Tag Archives: Wilshere


If City want Sterling or Wilshere for £40m why not just trade the similar priced Aguero?

By Tim Todd, Pounds Sterling

A few years ago I wrote a piece about how the Football Association’s Affirmative Action quota system for English players would not result in an increase in English players playing in the Premier League but would rather simply increase the demand, and thus the price (both in terms of transfer and salary), of the few top level English players available. And as we see from recent headlines, it doesn’t matter if they are doing laughing gas off the coast of Ibiza or if they are being fined for telling the truth during an open top bus parade, Englishmen are in and they are going for a premium.

The Premier League is somewhat unique among football leagues in Europe in that 59% of the players in the League are not English. Most of the other top leagues, with the exception of Italy, have significantly lower percentages of expats playing football on their soil: Germany is 43%, Spain 39%, and France 32%.

Leagues like Italy (54%) and Portugal (53%) have extremely high numbers of foreign players because they tend to be more liberal toward the immigration of Latin American players. Getting those players in from Brazil and Argentina and getting them European citizenship is a major transfer strategy for clubs in these countries.

In England, the driver is simply economics. The Premier League is the most watched in the world, the teams are awash in television money, and the competition levels are high. The result is that most teams in the Premier League have a high number of foreign players and this is especially true for teams competing for the Premier League title. Chelsea are 87% foreigners, Man City 79%, and Arsenal 77%.¹

Man U are unusual among the top teams in that they are only 57% foreigner as of last season. However, with van Gaal’s current spending on players like Depay and with the imminent departure of players like Young I expect the percentage of foreign players to grow at United.


And foreign players correlate fairly well to team success in the Premier League. Burnley had the fewest expat players, just 23%, QPR were 43% (17/20 teams), and Hull were the oddballs with 59% (10/20 teams) whilst the top three teams had the top three most foreign players.

What the FA’s rules accomplish is to place a premium on “Homegrown” players which actually has another deleterious effect: because top quality English players are rare, their prices are higher, and since there is no premium on foreign players (because they don’t fill an artificial need), the same quality foreign players are cheaper. The result is that foreign players actually look more attractive to teams in the Premier League. A club like Southampton can sell off all of their English talent to the big money clubs and buy twice as much foreign talent for the same price.

Both Man City and Liverpool seem intent on signing mostly English talent this summer. Liverpool have signed James Millner, Danny Ings, and are trying hard to throw even more money at Southampton² by offering £9m+ for Nathaniel Clyne. Meanwhile, Man City haven’t purchased any players, yet, but have offered £40m for Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and reportedly offered £40m for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.

To give some context to how crazy the money on offer is for Sterling and Wilshere, Man City bought Kun Aguero from  Atletico Madrid in 2011 for £36m³. When Aguero came to City he was a 23 year old proven goal scorer who averaged 24 goals a season for 4 years in all competitions for his club. Raheem Sterling has scored 23 goals in 124 competitions for Liverpool over the last 4 years. Sterling is just 20 years old and you might expect his numbers to get better over the next few years, though that is a huge gamble when you consider the fact that he has been pictured multiple times huffing nitrous like he’s a character from Blue Velvet.  

Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere is 23 years old and has only played one full season with Arsenal in his 7 year career. In fact, over the last four years, Wilshere has averaged 23 games a season in all competitions for Arsenal. 

With Aguero just 27 years old and with Aguero averaging 27 goals a season for Man City the smart money would be for either Arsenal or Liverpool to offer a straight trade: Wilshere or Sterling for Kun Ageuro.

Of course, that will never happen because no one is that crazy.


Data on foreign players in Premier League: CIES Digital Atlas

¹Welsh players don’t count because they are Welsh, not English.
²Liverpool gave Southampton £55m last season, over half of their total expenditure on summer transfers
³Some places report the amount as high as £40m, but he was purchased for €45m which at today’s rate is actually just £32m so I went for the middle number.


Wenger selection headache has Bellerin written all over it

Well, this morning has been a bit weird so far. My intention was to write an article about Wenger’s selection headache. And so, to get the latest news, straight from Wenger himself, I turned to his pre-match press conference on Arsenal.com.

I already knew that Arteta, Debuchy, Diaby, and Wilshere were available for selection so that wasn’t a shock. But when Wenger was asked about Debuchy he replied  ”I can only play three players over 21″ and that sent me into a research tailspin.

At first I thought this was a reference to the “homegrown rule” but there is nothing in that rule which states that you can only have three non-homegrown, over 21, players on the pitch. So, I have to assume he means that he can’t play more than three over 21 in the under 21 competition.

