Tag Archives: Wilshere

Wenger-jacket

2015-16: Arsenal’s Season in the Waiting Room

I am a patient boy
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait
My time is water down a drain

Everybody’s moving
Everybody’s moving
Everybody’s moving,
Moving, moving, moving

Please don’t leave me to remain
In the waiting room

I don’t want the news
(I cannot use it)
I don’t want the news
(I won’t live by it)

Sitting outside of town
Everybody’s always down
(Tell me why)

Because they can’t get up
(Ahhh… Come on and get up)
(Come on and get up)

But I won’t sit idly by
(Ahhh…)
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight
For what I want to be

And I won’t make the same mistakes
(Because I know)
Because I know how much time that wastes
(And function)
Function is the key
Inside the waiting room

- Waiting Room, Fugazi

I was sitting here at my laptop in January and Arsenal were top of the table. Nearly everything I had predicted had come true and I was filled with a giddy sense of anticipation. I felt as though my number had just been called at the DMV and I approached the window, ticket in hand, ready to renew my “stats guy smug git” license.

While I was waiting, Arsenal had lost 4-0 to Southampton on Boxing Day. Not only lost but the Gunners were bullied by Ronald Koeman’s men. Wanyama seemed to be issuing a January transfer plea to Arsenal “you need me in midfield, I’ll bully others for you the way I am doing now” was what he seemed to say every time he took the ball away from an Arsenal player.

After the match, Wenger blamed the officials but also admitted that his team were too easily outmuscled by the Southampton midfield.

We lost too many challenges and that explains why we lost the game. But that’s one aspect, so well done to them. The second aspect is that on the first three goals we were really unlucky with the decision of the referee. The first goal was offside, the second goal was a foul and the third goal was a goal kick, so if you’re a bit below par and on top of that you have the first three goals against you in the decision-making then it’s even more difficult.

But Arsenal bounced back after Boxing Day. They beat Bournemouth and Newcastle, while Leicester lost to Liverpool and that sent Arsenal to the top of the table with 42 points and Arsenal had a fairly comfortable +16 goal difference. Their closest rivals were Leicester on 40 points but with a +12 goal difference and Man City on 39 points with a +18 goal difference.

Arsenal were still top of the table on January 13th despite a 3-3 draw with Liverpool in which Arsenal dropped three points thanks to a last gasp strike by Joe Allen. The next three games were Stoke, Chelsea, and Southampton; three chances for revenge against three teams who have bullied us for years. We had been waiting all season for this moment.

The Summer kicked off our season of waiting. The Petr Cech deal was one which progressed quickly but after that Wenger started making strange pronouncements about his squad being more than complete. Few believed that Wenger was being serious. Surely he saw that Arsenal needed a striker and probably some midfielders to cover for Coquelin? He couldn’t possibly be serious about banking on the fitness of Welbeck, Walcott, Wilshere, Flamini, and Arteta? The window closed, Welbeck was revealed to be unfit, Wilshere suffered an injury, and soon after Arteta went down as well. He did bank on their fitness, he was being serious.

Once the transfer window closed, Arsenal fans piled into one of two rooms: the majority of fans went into a room where they waited for one of Coquelin, Cazorla, or Alexis to pick up an injury while the minority went into the room to wait for the 5000:1 odds that Wenger’s plan would prove to be the right path.

The fans that predicted injury were right. Before the transfer window had even closed, Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture during training: he would wait until April 24th 2016 to play his first game for Arsenal this season. Meanwhile, almost the moment that the transfer window was closing Arsenal revealed that Danny Welbeck needed knee surgery. His recovery was three months faster than Wilshere, Arsenal only had to wait until February 14th to get him back.

Welbeck scored on his return, a last minute header that sealed a 2-1 win against Leicester.

The folks waiting for the injury bug to hit only had to wait a few more months after Welbeck. I doubt anyone predicted all three of Arsenal’s main players would go down at the same time but that’s what happened: Cazorla, Coquelin, and Alexis all went out injured at the same time.

Coquelin had his number called first. He injured himself in the 2-1 loss to West Brom on November 29th. And then like some kind of reverse Santa Claus, some jerk who comes into your house just before Christmas and steals all your favorite toys, Arsenal lost Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to injury.

