Tag Archives: Mignolet


Why Arsenal should sign César and not Reina

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

True story: yesterday I was prepping for a stats piece that I am working on with Brian from 11cannons. This preparation included watching all of the bitesized videos from Arsenal.com for every Champions League and Premier League match from last season. Oh what tortures I endure for your love.

By some twist of fate, I accidentally clicked on the full highlights video for Arsenal’s 1-0 win over QPR back in October and it took me a few minutes before I realized what was going on. But in those three minutes or so, I was treated to a highlight reel of Julio Cesar’s goalkeeping against Arsenal. Even the bitesized video does him justice (free and you don’t need to be a red level member). You get to watch as Cesar makes impressive save after impressive save. He’s not perfect, mind you, a few of those saves he spilled in rather Szczesny-like fashion, but his reflex saves in that video are really something special to watch. In fact, when Arteta finally scores from an offside position, Cesar made three impressive saves in that attack. And if he’d had a single defender around him worth his pay, he probably could have kept that clean sheet.

I’ve written extensively about how Arsenal need an experienced keeper to challenge Szczesny for the number one shirt at Arsenal. And I’ve written that I felt Simon Mignolet was the best keeper in the League last season. But Mignolet has signed for Liverpool for a fee of around £10m and an annual salary of about £2m, so, he’s not really available for Arsenal to sign.

In that article, though, I compared Szczesny, Mignolet, Reina, Begovic, and Julio Cesar. Who I identified as the five most likely candidates for Arsenal goalkeeper next season.

Comparison of Arsenal 5 most-likely keeper signings

I want to be clear so I am going to put this in bold and red: I LIKE SZCZESNY, I do not think Szczesny should be sold. But liking someone and suggesting that they need competition for the starting spot are not mutually exclusive. I like Aaron Ramsey, I would also like it if he had competition for his starting spot because having a large squad and lots of good competition in that squad is good for the team.

I’ve seen a lot of mealy-mouthed excuses being made for Szczesny’s performances this season: that perhaps the Arsenal goalkeeping coaches are to blame, that the Arsenal system is to blame, and that the defenders in front of him are to blame. But the way I saw it, Szczesny had a poor season, and Wenger dropped him after two clangers against Bayern and Villa followed by the disastrous Tottenham match. In fact, it was only injury to Fabianski which saw Arsene reinstate the younger Pole.

Fabianski, himself, did have one great night, in Munich but after that reverted to having difficulty making claims with just 5 successful claims and 2 dropped. And the Arsenal defense looked less assured with him on set plays as they conceded one (a header against Norwich) and the penalty against West Brom in his four games. A pretty poor return when you consider that in both Champions League and Premier League play (45 matches) Arsenal only conceded 5 times from set plays off fouls.

And this isn’t the first season for Szczesny to look shaky. I made excuses for him last year in a series of articles which looked at how Arsenal play football and why Szczesny was a good fit. Mostly, it was his distribution and the fact that he made very few mistakes in passing the ball in his own final third which was the basis for my excuses. But I also touched on the idea that Arsenal’s keepers face more “big chances” than other keepers and along with distribution I have since abandoned that as simple rationalizing.

Like clean sheets, big chances are a data point that depends on too many variables outside of the keeper’s own two hands. You could have a clean sheet and not face a single shot. And defining what makes a “big chance” is less reliable than defining an assist, which as you know, is one of the stats that sticks in my craw.

Which is why I like to look at the goalkeeper’s overall workrate and see how many errors he makes per save. Or how many claims he makes per failed claim. These seem to me to be relatively more dependable statistics. Not that statistics are completely dependable, remember that they only tell part of the story, not the whole story because they are like a bikini. Also, remember that famous saying “lies, damn lies, and statistics”. There, did I cover all the bases of people complaining about stats?

In the case of the five keepers above, then, you can see that Pepe Reina is terrible. Really terrible. He had 14 clean sheets, the most clean sheets of any of the other keepers measured, but like I said, clean sheets are not really in his command. What the keeper really does is make saves and “command his area” by making claims on crosses and corners. That’s a keeper’s real job and Reina’s not real good at his only job.

For example, Reina’s saves rate is just 45%.  If Cesar had a similar saves rate as Reina, he would have allowed 54 goals. As it was, he only allowed 37. Here’s the chart for the percent of goals allowed per shot on target faced:

Saves Goals Rate
Mignolet 124 54 30%
Cesar 84 37 31%
Szczesny 42 24 36%
Begovic 74 45 38%
Reina 42 34 45%

As you can clearly see, Mignolet is the best, but Cesar is right there next to him and if we remove penalties (which I don’t think we should do) their rates only get better.

