 0.65
SoG % 41% 45%
Conversion Rate 20% 16%
Aerials won % 50% 58%
Dribbles/90 0.34 0.37
Possession lost/90 4.92 2.50
Goals+AST/Team’s Total Goals 24% 25%

Neither player is a “dribbler”; they aren’t taking on opposition defenses. Both players contribute just about the same amount of goals and assists in their respective systems. Giroud turns the ball over more but that could be down to other factors such as playing style (at Wolfsburg Mandzukic turned the ball over 4.85 times per 90, at Bayern, the next season, he lost possession 2.24 times per90). In my professional opinion, these two are the mirror image of one another.

Mandzukic just signed for Juventus which is odd because that means he has signed for the Champions League finals losers three times in the last four years (Bayern, Atletico, Juve).

Hulk

Hulk’s numbers all dropped from last season to this. 17 league goals last season, 15 goals this season, 4 Champions League goals last season, 1 this. He won the same number of penalties in each of his last two His key passes were up, his assists up, and his dribbles were down.

Still, he is the best forward in Russia and he scored or assisted in 38% of Zenit’s 58 goals as they won the league title.

Hulk’s shots per goal last season was worse than Giroud. He scored 12 regular goals (non-penalties) on 109 shots. That’s 9 shots per goal. He also relies HEAVILY on goals from distance. He scored 6 goals from outside of the box last season on 66 shots. That’s an incredible conversion rate for distance shots and he does have two hammers for feet. His distance goals highlight reel is a mixture of insanely impressive skill and insane defending.

But Hulk is the best player in a league that is the vuvuzela of football leagues. It’s shockingly poor in terms of overall football quality, quickness, and strength.

Balotelli

Mario Balotelli is like that fake can of peanut brittle that has spring loaded snakes in it. Everyone in the world knows what’s in the can. No one has ever gotten peanut brittle in a can. So, who opens that can? Liverpool. Liverpool passed on Remy for £8m to take Balotelli for £16m and Balotelli went on to have the worst season of his career scoring just 3 goals on 70 shots in over 1275 minutes of play. Next time you see a can of peanut brittle, don’t open it, there’s a Balotelli inside! 

Falcao

Manchester United sold Arsenal Danny Welbeck to fund the loan of Falcao. THE LOAN of Falcao. I warned strongly against Falcao. He was a 1-trick pony at Atletico and I saw nothing in his stats to suggest that he would be a success at United. He’d also had a nightmare injury record and so when I boldly proclaimed that Welbeck would have the better season, it was an easy call actually. Falcao is now looking to go to Chelsea, because that’s what Chelsea do: they pay ridiculous sums to get strikers like Falcao and Remy in the door on the off chance that they will need them down the stretch. My guess is that he will continue his one-trick pony thing but that, just like Remy, it will work out ok for him and Chelsea.

Drmic

I was very high on the Swiss attacker last summer after he scored 17 goals for Nuernberg but his transfer to Bayer Leverkusen was a shocking bust. He couldn’t get into the regular first team lineup at Bayer and finished the season with 6 goals in 794 total minutes. On the 17th he signed a deal to transfer to Gladbach where he will hope to get his career bach on trach. He’s only 22 years old so he could still recover but “Dr. Mic” has a lot of work ahead of him.

Firmino

Liverpool have just stumped up £29m to Roberto Firmino and this can only mean two things: 1) Sterling is gone and 2) Firmino will be a flop.

Firmino was one of my favorites last season in that I targeted him as most likely to generate buzz. 16 goals and 11 assists, with over 4 dribbles per 90 and over 2 key passes per 90 made him one of the most attractive “forwards” in the top five leagues.

But Hoffenheim lost a bit of edge this season dropping from 72 goals scored last year to just 49 goals this year and as Hoffenheim’s numbers went so too did Firmino; Roberto dropped from 16 goals scored last season to just 7 this season.

