Tag Archives: Walcott

kaboul

Arsenal 2015/2016: pulling out of challenges

I had a good friend ask me “Why would I support Arsenal?” yesterday and for a moment I was stumped.

I mean, I could say that we are a great club, that we have a long history of winning trophies, and that we have an amazing new stadium in one of the nicest cities in the world. I could point to Mesut Özil who broke the Premier League chances created record yesterday and Alexis Sanchez who is one of the most exciting players in the League. And I could point to young guys like Iwobi and Bellerin coming through the Arsenal ranks.

I could also say that Arsenal revolutionized football, twice.

The first revolution was with Herbert Chapman and his WM formation. Clubs played the WM for 50 years after Chapman invented it. That’s something special right there.

Wenger was also the first foreign manager to win the League. Bob Kyle is often cited but he was an Irishman when Ireland was part of the UK. Wenger was the first truly foreign manager to win the League. And he did so with a team that was largely foreign as well.

I would go one step further and say that those title races between Arsenal and Man U from 1997-2005 popularized the English Premier League. Arsenal challenged the monopoly of Man U and without Wenger’s Arsenal playing beautiful, incisive, flowing football, I doubt the Premier League would be as popular as it is today.

Those are good reasons to become a new Arsenal supporter but it’s all in the past. We are, like Liverpool and Man U, a club living in the past and I’m afraid we are going to keep living in the past.

My friend decided to jump on the Leicester bandwagon and I don’t blame him at all. I wrote about this before, I like bandwagon fans. Nothing wrong with bandwagon fans at all: they fill the coffers of the club, spread the club’s popularity, and some of them even stick around for decades after despite the lack of trophies. I was a bandwagon fan, I fell in love with Arsenal when they won the League at Old Trafford.

And now it looks like Leicester are going to win the League at Old Trafford. It would be a fitting victory for the way they, like Arsenal 16 years ago, have made football exciting again for the people who support clubs outside of the traditional quatrogopoly. They are an exciting team and what they are doing this season is nothing short of a miracle. When they beat Swansea 4-0 and their supporters were singing and partying it reminded me how exciting a real title race is. Something I haven’t felt for 12 years.

Meanwhile back in Arsenal land, Arsenal looked like a team that has given up on the season. They aren’t pressuring the ball out of possession and they aren’t moving off the ball in possession. You don’t have to take it just from me, Adrian Clarke opened with a similar bit in his breakdown. You know it’s bad if the official dot com site is calling out players for playing static on offense and lazy on defense.

A few players put in a running shift. Alexis moved, but then got grief for turning the ball over too much. Elneny was also constantly in motion, I don’t think Elneny could stand still in a queue, he’d probably have to run circles around it.

But for much of the game, Arsenal were playing at a standstill. Maybe it was because of the fact that this was Arsenal’s third game in six days. That was Wenger’s excuse and that’s an excuse for Özil and Iwobi, I suppose, but not for Giroud who was easily the biggest culprit. And if he was tired, why not start Welbeck?

And why isn’t Leicester tired? Or Tottenham? Why is Arsenal the only team suffering from this late-season run? We are built to be a Champions League team, right? Shouldn’t we have the numbers and types of players needed to mount a title challenge and a Champions League challenge?

I know that we don’t. We have several players on the books who can’t play football anymore. And we have players who seem to have given up on playing football at Arsenal.

Late in the match Theo Walcott pulled out of a soft challenge for a 50-50 ball and it may have been the right decision from his point of view but it symbolizes this season for me. This was a chance to win the ball in the Sunderland final 1/3 with no one left to beat and the goal gaping. But Walcott danced his way out of the challenge.

Like Walcott, Wenger pulled out of the challenge of signing some new players until we literally had no players left to play in central midfield. And there isn’t even any need to talk about forward players. I saw Andrew’s column on Arsenal needing an upgrade on Giroud and Walcott and thought “yeah! We have needed an upgrade there for three years.” It’s hard to find quality forwards, it’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that has to be met and can’t simply be danced out of by saying it’s difficult.

And beyond Walcott and Wenger, Arsenal seem to have a number of players who simply pull out of challenges. They give up on loose balls too easily, they don’t get stuck into challenges, if they cough the ball up they fall to the ground, throw their hands in the aid and demand that the referee make a call, and it seems like under any kind of heat they just melt.