The next metric I look at is how well the keeper claims on crosses and corners. A high rate of failure here means that the keeper is putting his defenders in a lot of trouble, while also being out of position to make a save if the offensive player gets on the end of the ball. Again, Reina is the worst.

Claims Failed Claims/Fail
Begovic 129 0 129
Cesar 83 0 83
Mignolet 128 3 42.67
Szczesny 44 2 22
Reina 64 10 6.40

Cesar is one of the shortest keepers in the League and yet he made 83 claims and 0 drops. That’s really impressive. Szczesny did, uhh, ok, but Reina is crap, super-crap. In fact, if I was an opposing coach I would literally just bombard the air around Reina and wait for the inevitable error.

Speaking of which, I also like to take all of the defensive actions a keeper is forced to make and divide that by the number of bad results so that I get a ratio of good actions per bad. So, if you add all the saves, claims, and punches and divide it by the number of goals/errors/and missed claims you get the following table:

Saves, Claims, Punches Goals, Errors, Failed Claims SCP/GEF
Mignolet 291 59 4.93
Cesar 190 41 4.63
Begovic 209 50 4.18
Szczesny 100 29 3.45
Reina 123 50 2.46

Again, you can clearly see why Liverpool dropped £20m (transfer fee+salary) on Mignolet. Last season he was the best keeper in the League in my opinion and the metrics above show why I hold that opinion.

However, Cesar was right there with him statistically speaking and I would have no problem if Arsenal dropped £2m on his transfer. There is the small problem of his salary, which is reportedly £70,000 a week. If Arsenal offer him a long-term deal (5 years) that would put the total transfer cost  at around £20m. Which is a lot of money to pay to take a flyer on a player who would be 38 at the end of the deal and have no transfer value to pass on.

But Cesar is Brazil’s starting keeper, he played 300 matches for Inter Milan, he’s a five time Serie A winner, he’s won the Champions League (against a rampant Bayern side), and he’s a seasoned Premier League player. How much do you pay for that experience?

But whatever Arsenal does, please, for the love of all that is holy do not buy Pepe Reina. He is terrible… and a bad keeper.


I like how Luis Suarez pulls back his sock to reveal the devestating injury that Szczesny supposedly inflicted.

Inter reject €23m bid for Handanovič, what’s Szczesny worth then?

The Spanish papers this morning are all a buzz with the report that Barcelona have had a €23m bid for Samir Handanovič rejected by Inter. Inter is reportedly holding out for €30m for the Slovenian and if Barcelona meet their demands it would make Handanovič the second most expensive keeper in world football.

Having watched most of the Serie A season a bid of that magnitude for a keeper of his abilities is quite staggering to say the least. Most keepers in Italy are shaky, so much so that whenever I watch a Serie A game I can’t help but think that something fishy is going on with the keepers. You can see what I’m talking about by watching any compilation of any goalscorer and paying attention to what the keepers are doing. Here’s Edinson Cavani’s 29 goals (WARNING, SAPPY MUSIC), watch the keepers:

Meanwhile Samir Handanovič has also had a highlight reel put together of his best moments, which is set to some pretty awesome accordion music.

As you can see from his “highlights” Handanovič is a decent keeper but no where near the kind of outstanding keeper one would expect to command a fee in the neighborhood of €30m.

Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Simon Mignolet is the target of a “mere” £10m bid from Liverpool. Which puts the Handanovič bid in an even stranger light. As we have discussed here, Mignolet is one of the top keepers in the world. Handanovič is, erm, not. He’s had just 9 clean sheets, had four errors which all led to goals and even in terms of claims and punches he was not in among the top keepers, even for Serie A.

But seeing these bids for Mignolet and Handanovič makes me wonder what our own Szczesny is worth? Surely after those bids and some scout sees this video (horrible music) he’s got to be in the range of £30-50m? Surely.



Bang a Gong (Gonalons)

I will make no bones about it, I think Arsenal need to strengthen the spine of the team. I have called for Arsenal to buy a keeper for a year and a half, for Arsenal to buy a defensive midfielder for five years, and while I haven’t been on the center forward bandwagon as of late, if Arsenal were to buy a top quality center forward I wouldn’t complain.

The keeper comment will get me in trouble, I know, because it’s unpopular to say anything negative about Wojciech Szczesny. The way I have phrased this in the past is that Szczesny needs a legitimate backup. Someone like Mark Schwarzer of three years ago who can back him up and take over if needed but who isn’t in direct competition for the long-term. I’m going to be more direct: Szczesny needs competition.

There are better keepers out there, like Simon Mignolet. And if Arsenal bought Mignolet and Szczesny can’t beat Mignolet for the starting spot right now then he we have to question whether Szczesny deserves to be starting right now? I’m sorry but if we saw Almunia flapping at crosses the way Szczesny has been the last few weeks, or parrying shots back to the middle the way he has the last few weeks, there would be riots in the streets of Islington.