All of his other numbers were remarkably consistent: shots were basically the same, dribbles the same, key passes the same, assists the same, and the percent of his team’s goals that he scored or created was the same. What dropped off was his conversion rate from open play. He went from a 17% conversion rate to just 4%.  Here’s his chart:

Firmino

Firmino didn’t fail to convert because he was stupidly shooting from distance. He was actually getting better shots this year than last. He had 11 shots inside the 6 yard box (Arsenal had 34 total shots inside the 6 yard box last season and scored 14) and scored 3 goals from those shots. That’s a pretty poor conversion rate for a top striker. But worse, he converted just 3 of 44 shots inside the penalty box. He was getting himself into great positions, but was just failing to convert.

What Liverpool have gotten here is a good player on a bit of a downward slump. That means that they hope to turn him around. But if they wanted to turn around some players on the downward spiral, they could have just saved the £30m and worked on the entire football team that they currently have.

Lacazette

I don’t remember who told me to look at Lacazette but wherever they get their data (probably Fantasy Manager) they were spot on. After scoring 15 goals goals two seasons ago he exploded onto the scene last season with 27 goals. 8 of those goals are pens and 4 were set plays but he still upped his “normal” goal scoring from 15 the season prior to 19 this season. If Liverpool had been smart, they would have taken Lacazette instead of Firmino.

Not only did he score 27 this season, he also provided 6 assists, another increase from the season prior. In fact his total offensive output was 33 of Lyon’s 72 goals. That’s 46% of their offense!

Across the board, all his other numbers went up. He’s a better dribbler, he creates more for his teammates, he shoots more, and he converts more.

In fact, his conversion rate is RIDICULOUS. He only took 96 total shots and scored 27 goals! He was 8/9 on penalties, 4/4 on counters, 11/58 from open play and just 4/25 on set plays. No wonder teams like Chelsea are hot to sign him and no wonder Lyon is basically refusing (for the moment). We’ll have to see if he can keep his conversion rate up. I’m also interested in seeing how he fits in to a big club. Is he a Suarez? Someone you build a club around?

Morata

Alvaro Morata made the transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus and has progressed nicely in Turin. He went from scoring 9 goals in all competitions for the Madridistas to 13 goals and 5 assists for Juve. But what’s incredible about Morata is that he scored twice against his former club and once against Barcelona, scoring Juve’s only goal at the Champions League final in Munich.

Griezmann

A remarkable season for Griezmann at Atletico has the young Frenchman firmly on everyone’s radar this season. As I wrote in an earlier piece on Griezmann and Lacazette, his conversion numbers are scary good — as in “will he continue to convert at this rate?”

Griezmann and Firmino are actually foils for one another. While Firmino was fluffing chances inside the 6 yard box, Griezmann scored more goals inside the 6 yard box than any player in the top five European leagues.

Griezmann also doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of other offense. He’s not a terribly good dribbler (he’s only completed on average 26 dribbles per season over the last three years) and he averages way less  than a key pass per game over the last three years as well. He’s a pure goal scorer, like Falcao.

Reportedly has a £43m release clause and Chelsea are after him.

Alexis Sanchez

You know that I’m an Arsenal supporter right? Well, if you didn’t know then you do now. Alexis Sanchez is the signing of the decade!

To the casual observer, his stats actually went down. At Barcelona he scored 19 goals and provided 10 assists and at Arsenal this season he scored just 16 goals and had 8 assists (league play only). But you have to remember that Barcelona scored 100 league goals that season, so Alexis’ total contribution to the team was 29%. Arsenal only scored 71 goals this season. So, Alexis’ 24 goals scored or assisted is actually 34% of the team’s total haul. A slight uptick.

He also added another 9 goals in all competitions including the only goal in the Champions League qualifier with Besiktas and a goal and assist in the FA Cup final. That takes his totals to 25 goals and 12 assists.  If Wenger lets him take penalties next season, he will almost certainly break the mythical 20 league goals mark.

But what’s truly amazing about Sanchez is that he revolutionized this Arsenal team. For example, he scored 3 goals (league play only) from outside the 18 yard box — Arsenal scored 5 total in the season before he came. Sanchez, a forward, also attempted more tackles than any other player on the team. That’s right, more than Cazorla (2nd), Ramsey (3rd) and Coquelin (4th). He had more Key Passes than anyone else on the team as well. Wenger changed Arsenal — pressing high up the pitch when they are out of possession, allowing his team to shoot from distance, and channeling much of the offense through Sanchez — to fit Alexis Sanchez’s style.

