Tag Archives: Gonalons

Emirates Cup preview, it’s too late for a preview

Football, is almost back.

In just a few hours fans will start flooding into North London. Donned in their Arsenal colors, they will be having late summer pints in the beer garden at Piebury corner, or talking about team selection on the patio at the Tollington. One of the crowd, with his sunglasses on, will grin as he yells out “YES! Nicklas Bendtner. THE KING RETURNS!” After many cheers and jolly gossip they will march to the stadium while songs break out here and there: songs like, “what do we think of Tottenham?”

The stadium won’t be full and the away stands won’t be rocking the way they would on a big night in Europe but the fans who have gathered are ready for a match, expecting to see their team, the Arsenal, win.

As for me, I’ll be on my couch at 8:15am watching the game on ESPN3, a nice little digital service (digital service, whee) I get on my iPad. Maybe I’ll make scones for breakfast… or just eat some yogurt, fruit, and nuts.

I have to admit I’m a bit nervous about the games. Arsenal play Lyon Saturday and Wolfsburg on Sunday and both finished 2nd in their respective leagues last season and both teams feature a number of players I have said I want Arsenal to buy.

Saturday’s match is against Lyon and they have Ligue Un’s golden boot, Andre Lacazette. I’ve painted him as a clinical finisher based on my statistical analysis and that means he will, inevitably, … fluff a chance in the 6 yard box. He will also probably lose the ball 15 times and be the worst forward we have ever seen.

Lyon also have defensive midfielder Maxime Gonalons and I can’t think of a player I have coveted more than Gonalons. You might say Schneiderlin but the only reason I moved to Schneidi is because Maxime kept refusing to join m.. erm… us. Because I’ve liked him so much, Gonalons will probably simply melt into the pitch at the Emirates. When they take him off at half-time, they will do so with aa shovel. Still no one will notice.

And, of course — as if you could escape this if it were a comet crashing down upon your world, Lyon have Nabil Fekir. THE Nabil Fekir. Yeah. That guy you keep hearing guys mention in the blog comments. Mentions like: hey Tim, why didn’t you include FEKIR in your analysis of X?

My guess is that Fekir dribbles all over the pitch. So much that they send the grounds-keepers out at half time with squeegees.

On Sunday?

Arsenal face Wolfsburg!

The Volkswagen’s have Kevin de Bruyne and he made 20 assists last season, in 34 games. That’s not bad. He could be a real handful. And Wolfsburg’s main striker is Bas Dost. Who, let’s be honest, sounds like a Spoonerism of Das Boot. He could sink us with his torpedo. 

Wolfsburg also have Luiz Gustavo in the DM spot. He got 11 yellow cards in 30 games. He was also the guy who turned an Arsenal transfer down a few years back. That’s a spicy matchup.

Oh and their left back is the sprightly Ricardo Rodriguez.


But Sunday? SUNDAY? SSSSUUUUUUNNNNNNDAY? Bring the family, bring a tarp, bring A BLANKET — buy a seat but you’ll only need the corner. WolfsBUUURG! And their mighty, ass-stomping, Pinto-crushing, monster truck “The King of the Danes, Nicklas Bender!” will be making a pit stop before crushing all of his enemies across Europe.

Who do I expect Arsenal to field? A crazy lineup on Saturday and a crazy lineup on Sunday. My guess is that one day Giroud will start up front and the next day Walcott. Same in the AM role with Wilshere and Ozil and DM with Arteta and Coquelin. In each position, Arsenal have two players and Wenger will use them.

Good night now. I have to see a man about some lions.




Why personal stats don’t matter as much as you think and why I would still have Schneiderlin

This summer I did an extensive “search” for the perfect Arsenal Defensive Midfielder. Using the stats databases available to me (Whoscored, Squawka, etc) I searched through thousands of players looking for specific qualities like “tackles often” and “completes a high percentage of passes”. Of all the players I compared (Pogba, Vidal, both Benders, Gonalons, Gueye, Gustavo, and even Jedinak) my study found that Morgan Schneiderlin was the best fit for Arsenal football club. But along the way, I also found that using player stats to make this kind of argument is difficult at best and downright arrogant at worst.

My logic was simple: Wenger, since selling Vieira, has opted for a center mid who passes first and tackles second, a much distant second. A center mid in the Arsenal “defensive midfield” role, should be able to pass the ball with great accuracy anywhere on the pitch. A more forward midfielder, someone who has a breadth of experience playing crosses, through balls, long passes, short passes, back passes, and square passes who is then converted into a deeper lying player (note, not “playmaker”) is the optimum Arsenal “defensive midfielder” — not the midfielder most of you would choose, but the one that Wenger wants in his team. Mikel Arteta is the perfect Arsènal center mid.