Injury to Alexis Sanchez was inevitable: between his club commitments, the World Cup, and the Copa America, he has played virtually non-stop for three years. Cazorla was a bit unlucky, and Coquelin as well, but Arsenal didn’t buy a central midfielder last summer and instead banked on Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta, and Flamini to provide cover.

Everyone worried about Coquelin’s injury but it was actually the loss of Cazorla which hurt the team more. Coquelin is a free-roaming center back, a sweeper in midfield; Cazorla carried the ball forward for Arsenal, he provided deft ball control in midfield, he was a third creative outlet for Arsenal’s attack, he took the burden off Özil and Alexis in terms of creativity and control in possession. Cazorla was injured the week after Coquelin and Arsenal’s much vaunted “depth” looked thinner than the excuses that are trotted out each year as to why Arsenal can’t buy players they need.

But then a funny thing happened and Arsenal beat Sunderland, Olympiacos, Villa, and Man City. There was that aforementioned blip against Southampton but two more wins (plus a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup) and the draw to Liverpool saw Arsenal at the top of the table. There I was in the 5000:1 room, holding my ticket and thinking that our number had been called.

When I got to the window the teller told me I had punched the wrong button. That my number wasn’t up. That I needed to go collect the ticket from the other waiting room, have a seat, and wait until the season was over before I would have any chance of being called.

Everyone was waiting for Leicester to fall away but they beat Tottenham 1-0, Liverpool 2-0, and Man City 3-1 all while Arsenal drew 0-0 to Stoke, lost 1-0 to Chelsea, and drew 0-0 to Southampton. It was the 7th of February and Arsenal had gone from being League leaders by 2 points to third place, 5 points behind Leicester.

Arsenal beat Leicester in the very next match and closed the gap to 2 points and then promptly lost any chance of winning the League with back-to-back losses to Man U and Swansea.

The waiting was over. Leicester had taken the title from Arsenal by beating three top teams in the span of two weeks and then holding on as Arsenal, not Leicester as all the pundits predicted, were the ones who collapsed under the pressure of a title challenge.

And now we head into the last day of the season and we are waiting. We are waiting to see if Arsenal can get lucky and take second place away from Tottenham. And in the larger picture, we find ourselves waiting another nine months on Welbeck. We are waiting for Jack Wilshere to fulfill his promise. We wait to see if Wenger will finally buy a physical presence in midfield who can pass the ball. We wait for a striker. We wait on Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and to see who i going to be sold this summer. We wait for the Euros and yet another Copa America and to see what happens to the tired bodies of Özil and Alexis.

We wait to see if Arsenal will make the same mistakes, because we know how much time that takes.

Twelve years.

Qq

2015-2016 Arsenal Season Preview

I know I wrote on Thursday about the importance of the team over the individual. But teams are comprised of individuals and so, today, ahead of the season opener against West Ham on Sunday I’d like to do a few predictions for the players this season. A sort of hopes and dreams for each player.

First, Lineups:

It’s tough to say with Wenger what the lineups will look like in any given game and things will change from match to match. Not only that but twitter is abuzz with rumors that Arsenal are going to sign “the player that will make them title contenders” (Benzema) whatever that means. So, these are just best guesses which are intended to illustrate Arsenal’s depth along with who I think Wenger will start with more than anything.

Starting XI – A

This is Arsenal’s first choice lineup. The only real controversial choices are Ox starting over Walcott on the right and Cazorla starting over Ramsey in the middle.

Cazorla starts because, let’s face it, why would he be dropped? It doesn’t mean that Ramsey won’t play, Arsenal will probably play 55+ games this season, but for the moment Cazorla has done nothing wrong to merit being dropped.

As for Ox on the right, I don’t have a real reason except that I think Wenger sees Walcott more as a center forward now. He’s played him through the middle in each of the last three games and I don’t think that’s an accident. That doesn’t mean that Walcott won’t start on the right ever but rather that I think Wenger is trying to move Walcott centrally this season.

If Walcott is the backup, then questions arise over Welbeck. I’ll answer them below.

Starting XI – B

This second lineup is more of a second string lineup.

Theo Walcott starts up front in this lineup and I think a lot of fans will be surprised by the number of times Wenger uses Theo as the tip of Arsenal’s lance. As I said above, Wenger has already shown he’s not afraid to put Theo in the lone striker role. It frees him up to rest Giroud from time to time, gives Arsenal a different style to their attack, and allows Arsenal to start with one style and bring Giroud or Welbeck off the bench and batter down stubborn defenses.