However, next season I think it’s time for Arsenal to give him back something, namely a lesson in possession. He was Arsenal’s most active dribbler, winning 115 dribbles out of 196 attempts. But that desire to do everything on his own and take on the opposition one on one also led to him turning the ball over 190 times (turnovers + dispossessed). That frustrates the fans and is something I’ve heard many complain about.

His passing could improve as well. At just 77%, the only outfield player who passed the ball worse than Sanchez was Giroud and Giroud’s passing is abyssal at 68%. But I’m not sure he’ll get much better in that department. He was just an 80% passer at Barcelona and that team passed the ball at 110%. For real, 110%. It was the only team who earned extra passing percentages for being so beautiful with the ball.¹

I think key to getting Sanchez’s numbers up where they should be is to take some of the burden off him to do everything. If Arsenal can keep Ozil healthy for a season that will take some of the creative responsibility away and allow him to run in behind defenses where he is much more deadly. Also, if Arsenal can get a striker who can score his big chances, Sanchez’s through passes and quick counter attack breaks will lead to more assists.

Conclusion

Holy cow. That’s a lot of words. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I’ll be doing a post on some of the other players Arsenal fans were interested in last season to see how they improved or digressed later this week. Then this weekend I’ll do a round-up of the season’s stats on Arseblog News.

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Welbeck celebrates Switzerland goal with Arsenal teammates

Welbeck, Falcao, or Balotelli: who was the biggest transfer bust of 2014?

By Tim Todd, Falcaoner

Last summer Arsenal fans were clamoring for Arsene Wenger to sign a new striker. Both Radamel Falcao and Mario Balotelli were on the market and Arsenal supporters were keen to bring either player to Arsenal. Ever the iconoclast, Wenger rejected both and instead took Danny Welbeck from Man U for £16m. Many Arsenal fans were bitterly disappointed at the signing, feeling like Louis van Gaal had gotten one over on them by selling them Welbeck and using the money to buy Falcao. But in the end, it was the right choice by Wenger as Welbeck had the better season of the three players by miles.

United sold Welbeck to Arsenal for a mere £16m and used that money to offset Falcao’s £24m loan fee and salary. £16m is cheap for an English international and especially cheap for a forward aged just 24 years. Welbeck’s progress this season, featuring heavily for the English national team and for FA Cup winners Arsenal, has already increased his value according to CIES Football Observatory, a group who regularly monitor and assess player’s transfer values.

Even using Welbeck’s fee to offset Falcao’s wages (he makes over a million pounds a month), United spent £8m on a player for a one year loan. They will never see that £8m again. Meanwhile, Arsenal spent £16m plus another £4m in wages but got back a player who is now worth upwards of £26m. Amidst all this, Liverpool took a flyer on Mario Balotelli spending £16m on the transfer fee and another £6m on salary. For those football accountants out there, Arsenal earned +£6m, Man U spent -£8m, and Liverpool flushed -£22m down the bog on Balotelli.

And looking at each player’s total contributions to their team, Balotelli is the biggest bust since Fernando Torres:

Total Contributions
Welbz Falcao Balotelli
Cost (Wages+Transfer) £20m £24m £22m
Age 24 29 24
Goals 8 4 4
Shots 76 38 75
Shots on goal 30 16 25
Assists 3 4 0
Key Passes 33 18 14
Aerial Duels Won 54 19 16
Dribbles Won 51 13 18
Tackles 37 10 15
Interceptions 32 7 5

I looked at total numbers rather than per90 or per match because the players weren’t paid on a per90 basis nor were their transfer fees prorated by the minutes played. As you can see from the numbers above, Welbeck blows both Balotelli and Falcao out of the water. Still, a player might not score a lot of goals but could score important goals instead and for Falcao and Welbeck that is certainly the case.

Falcao assisted or scored in just 8 matches but won Man U 8 points in those matches. He assisted for the winner against West Ham, scored the winner against Everton, and scored the only goals in the draws to Villa and Stoke. Despite his relatively poor scoring record, Falcao scored important goals for United early in the season and without his contributions United probably would have finished with 62 points this season, that’s the same number of points as Liverpool who finished in 6th place. It could be argued that Falcao helped United secure a berth in the Champions League playoffs. If United complete the task and get into the Champions League, you will probably hear some United fans say that Falcao paid for himself.