But right away, I noticed problems with comparing player’s passing stats. For example, Pogba this season is only passing the ball at an 82% rate. Even Matthieu Flamini passes the ball at a 92% rate! Flamini must be a better passer.


A pass is completed when player A kicks the ball and nearly any other teammate gains possession. How many times have you seen Gibbs make a cross that misses the three intended targets in the box but is collected by another Arsenal fullback on the other side of the pitch? That, sirs and madams, is a completed pass.

Now, obviously, a 92% passer isn’t getting lucky 10% of the time. But the point is that a team’s shape, the team’s workrate, the league’s proclivities, and the team’s playing style all contribute to a player’s passing percentage. If there were an NFL style combine and players were asked to pass the ball through a truck tire hanging 15 feet off the ground and to do so from various distances, we might be able to say “X player is a better passer than Y”. But using a player’s raw passing %, abstracted from the context of their team and their league, is not telling us much about that player’s ability.

Teams like Atletico Madrid and Arsenal play a completely different style of football. Atletico focuses more on quick transitions and Arsenal more on ball retention. Gabi, the defensive midfielder for Atleti, is a fantastic footballer. His pass completion rate is only 79%. It’s a team that completes 77% of their passes on average so he’s slightly better than the team average but I’m not even sure what that really tells us about him.

My feeling when it comes to passing percentages is that if we see a player whose percentages are significantly lower than the team average, then he is either trying too hard to create, is being asked to create, or is just not very good. Conversely, if we see a player whose numbers are significantly higher than the team average, we are probably looking at a player who is being asked to play it safe. Other than those two generalizations it’s difficult to make many more assumptions about a player.

And even if we drill down into the data it’s the same story. Arteta has a fantastic long ball percentage, 86%. That’s actually pretty stunning, all over the world very few players reach above 80% in terms of long ball completion rate. Meanwhile, Gustavo was an 80% long ball passer and two seasons ago Bender completed just 55% of his long attempts. This season Lars Bender is hitting just 31% of his long passes! He’s gotten worse!

But just like with regular passes, long balls require a player on the other end of the pass who can win the header or trap the pass. It also helps if your team shape, like Arsenal’s, has three outlets up front. If you’re a defensive midfielder on a team playing a 4-5-1 and you’re lumping balls up to a single target covered by three or four defenders, my guess is your long ball percent is going to suffer.

And what about tackles? Surely a player who makes a lot of tackles is a better defender than one who doesn’t make a lot of tackles, right? Wrong.

Again the number of tackles a player makes is often down to his team’s shape, the league that player is playing in, the player’s ability, and whether or not the opposition manager’s are targeting that player for a perceived weakness.

West Ham are a great example. This is a team which you would assume tackles a lot. They only have 46% of the possession, so one would imagine that they are trying to win the ball back a lot. Nope. Neither do Burnley and neither does Aston Villa. Those teams are all low possession, low tackle, and low interceptions teams. Why? They don’t want the ball.

Their perfect games would be if the teams would meet at the center circle for 89 minutes and had a conversation about their families, probably while sipping tea. Then for 1 minute of furious action both teams would try to score.

Leagues are different too. The Bundesliga is very dribble-happy, meaning that they have more chances to make tackles (the two stats are intertwined). La Liga is very interception orientated. And the Premier League is full of teams who don’t want the ball. Looking at the number of tackles a player makes or how many he misses doesn’t really tell us much. And it’s especially ridiculous to “prorate tackles for possession” they literally have almost no correlation to one another.

Alex Song is a great illustration of all of this. In his best season at Arsenal he completed 85% of his passes, was a 67% long ball passer, made 2.9 of 4.3 attempted tackles (67%), and averaged 1.9 interceptions per game. He also had 10 assists that year, kicking the ball up to an on fire Robin van Persie.¹ When he moved to Barcelona, he completed 90% of his passes, was an 81% long ball passer, made 2.2 of 2.9 tackles per game (76%), and had 2.2 interceptions per game. Now at West Ham he’s a 79% passer, 61% long ball passer, makes 2.7 of 4.6 tackles (59%), and a career low 1.2 interceptions per game.

Song has played for three very different teams in two different leagues and his stats have varied based on the relative talent around him, the way the teams have been set up, and the leagues they play in. Not only that but Song’s stats are relatively (what does it matter if Song makes .3 tackles more than someone else?) the same as Paul Pogba. Which player would you prefer at Arsenal? I know my answer.