The season isn’t over. We can’t be pulling out of tackles. Arsenal have to play Norwich on Saturday and the Canaries are in a relegation fight – they won’t be pulling out of tackles. Man U is in 5th place and they are just 5 points away from Arsenal with a game in hand. They will be giving everything on Sunday to avoid letting Leicester be crowned champions at Old Trafford.

So, why would someone become a new Arsenal fan right now? Yeah, we have the great history and the records but this team, right now? Not unless you’re a masochist and enjoy watching a team limp over the 4th place line.

Qq

Mikel-Arteta-2

Arsenal may need to buy 10 players this summer

My followers are largely in the positive camp. We all, to a person, respect and understand what Arsene Wenger has given our club. When he retires he won’t need a statue at Arsenal because the Emirates Stadium is the monument to his legacy.

Wenger has consistently managed to keep Arsenal in the Champions League and as a result has also built up a massive cash reserve at Arsenal, £150,000,000. That’s an enormous sum. The Stadium only cost £390m to build, so, that cash reserve is 38% of the total cost of a new stadium. And that’s cash on hand before the season tickets are renewed and before the new TV deals are accounted for. Arsenal could have £200m easily this summer. And Arsenal are going to need that money because Arsenal are an ageing football club.

Arsenal have eight players who are over 30: Rosicky (35), Arteta (33), Cech (33), Cazorla (31), Mertesacker (31), Flamini (31), and Monreal and Koscielny (30). Four of those players are regular starters at Arsenal and despite the fact that Monreal and Cazorla have been outstanding for Arsenal this season, 30 is the age at which players (except keepers) start to decline, rapidly.

There are also a significant number of players who fans (and former players) feel Arsenal need to upgrade: Walcott, Ox, Wilshere, Ospina, and Gibbs to name a few. I would add Campbell to that list which isn’t going to be a popular thing to say but Campbell, while he does tackle pretty well, isn’t a very good footballer. For example, who would you rather have start for Arsenal on the right: Campbell/Theo/Ox or Mahrez? That’s what I mean by “upgrade”.

Arsenal also only started the season with a 22 man list for their 25 man squad. With Elneny in but Debuchy out that leaves three additional vacancies that absolutely need to be filled. With the money Arsenal have, with Arsenal’s injury history, and with the need to rotate, it would be criminal not to fill those three roster spots. It was criminal this year and might have cost Arsenal the title (if we don’t win, which there is still a chance).

In fact, using that list is a good way to see who Arsenal need to sell and where Arsenal need to buy.

Armando De Abreu, Gabriel
Arteta Amatriain, Mikel
Campbell, Joel
Cazorla, Santiago
Cech, Petr
*Coquelin, Francis
Debuchy, Mathieu
Flamini, Mathieu
*Gibbs, Kieran James Ricardo
Giroud, Olivier
Koscielny, Laurent
Mertesacker, Per
Monreal, Ignacio
Ospina, David *Szczesny, Wojciech
*Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander Mark David
Ozil, Mesut
*Ramsey, Aaron James
Rosicky, Tomas
Sanchez, Alexis
*Walcott, Theo James
*Welbeck, Daniel
*Wilshere, Jack Andrew
EMPTY*
EMPTY
EMPTY

I put my choices for sell/retire in bold. I also sell Ospina and bring back Szczesny from gulag. And so, without selling any of the homegrown players (who have the * next to their names) I think Arsenal have to buy eight players this summer. If you want to upgrade the striker position or the wide right position, then that’s nine or even ten players.

Walcott won’t be difficult to sell. He has a huge salary but teams like Newcastle would love to have a speedy forward on their books. He is highly marketable (will sell shirts) and teams are about to be awash in TV money. On the right team, where he can use his speed and exploit space, he could be a 15-20 goal a season forward. Look at Vardy, he’s not a talented footballer, but on the right team, he’s a shark-eyed killer (who loves to racially abuse Japanese men in casinos). Walcott gives all the same as Vardy and none of the racial abuse. He’s a no-brainer for any mid-table team looking to play counter-attacking football.

Arsenal have their work cut out for them this summer and I asked my twitter followers who they think should do the spending. 60% chose anyone but Arsene. That is probably just an indication of the mood after the tough loss to Man U and I will do the poll again later this Spring to see if the sentiment is the same.