Maybe Szczesny is just going through a bad patch, I’m not sure. Maybe he will be a great goalkeeper one day, I’m not sure. I am, however, pretty sure that he’s not a great goalkeeper right now. His one saving grace, his supposed “presence”, has gone missing and I happen to believe that he needs someone to push him to get that back. Vito Mannone is not that someone. Nor is Fabianski if he ever gets healthy again.

In front of Szczesny it would be nice if Arsenal could stop tooling around with undersized midfielders and get someone of the stature and power of Patrick Vieira or Emmanuel Petit back into this team. I have made no secret that Vieira is my favorite player. Of course, Henry played the beautiful game, but it was Vieira who could pick out a pass as beautifully as Cesc Fabregas in one moment and stand up to a thug like Roy Keane in the very next.

Vieira often gets a bad rap as a destroyer but as Gunnerblog points out in his tribute to the man he was so much more: he was so much more that Arsene has to use three midfielders now to do what Vieira and Petit used to accomplish as two.

There are players out there who do what Vieira used to do, big, muscular players who don’t shy away from a tackle, who get their head in on challenges, who understand basic defending, and who can switch from defense to offense in a flash. Arsenal, sadly, don’t have one. Diaby is not that kind of player because let’s face it, he’d rather be playing in Cazorla’s position than Mertesacker’s. Arteta (bless him) is one of the best passers in the world right now but he lacks the physical presence of Vieira.

Wilshere could be that player. He would stand up to Roy Keane, no doubt. He also has that silky smooth dribble and the natural inclination to go forward that made Vieira more than just a defensive midfielder. But I think he needs someone next to him to help with the physical battles so that he’s not going it alone so often. Someone tall, who can fill in at center back when needed and who wins the aerial duels that Wilshere can’t. Someone to hunt with Wilshere in a pack, like Petit and Vieira. Wilshere could be the mini-Vieira and that would mean that Arsenal could use a bigger version of Petit — though, Petit wasn’t exactly tiny at 185cm.

Reportedly, Arsenal are scouting Maxime Gonalons tonight as Tottenham play Lyon in the Europa League. And Gonalons sort of fits the bill of the type of player that I would like to see at Arsenal. He’s 4th in Ligue Un in tackles per game (3.7) and tied for 7th in interceptions (3.1). He’s also 8th in the Ligue in fouls (2.1) and 12th in being dribbled by opposition midfielders (1 per game). So, he’s a very active midfielder who gets stuck in to the tackle but also gets bypassed and is known to commit fouls. Where Gonalons really shines though is in his passing and especially his accuracy from distance.

As you can see from the chart above, Gonalons is very Arteta-like in almost every stat. He’s a tidy passer, who is plenty accurate from distance (83% is very good), and keeps possession at a rate that puts him among the best. I tend to look at turnovers (which are unforced errors) as a key indicator of a player’s touch and as you can see he’s only had 17 tunovers this season. He’s also been consistently playing at this level for two years. There was a slight uptick in his long ball percent (he was 77% last season) but all the other stats have been roughly the same.

Two of Gonalons’ goals have come from headers and he is surprisingly good in the air both offensively and defensively. He has won 73% of his aerial duels and that is a better rate than anyone at Arsenal.

That said, I can build a case for Arsenal to go after Etienne Capoue instead of Gonalons. Capoue’s got more of the pure destroyer in him than Gonalons, despite the fact that Gonalons has more tackles. Capoue is a much more physically imposing midfielder, he wins a lot more headers than any other midfielder (8th in Ligue Un), has a significantly better clearance rate than Gonalons, and has only been dribbled past 10 times.

His passing numbers are not great but they are workable and he’s a real threat off set pieces and is a powerful midfielder in the counter attack. Gonalons and Capoue met earlier this year and despite Capoue having a poor passing game, he really outplayed Gonalons. The last goal in particular was, well, you watch it and tell me who this reminds you of:

Personally, I’ll take either Capoue or Gonalons. But if I have to choose I think Capoue would fit with Wilshere better. You’ll note that I also included M’Vila in my graphic. I still think M’Vila has the talent to make it at Arsenal, but I’m not sure that he has the mental strength. After falling out with the French national team he has really hit a slide. His transfer to Rubin Kazan for just about £12m was a significant discount on the £20m Arsenal were quoted this summer.

None of those players are going to be cheap. Capoue will break the Arsenal record as he is now attracting interest from PSG who want someone to play along side Blaise Matuidi now that Motta is 30 and Veratti is struggling. Gonalons is the darling of the French press right now. And a keeper like Mignolet is not going to be cheap.

But Arsenal have the money.