I still feel Schneiderlin would be a great purchase for Arsenal but not just because of his stats. Because I’ve watched him play. He’s very tidy with the ball, he’s very calm in defense, and he tends to make the right decisions in a crunch². He can tackle, as can any defensive midfielder, he reads the game well, and he can pass. You put him in the Arsenal set up and he will thrive.

But so too will a lot of players with numbers that don’t look so good at the moment and a lot of players whose numbers look great. Which is why I cast a jaundiced eye at all these stats being used to prove “X” is the perfect player for Arsenal. Arsenal just need a Pogba, Vidal, Schneiderlin, Gonalons, or Gueye to come in and take over for Arteta. My guess is that will happen this summer when Wenger can make a move for one of the big name, expensive center mids above.


¹I wish he had been actually on fire.
²Tackling Cesc from behind was the right decision. He was only a little bit late Had he been earlier, he might have taken Cesc out for the rest of the season and been a hero to every Arsenal fan everywhere.


Gone-alons, Fellaini needs a brow wax, and Dancing Queen (Higuain)

I will admit that I have secretly coveted Maxime Gonalons at Arsenal for several years now. That’s why I make a Google News alert for “Gonalons Arsenal” two years ago and have been monitoring his transfer situation since. I’ve even written a post Banging the Gong for Gonalons. I think he reads the game well from a defensive standpoint, he’s strong in the air, and has an impressive, almost Pirlo-esque, range of passes at his command.

But he’s not for sale and never has been. Olympique Lyonnais posted an official statement on their web site that read “(we) were surprised to learn, by reading L’Equipe, that a fee has been defined for the sale of Maxime Gonalons and that this would be more than €12m. The club has no intention to give up its captain. The club’s development strategy is clear – Gonalons is one of the most promising young players. No clubs have contacted us, especially Napoli, and the club is sorry about the fact that some say to the contrary.”

This is interesting because I have found that L’Equipe is a very reliable source for transfer news. For them to have gotten this story about Gonalons going to Napoli wrong there must have been some pretty strong subterfuge on the part of either Gonalons’ agent or someone inside Lyon. But it really does look like they got this wrong! And Gonalons is not for sale.

Which is ok, right? Because that lady on twitter says that Fellaini is coming to Arsenal. I don’t know who she is, because I’m not in the know about her, but I am in the know about 101 great goals and they reported that she reported on twitter that he told her “I really hope so” or something when she asked if he was coming to Arsenal. That seals the deal!

Alternately, this could have been a case of the big Belgian simply mishearing her question. I can imagine a man, in a nightclub, with his hair covering his ears, could mis-hear a woman asking about coming to Arsenal. For example, maybe he thought she wanted him to store his bike in her trunk?

Also, I get the hair thing, Marouane, but the unibrow? That’s not how us Arsenal guys roll, mate. Sort your life out, seriously.

As for who I’d rather have at Arsenal, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I want the one who Arsenal sign. That’s right, I would take any of Fellaini, Gonalons, whatever, just someone big, ugly, and man mountainish, with hair like a caveman, who will scare the daylights out of Scott Parker.


And finally, is Arsenal going to sign Higuain today? I don’t know, but apparently Arsenal are in Spain trying to make it happen. No, I’m not going to make a Spain/Plain/Rain/Higuain joke, mostly because East Lower already did, instead I’ll make a terrible suggestion that Arsenal fans sing this song for Higuain to the tune of Dancing Queen.

He can dance, he can jive having the time of his life.
see that goal, watch that pass, diggin the Higuain.

Wednesday night and the lights are low
Champions League against Bordeaux.
Wenger plays Theo on the right, get out wide on the wing
Whip that cross, in swing.

Not anyone could be that guy,
Theo’s cross is too high.
But with a bit of luck the ball, dribbles across the goal
You’re in the mood for a dance,
and when you get the chance…

You score like Higuain, swift and sweet, number seventeen!
Gonzo Higuain! Getting the rub of the green.
He can dance, he can jive – having the time of his life.
See that goal, watch that pass, diggin the Higuain.

Playing center, you turn on ‘em.
Leave ‘em burning, then you”re gone.
Looking out for another, any goal will do
You’re in the mood for a dance,
and when you get the chance…

You score like Higuain, swift and sweet, number eightteen!
Gonzo Higuain! Getting the rub of the green.
He can dance, he can jive – having the time of his life.
See that goal, watch that pass, diggin the Higuain.