But I’m curious if you all see that Arsenal need to buy at least eight players this summer or if you think they could keep some of them? Also, who would you buy?

Qq

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Is Walcott in a slump or does he just suck?

Is Theo Walcott in a slump or does he just suck?

Since the announcement of his 10 years at Arsenal there has been a meme making the rounds in the comments sections here, and everywhere else I write, that Walcott is simply not good enough for Arsenal. It’s a response to my insistence that Walcott is simply in a slump and that one or two goals might see a flood.

Walcott is in a slump. His main job this season is scoring goals. And in terms of scoring goals, this season is the lowest conversion rate of his career at Arsenal — he is converting just 7.8% of his total shots. That’s below the football average of 9.5% for all shots and well below what we would expect to see from a forward.

Kun Aguero is an amazing forward. Using the data from ESPN and looking at all the competitions he played for Man City (minus friendlies) he had 652 shots from 2010-2016. He has put 290 of those shots on target (44.5%) and has scored 124 goals. 124/652 means that his overall converversion rate for the last 5+ years is 19%.

That’s tough to top.

Lewandowski is scoring at 18% this season in the Bundesliga, Messi 15%, Ronaldo is 14%, Rooney 14%, and Luis Suarez is scoring 25% of his shots — needless to say that’s a career high for Suarez who converted 12% (21/187) in the year Arsenal bid on him and that jumped to 17% the next year.

A lot of those players are their team’s main striker and they are expected to take a lot of shots which will often drive their conversion rates down. If you look at players like Benzema (28%), Neymar (22%), Muller (23%), and the like they average a MUCH higher conversion rate of 20% or more.

All of which is to say that Walcott’s 8% (rounded up) is absolutely not good enough. I’m not biased against Theo, Sanchez is only scoring 10% right now and that also isn’t good enough, especially considering the fact that he score 24/171 shots last season for a 14% conversion rate.

But the reason I have been so high on Walcott coming good is because he has hit that mythical 18% conversion twice in the last 4 years: 2012/13 and 2014/15. In 2012/13 he had a breakout season and scored 21 goals on 111 shots for an 18% conversion rate. He wasn’t playing with a main striker (Giroud only scored 11 League goals that season) so despite his 10 assists and playing wide in that pseudo-support striker Wenger put Walcot in, he wasn’t really a support striker like a Benzema or Neymar.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: 2014/15 doesn’t count because he was injured and took just 38 total shots. Therefore, his conversion rate was skewed because of “sample size”.  It’s not sample size but yes the problem is that he scored 7 goals on 38 shots last season. If he had scored 6 goals he would have converted 16%, 5 goals 13%, and so on. But notice that even if he had only scored 4 goals last season (he didn’t, he scored 7) he would have converted above 10%. And this season he is converting around 8%.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you might have noticed that Walcott suffers from Wayne Rooney’s disease: he has one good season followed up by one bad season. And this is, in fact, the pattern we are seeing with Walcott.

Walcott-comversion

But even if this was an “off season” for Walcott his low is still well below his other lows which are all above 10%!

That is the definition of a slump.

Bonus:

  • If Walcott had converted 18% of his shots this season he would have scored 12 goals.
  • Walcott is currently Arsenal’s most profligate forward, having scored just 2 of 12 big chances. These should be converted at a 40% rate.
  • Walcott has never been a ball hog. In his “breakout” season he averaged 16.6 passes per game and he’s down to 14.4 this season, but that can easily be accounted for with him playing through the middle where he is supposed to make runs behind, not drop and collect
  • All his passing numbers are down from that high in 2012/13: assists down from 10 to 2, key passes per game 1.3 to 0.8, crosses per game 0.9 to 0.1, even dribbles are down from 1.5 to 1.2.
  • Walcott’s shots data, all competitions, source ESPN.com
Season Shots Shots on Goal Goals conv sog%
2015/16 64 27 5 7.8% 42.2%
2014/15 38 22 7 18.4% 57.9%
2013/14 53 23 6 11.3% 43.4%
2012/13 111 55 21 18.9% 49.5%
2011/12 86 38 9 10.5% 44.2%
2010/11 93 51 13 14.0% 54.8%
2009/10 43 16 4 9.3% 37.2%
2008/09 57 23 5 8.8% 40.4%
2007/08 61 26 8 13.1% 42.6%