It was a funny thing for Wenger to say. Because it prefaced him saying that Debuchy lacked a bit of match sharpness. So, I suspect it was a case of the boss putting the cart in front of the horse. He meant that Debuchy needs to get some games but he’s not sure where he can fit him in. Wenger is giddy at the fact that Arsenal have so many players fit they are overflowing both the first team and the U21!

Arsenal have so many players fit that getting them all playing time, who should start where and when, and whether players can and should be sold is going to be the debate for the remainder of the season and probably for most of this summer. But let’s just go ahead and say this now: you’ve got nothing to worry about because among the many tricks that Arsene Wenger seems to have learned this season is rotation

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: Wilshere. Wenger has said that Wilshere will not be sold this summer and as it stands I believe him. Wilshere is one of only 7 home-grown players³ at Arsenal, Wilshere is under contract until 2018, and the team have invested a huge amount into this player with very little return.

There is a little niggle in the back of my mind that wonders: what happens if Wilshere doesn’t get much playing time in the last 8-9 games of the season and starts agitating this summer? And what happens if Man City, who are in grave need of young, English, players come along with a Bale¹ of cash for both club and player?

I don’t think it’s going to be much of a problem, Arsenal can just say no and I suspect that Wenger will find a way to rotate players in and out.

One of the hallmarks of this season has been Arsenal’s rotation. Arsenal are on a 7-match win streak² and during that time there has been plenty of rotation in midfield and in the defense. Wenger has played Gabriel in two places in the center half role, he’s played Ramsey wide, he’s swapped out Chambers and Bellerin, moved Nacho in and out, played Cazorla in the runner and at the number 10, dropped Ozil, played Ozil wide, put Alexis on both sides of the pitch (I mean in different starting positions, he’s always so active it looks like he plays both sides of the pitch!) and started Theo Walcott. This is the chart I made after looking at  the starting lineups for the last 7 matches.

Gibbs Koz Paul Bell
Alexis Ozil Coq Caz Ox
Gibbs Paul Mert Bell
Alexis Rosy Coq Caz Ozil
Nachos Koz Mert Bell
Alexis Ozil Coq Caz Ox
Nachos Koz Mert Chambo
Alexis Ozil Coq Ramsey Walcott
Nachos Koz Mert Bell
Welbs Ozil Coq Caz Alexis
Nachos Koz Paul Chambo
Welbs Cazorla Coq Ramsey Alexis
Nachos Koz Mert Bell
Alexis Ozil Coq Caz RAMSEY

Only two players are in every starting lineup in these last 7 matches: Coquelin and Alexis. Koscielny, Özil, and Cazorla started 6; Mertesacker, Bellerin, and Nacho started 5; Paulista and Ramsey 3; Gibbs, Chambo, Welbs, and Ox just 2; and Rosicky the 1.

This seems like a pretty big departure for Arsenal in terms of rotation, especially for the back four. Most Arsenal fans are used to the boss being forced to rotate players through injury but it looks like Wenger is rotating more out of tactical concerns than necessity.

This bodes well for the players returning from injury. Arteta is Arsenal’s most cultured player on the ball. His ability to break lines and find the perfect pass nearly every time will allow Wenger to move Cazorla up into the #10 spot, move Ozil over to a wing spot, and rest Alexis. Wilshere can come in an play for Cazorla in midfield and give him a rest. And Debuchy is one of Arsenal’s best players in the air, there is no shame in putting Bellerin on the bench when Arsenal face a Hull, Sunderland, or Man U.

The two players who will probably struggle to get games are Szczesny and Diaby. Szczesny because Wenger seems like he’s not done punishing him yet and Diaby because he’s been out for so long that it’s impossible to see where he would play. Unless it’s as a sub late in games that Arsenal have wrapped up.

Wenger’s medical crew have done a fantastic job getting players back early this season and Wenger has done his best to keep players fresh through a rotation policy which seems to also take into account the tactical needs of the team. I see plenty of people wondering how everyone is going too fit back in but I, for one am not at all worried.

If Wenger has a “selection headache” it’s got Bellerin written all over it. 


¹Gareth Bale, world record transfer
²All competitions, they are actually on an 8-match win streak in Premier League play
³Coquelin, Ramsey, Szczesny, Welbeck, Wallcott, Wilshere, and Gibbs

Arsenal agree to slash ticket prices but only for real fans who attend 20+ matches a season

By Tim Todd, Chief Jape Maker

April Fools!

Hey, did you know that Arsenal have two of the top 4 players in the League right now, according to the WhoScored player rater metric. #1 is Hazard, #2 is Alexis, #3 is Fabregas, #4 is Cazorla, #5 is Mile Jedinak, which is very strange indeed.

I wish I knew how they arrive at their magical number. I suspect that they take total successful dribbles and multiply it by i.