The other thing I’m illustrating with this lineup is that when Arteta plays in the defensive midfield role I think Arsenal need to play Ramsey with him. Ramsey gives Arteta an outlet for his passes and acts as cover, tackling high up the pitch.

 

And finally, note that Alexis and Ozil feature prominently in both lineups. This is because I don’t think Arsenal have proper cover for Alexis on the left. Welbeck can do the job but can I just say it felt weird putting Welbeck on the left and Theo up front? That’s all, sometimes things just feel weird.

So, in my mind Ozil is the left side cover for Alexis and Alexis is the right side cover for Ox. I’m not saying Walcott won’t start on the right, that Welbeck won’t start on the left (or the right) but just that if you move Walcott to the middle, which I suspect the boss will do, it makes it weird to play Welbeck in a side role, because he wants to play centrally and, frankly, has the attributes to do it.

My basic points are these: Walcott will play center forward this season more than you think, Wilshere is going to have a hard time getting into the lineup but should make some appearances when Ozil is rested, Ox will start more games than you think on the right, Cazorla is the player I think starts in CM, and Arteta needs Ramsey to help with the DM duties.

Giroud

How many games will Giroud play? Scored 19 goals on 36 apps last season (all comps). That’s a very respectable rate of return for a forward. So, with competition from Walcott and Welbeck (and even Alexis) the question is how many games will he play? I expect him to play 35 games and score 18 goals this season. I’d also like to see him bury those big chances he seems to miss. If he could get a run of luck like Harry Kane, he could easily break the 25 goal mark. Arsenal gift him lots of chances to score, he would be a lot less frustrating if he took them!

Walcott

Set aside his salary for a minute. How many goals would be a good return from Theo Walcott this season? I’m not talking just League games, I’m talking all competitions. Ramsey has targeted 24 goals. That would put Walcoott in the 100 goals range for his career at Arsenal and it’s a nice, if unrealistic, target.

The most Walcott has scored in a single season is 21. That was his best season in an Arsenal shirt. He played 43 times and scored 21 goals off 112 shots. The next season he started off perfectly fine before picking up an injury against Spurs and a year later made his return scoring a few goals at the end of the season.

Those last two seasons of missed time make it tricky to assess where Walcott could or should be in the coming seasons but what I think he’s shown over the last three years is a deadly new efficiency to his game. He has averaged a goal every 2.5 games in those three years and a goal for every 6 shots¹. The goals per shot puts him on par with top strikers but the goals per game puts him slightly below par — a goal every other game is a good return for a striker. This happens because Walcott is more dependent than other strikers on his teammates creating shots for him and so he gets fewer shots than you would normally see from a top striker.

This puts Walcott in the second tier of strikers. Good, but not great. And if I do a little fancy math around his career scoring, his career shots, his career goals, and the fact that he will probably be slightly more efficient than before I think he will score 17 goals next season. That is, of course, entirely dependent on him staying fit and getting games. Interestingly, that’s exactly 10 goals more than he scored last season. And Wenger mentioned Arsenal needing to add about 10 goals.

Alexis

The one thing I’d like Alexis to work on is to stop being such a fit stud. I mean this guy came back to training camp after two weeks off, ready to play football? Who does that? Take up smoking and drinking, you’re putting the rest of us men, with our “dad bods”, to shame and we live in an era where it’s pretty much against the rules to shame people. So stop being so fit.

Also, I hope he gets better in possession with the ball just because I hate hearing people whine about it. I doubt he will, but it would be nice.

Ozil

Can Ozil score some goals, please? Especially in those one-on-one situations? Because again, I don’t blame him — we all have different strengths and one of his is clearly NOT scoring goals — but I get tired of hearing people whine about it.

Also, ask Alexis if you can borrow a cup of fitness. That would be nice.

Cazorla

Cazorla is a special talent and Arsenal fans love him. He can dribble, pass, and he almost never stops running. He also learned how to press last season and that was a major reason why Arsenal were able to keep him in CM next to Coquelin. His only fault is that he doesn’t score from open play. In fact, he took 74 shots from open play last season and scored just 1 goal. If his place in the center of Arsenal’s midfield is under any threat it’s because of that fact. Ramsey can and will score more goals (sometimes at the detriment to the team) and he could take Cazorla’s place if the Spaniard has a poor spell.