Welbeck secured 13 points for Arsenal: he scored and assisted in the 3-0 win over Aston Villa, he scored a 91st minute equalizer against Hull, scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Perfidious Albion, scored the winning goal against West Ham, and he assisted in the 2-1 win over Newcastle. Without those 13 points, Arsenal would have finished with 62 points this season. That’s the same number of points Liverpool earned finishing in 6th place. So, again, we could reasonably say that Welbeck helped his team win a place in the Champions League. That feat alone is worth around £40m.

Welbeck also scored the winner over Man U in the FA Cup, at Old Trafford. That winning goal propelled Arsenal on to win the FA Cup and while the prize money for that trophy is small the fact that Arsenal are now back-to-back FA Cup winners, and that they won it going through Old Trafford, is priceless. Welbeck’s contributions in the FA Cup and in the Premier League more than paid for his transfer fee and salary.

Balotelli scored four total goals this season and all of them were in competitions that Liverpool ended up losing. His goals against minnows like PFC Ludogoretz Razgrad, Besiktas, Swansea in the League Cup, and Tottenham Hotspur, gained Liverpool nothing. Balotelli did score the winner against Tottenham in League play and those three points were the difference between 6th and 7th. But even that doesn’t really matter since both 6th and 7th place teams sip from the poisoned chalice of the Europa League. Balotelli is the bust of the season and could even be the bust of the decade if Liverpool are unable to move him.

In fact, if you combine Balotelli and Falcao into one monstrously ugly forward with a horrible attitude problem their goals would have combined for just 11 points and most of their other statistical contributions still come up short on what Welbeck offered Arsenal in an injury-shortened season. With his value now more than his transfer fee and with the fact that he helped Arsenal win the FA Cup and a berth in the Champions League, Welbeck was yet another example of Wenger at his transfer best.

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Radamel+Falcao+Garcia+Radamel+Falcao+Garcia+ztkny_aUgGXl

Where are they now: Arsenal’s summer transfer targets

With Arsenal boasting millions of pounds in reserve and losing several key players to the transfer market it was clear that Arsenal needed to buy this summer. The normally irrational Arsenal transfer rumor mill kicked into overdrive and Arsenal were linked with literally dozens of players this summer.

In truth this kind of thing happens every summer. Arsenal seem constantly on the verge of signing almost every player on the planet who shows any promise. So much so that people have made twitter careers carving transfer rumors out of nothing more than a player signing an Arsenal fan’s autograph.

As soon as a player is linked, thousands of Arsenal bloggers log on to YouTube, Whoscored, and Squawka looking for shreds of “evidence” to support the link. “Huh, Falcao runs in behind defenders. He could be the fox in the box Arsenal have been missing since…” report the bloggers. Or, my favorite, “[insert name of large, BLACK, bald midfielder] looks like he could be the defensive midfielder Arsenal fans have desperately cried out for since Patrick Vieira left!”

But while everyone gets excited about these players and argues endlessly about how they will/won’t help Arsenal, no one seems to ever go back and look at how those players got on the next season. That’s what I’m going to do now.

Before I get started, it should be noted that personal stats are pretty much… bunk. They don’t say as much about the player as they do about the team around the player. There are tons of great examples of teams which are set up to exploit a player’s talents. So, when you see that a certain player makes more tackles than another player it really doesn’t mean much more than that player is either being targeted by the opposition or that player’s team is set up to tackle a lot.

Forwards are the one exception to that rule. If a player takes 100 shots a season and scores 20 goals and then takes 90 shots the next and scores 10, as long as the shots are relatively the same, we could reasonably say that player had an off season. Or just one great season.  Or maybe the team wasn’t set up for him the way it was before and he just never found a rhythm.

Either way there are no absolutes. Stats are all about the interpretation. But since forwards are the one where stats seem to speak the loudest those are the players I’m going to look at.

Remy – The biggest name Arsenal were supposed to sign this summer. The biggest name on my wordle which was generated by the survey I did of Arsenal fans. Moved to Chelsea where he has made a home on the bench. Scored 2 times in the Premier League and once in the Champions League. Reminded Arsenal fans of Thierry Henry, but never could break into that elite group of strikers who score more than 20 goals a season. Vastly overshadowed by his Chelsea teammates and looks to have found his level.