I’m only kidding, slightly, about them using successful dribbles as their sole stat. It’s not the sole stat but it’s clear that they do weight dribbling very high. For example, Mile Jedinak v. Coquelin are basically rated the same on the WhoScored Scale:

Jedinak Coq
Goals 5 0
Assists 2 0
Tackles 3.5 3.6
Interceptions 3.7 3.1
Was dribbled 1.1 1.2
Fouls 2 1.1
Successful dribbles 0.2 1.1
Dispossessed 0.4 1.2
Turnovers 0.3 0.8
Pass % 67% 83%
Long ball % 35% 59%

It seems to me that the guy who has scored 5 goals and gotten 2 assists, if everything else is equal, is the better player. Especially if the guy who got 5 goals (and 2 assists) plays for a team who have only scored 36 goals this season. That’s 19% of the total goals haul, from the defensive midfield position. If Coquelin chipped in with 19% of the offense, that would be 11 goals either scored or assisted. That’s Alex Song level stuff.

Another weird thing is that I’m pretty sure that the pass% numbers are counted somehow. Player pass completion rates by themselves aren’t really interesting. Passing is a team endeavor. A player’s passing percentage is dictated by 1) teammates around him 2) team strategy 3) amount of pressure his teammates receive 4) his position and the responsibilities that the manager wants that position to take 5) player’s training 6) innate ability.

Did you know that Flamini leads the League in pass completion percentage? 91.7%. So, why is Coquelin, who plays on the same team, so much lower in percentage completed? Because Arsenal play more defensively with Coquelin. That means Arsenal are trying counter attacks and that kind of swift movement is harder to connect with than the sideways crab football Arsenal played earlier this season. Also, Flamini is older than Coquelin. Never discount the effect that experience has on technique and decision making.

This bodes well for Coquelin in the future. A whole summer of training (I know he’s trained with Arsenal many summers before) with Arsenal as a first team regular should see his technique and understanding of the game improve. I bet (if he plays for Arsenal next year) we see his passing percentages jump up next season.

Did you know that Cesc Fabregas has just two assists in his last 12 matches? It’s true. And just 4 assists since the turn of the year. Looks like he’s on vacation already! And as soon as I say that, I am obligated to point out that Alexis Sanchez has just 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 14 matches for club and country. Though he did have a burst of 5 goals right at the turn of the year which brings his annual haul up to 4 goals and 3 assists.

I know that Alexis’ “form” of late has been a topic hotly debated by the pundits and I think they’re all missing a key point. Perhaps he is a little jaded and maybe that’s taking the shine off his game but I suspect that more than all of that is that he simply hasn’t been needed.

Arsenal have been getting early leads since January and moreover aren’t pushing gung-ho to win every match 16-0 these days. Thus they are more content when they are in the lead to sit back much deeper and the result is that Alexis’ chances are limited. In fact, as I pointed out in yesterday’s article, all of the Arsenal attackers are creating limited chances:

key passes

Key passes + Assists while Özil was out

keys pass

Key Passes + Assists Since January 2015 — After Özil Returned

Arsenal have been blessed with an efficient attack force since the new year, Özil is healthy, Cazorla is on a tear, Giroud is healthy, and Arsenal have been jumping out to early leads and holding on to them. Alexis’ goals haven’t been needed as much as they were when he was flying Han Solo.

Did you know that for the first time in all my years doing football stats, Arsenal don’t have a player in the top 10 for total number of passes completed? In fact, Arsenal’s most prolific passer is Santi Cazorla, he’s ranked 16 with 58 per game. Last year Arteta was 3rd with 70 per game and Ramsey was 6th with 66. Please go back up to the paragraph where I said that passing is a team endeavor and that team set up matters more than individual talent.

Arteta’s inclusion in a closed-door practice session begs the question of what Wenger will do when he has Arteta healthy. Arteta is s decent defender but he’s not a pure destroyer like Coquelin. Will Arsenal revert to the tiki-taka-lite of the old Arteta days? Will Arsene keep playing with Coqelin the Destroyer¹? I don’t have an answer but the team has been playing well with the current system and lineup, I’d be sad to see it change.

A similar question arises with Wilshere. Wilshere is a weird player in that it seems like his main talent is dribbling to break pressure. Arsenal have a plethora of those players now with Cazorla, Özil (underrated dribbler), Sanchez, and Chamberlain. Wilshere isn’t a pure passer like Arteta, he’s not a destroyer like Coquelin, and he’s not a runner like Ramsey. Arsenal certainly don’t need him in the #10 spot, he can’t play on the wings like Alexis, Özil, Cazorla, and Chambo. I know he fancies himself a “DM” for England but he’s got a lot of catching up to do if he’s going to even match Coquelin in that department. So, where does he play?

And as for Diaby? I’ll write a piece about him when and if he returns to Arsenal’s first team.



¹Coquelin, what is best in life?