Ox

This is a big season for a lot of the British players but none so more than Ox. Ox has the talent, he’s shown that he also has the application, but now he just needs the opportunity.

The talent has always been there, but Ox needed to work on his dribbling and finishing. The goal against Chelsea in the Charity Shield proved that he has worked on his shortcomings this season: he switched dribble onto his (weaker) left foot and finished with the same foot.

That ability for a right footed player to cut in to the left while playing on the right side makes him a double threat: he can drift wide to cross for Giroud in the middle, or can create his own chances by cutting in on his left.

Ox has never scored more than 4 goals for Arsenal in a season (all apps). I think he will get more than 10 this year and depending on fitness, could turn in a 15 goal season. That’s entirely speculative. No fancy maths. I just feel it.

Wilshere

Why is it that we can’t criticize Wilshere for holding onto the ball too much? You know why? Because it feels like we are blaming him when Paddy McNair breaks his ankle. But I actually don’t think the problem is Wilshere holds onto the ball too much. The problem is that Wilshere has a bad dribbling technique. He pushes the ball too far out in front of him and then lunges to regain control.

Oh no! The Arsenal police are going to crack down on me for criticizing Wilshere! But his dribbling technique is poor and that’s the problem. He either needs to learn to release the ball earlier and pass to a teammate and then move, or learn better close control.

That’s how he will play more than 20 games a season.

Bellerin

Stay golden Pony Boy.

Gibbs

This, by Tim Stillman.

Monreal

You know, I don’t actually think much negative or positive about Monreal. He’s just a solid left back who picks his runs, scores the occasional goal, and does a decent job defending. Keep that up!

Debuchy

Well, he cut off that Mohawk. That’s a start. I don’t know how he beats Bellerin for the starting spot. Debuchy is a complete player, there isn’t much wrong with him. Bellerin is just better. Incredible, right?

Ramsey

Ramsey is in competition with Cazorla for the CM role at Arsenal. To take over, he just needs to keep working, stay healthy, and take his chances when they come to him. I think Ramsey might actually take the starting spot from Cazorla this season. It really just depends on how well he works together with Coquelin. But Ramsey will get his chances especially when Arteta starts.

Coquelin

Coquelin’s only problem last season was that he lacked the range of passing that Arsenal fans are used to from our defensive mids. Teams will probably target him this season, press him when he has the ball, cover his teammates, and force him to be more active on the ball. If he didn’t improve his passing and decision making with the ball, this could be a real problem. Other than working on that, he’s a fantastic player and fighter who does all of the subtle things Arsenal fans love from the DM position.

Welbeck

Welbeck is able to play all three of Arsenal’s attacking positions: left, right, and center. But he hasn’t claimed any of them as his own, yet. This is a building season for Welbz. He’s going to have to play where the team needs him and develop his skills. Welbeck has the body to be a top striker. He also gets himself into intelligent positions and with his foot speed he can beat a lot of defenders. He just needs to improve his finishing. That’s going to take time. He’s 24. He has time.

Arteta

1. find legs
2. don’t use them too much
3. be a good captain

Koz, Mert, Gabriel, Chambers

Arsenal have a solid defensive partnership in Koz-Mert and a pair of solid backup defenders in Gabriel-Chambers. I hope we don’t have to use the backups too much but they will get playing time simply because Arsenal have so many games to play. Curious to see how Gabriel develops this year. He looks like a tough, no-nonsense center back and seems to have a mixture of qualities from Koz and Merte. Chambers is still developing but he also has all the makings of a good English center back.

Cech

Are you serious? He has to be nothing less than perfect. That’s all. He’s probably used to that though since all ‘keepers are required to be perfect.

Others

The other players are all bit part players. Their job is to not make mistakes. Or, not make too many mistakes.

Conclusion

Wow, this was a lot longer than I expected. And probably a lot of crap. And everything is probably misspelled and I’m not going to check.  Anyway, I’m excited for Arsenal’s season, starting tomorrow at like 4:30am. None of my predictions and ideas will come true but it’s all about fun trying to guess what the season holds.