Sanchez – Alexis. Arsenal’s blockbuster signing this summer. Bought from Barcelona where he scored 19 goals and laid on 10 assists. Already on pace to eclipse that return with 9 goals and 5 assists for Arsenal in the League and 3 goals and 1 assist in Champions League play. All while playing a much more important role for his new team. For example, already taken twice as many shots from outside the 18 yard box in 15 Arsenal apps as he did in 35 appearances for Barcelona. The one category I was worried about was his ability to dribble. Was a 35% (36/103) dribbler at Barca and that has jumped to over 50% (45/87) with Arsenal. He’s also become more important overall to the Arsenal attack than he was at Barcelona, with 42 key passes for the Gunners compared to 47 last season for Barca. He’s done that in about half the playing time.

Vela – Looks to have maintained his decent form from last season where he scored 16 goals and provided 12 assists. Shots are the same, goals ratio about the same, dribbles are the same. The one thing that’s different is his key passes are about half what they were last season and his assists are suffering as a result. I don’t watch Real Sociadad play football so I don’t know why that is unless…

Griezmann – Moved from RS to Atletico Madrid and saw a massive drop in his minutes and subsequent contributions. Went from playing 77 to just 51 minutes per game on average and the result is pretty stark. Just 3 goals this season and averaging 1.7 shots per game compared to the 16 goals off 3.2 shots per game at RS. Not saying he’s a bad player but this is a classic example of how you can’t tell what a player is going to do when you move him from one team to the next.

Mandzukic – One player who many Gooners wanted in to replace Olivier Giroud and another player, like Griezmann, who made the switch to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Not sure how we can even start to compare his Bayern stats to his Atletico stats since those two teams are like fire and a bucket of ants. But he’s done decent leading the line for Atleti, especially in the Champions League where he’s scored 5 goals in 6 games.

Balotelli – HA AHAHA HA AHAHA HA … that’s me. Laughing. At myself. I think I wanted Balotelli so bad because you just need to watch him for 10 minutes and you can see he’s a true talent. But then you watch for 10 more minutes and see that talent wasted on a man who, like Hatem Ben Arfa, seems hell-bent on blowing those talents. Two goals for Liverpool this season and already a spate of personal problems on and off the field have made Liverpool the laughing stock of the Premier League.

Drmic – Massive drop from last season to this. Went from being a regular starter at Nurnberg to a regular bench warmer at Leverkuzen. The reason? Change of playing style, change of personnel, a player who is in better form in front of him, and the result is a huge drop in form. This article sums it up very nicely.

Lacazette – I don’t remember who told me to watch this kid but man is he having a crazy break out season, so crazy that Liverpool are trying to buy him! Scored 15 goals last season for Lyon and already has another 15 this season. Shooting and dribbling are both up 1 per game and everything else remains as good if not better than last season. Lyon are challenging for the title and have done well so far to keep key components Lacazette and Gonalons in the team. I don’t see him leaving unless a giant money offer comes to Lyon.

Reus – Injured off and off for most of the season. Had his ankle injured again and is out until January. Still a class player.

Draxler – Out with a torn hamstring but wasn’t playing well before the injury. Let’s see… injured, untested, and not having a great season. Yep, Arsenal are going to buy him in January! He’ll be a new like a new signing.

Falcao – When Arsenal signed Danny Welbeck from Man U so that Man U could afford to take Radmel Falcao on loan it was easily the most contentious deal of the summer. Sparked plenty of “lively debate” on twitter but I boldly predicted that Welbeck would be the better of the two signings. Why? Falcao didn’t offer anything to his teams apart from scoring goals. Just one stat illustrates what I mean: in the last 105 appearances for all his teams he has just 7 assists. Two of those he got playing for United. Not only that but 16 of his last 68 goals have been scored from the penalty spot. AND! He spent almost all of last season and now most of this season injured or out of form. Welbeck isn’t the greatest player in the world but he works hard and is loving life in North London. Welbz already has 6 goals and 2 assists for Arsenal and when you consider the fact that Falcao is getting paid £265,000 a week it looks like Arsenal got a bargain.

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