See you then!

Qq

¹I count blocked shots.

walcott-2

Walcott, Wilshere, Welbeck, and Ox: could they score the 10-15 goals Wenger is looking for?

By Tim Todd

The buzz word among the players at Arsenal’s Singapore sling has been “fitness”. And it’s little wonder that the players who seem most keen to “get fit” this season are the ones who spent most of last season on the sick table.

Wilshere said that he returned to training early this year in order to get a jump start on his fitness. Looking forward to the season ahead and whether he would get chances to start for Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain said, “First and foremost, you have to do everything you can to stay fit, so I’m working on that.” And Wenger hinted that both of those players need full fitness in order to play at their very best,

He always had appetite Jack, but he was out for a long time. Already in the last two or three games of the season he has found his burst back with acceleration. Like with Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] that’s a big part of their game. To be very efficient they need that and that demands physically to be perfect. He’s getting close now.

But more than just Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who have been perennially plagued by injury, Welbeck and Walcott have also sat out large stretches of the season. And no matter how good someone’s “per90″ stats look (Walcott’s 5 goals were scored in 442 minutes making him a 38 goal a season striker according to per90) what really matters is overall contribution to the team. And you can’t contribute if you don’t play.

Last season in Premier League play, Walcott, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Ox combined for just 4336 minutes. That’s the equivalent of 48 full matches for those four players. They also managed to combine for 12 goals scored, which is a decent amount of contribution for the limited minutes that they played.

But honestly, for me it’s this core of British players who need to step up next season. Of course, they need to work on their fitness so that they can get more games but also, and more importantly, they need to contribute to the overall goals haul of the team. They are all forwards in the Arsenal system. Even Jack Wilshere, who is deployed in the holding midfield role for England, will play in the wide forward roles according to Wenger. And those forwards need to score more goals.

As Arsenal closed out the season in roaring good fashion, Arsene Wenger famously said that Arsenal only needed to add 10 goals to their total in order to challenge for the Premier League Title. 10 additional goals (depending on when they were scored, a 10-0 blowout of Spurs would be nice but only adds 3 points) would have put Arsenal in second place behind Man City on goals scored and even with them on goal difference. And I can’t help but think at least one of those 10 goals that Wenger is imagining would have been taken in one of the five games that Arsenal were held scoreless or been enough to push Arsenal over the edge to a win in one of the 8 draws.

And I think Wenger has the players on his squad to do it. It’s not unrealistic to think that Walcott could play 25 games and score 10, doubling his output from last season. Or that Welbeck could play the same number of games and score 8 goals and that Wilshere and Ox could combine for a total of 6. That doubles their output from last season, easily.

Some will say that this is a huge gamble but I would say that all transfers are gambles. You could buy Lacazette for £25m and he could spend most of the season injured. Or he could turn out to be a one-season wonder like Drmic two years ago. With every Sanchez in the transfer market, there seem to be a dozen Bentekes. So, it makes sense that Wenger is conservative in the transfer market and aggressive in developing his players: best to work with the clay you already know.

Wenger will still buy, if a big name player becomes available. If someone like Benzema is pushed out at Real Madrid, I have no doubt that Arsene will jump at the chance to improve the team. But unless a proven top quality striker, which is always a hot commodity, becomes available, my bet is that Wenger will gamble on the fitness of Walcott, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Ox.

Regardless of what happens in the transfer market, this is a big season for Arsenal’s British core and if they improve their fitness and if they can improve their goal scoring, it could be a big season for the Arsenal.

Player 15/16 Games (guess) Goals (guess) 14/15 Games Goals
Sanchez 30 14 35 16
Giroud 30 15 27 14
Ramsey 30 6 29 6
Cazorla 30 1 37 7
Özil 30 5 22 4
Koscielny 30 3 27 3
Walcott 25 10 14 5
Welbeck 25 8 25 4
Bellerin 20 2 20 2
Wilshere 30 4 14 2
Rosicky 0 0 15 2
Ox 30 2 23 1
Chambers 10 0 23 1
Debuchy 18 2 10 1
Flamini 0 0 23 1
Gibbs 18 1 22 0
Monreal 20 1 28 0
Coquelin 23 1 22 0
Mertesacker 35 1 35 0
Arteta 15 1 7 0
Paulista 15 1 6 0