Tag Archives: Wilshere


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?


Wherefore the English Core

At the onset of the season I penned a piece about how Arsène Wenger was building Arsenal’s “British Core”. Wenger had added Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck to an exciting group of established English players like Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain¹, and the Frenchman was bullish about the project bragging that he could see five Arsenal players forming the core of the English national team in the future. But here we are 3/4 of the way through the season and whether it’s injury or form, I have to admit that I can’t see any of these players making up the core of the English national team, yet. So, what happened?

The most obvious thing that happened this year is increased competition for places. Calum Chambers is a exciting young talent who can play as a fullback, center back, or defensive midfielder but has yet to really shine in any of those roles when given the chance. Chambers got handed the starting role in right back when Debuchy went down injured but quickly lost his starting spot to Hector Bellerin. The reason is simple: both Bellerin and Chambers have a tendency to get too far forward and to make defensive errors but Bellerin’s superior foot speed allows him to recover more quickly. And Bellerin is a converted winger, his class shows when he has the ball in attack. Chambers is a fine player, but Bellerin is simply superior.

Chambers also suffers a similar fate in center back and in the defensive midfield role. Mertesacker, one of the captains of the team, is going to start over Chambers at center back whenever the big German is healthy. And as for defensive midfield, Chambers got one start there and it was pretty disastrous. I would say that Coquelin gets the nod there. So, in a sense, the “problem” with Chambers is that he is a jack of all trades, yet master of none.

Danny Welbeck’s struggle to get into the starting lineup at Arsenal is very different. When Wenger made his “English core” remark, Welbz had just scored a brace for England against Slovenia. He was starting for Arsenal in his favored central role up front and things were looking good for the Englishman. But then he went down injured and Arsenal got Olivier Giroud back. Giroud has been playing well ever since and has kept Welbeck sidelined or shunted off to the wings where he’s less effective. Giroud has been in such fine form that I think most folks were surprised when Arsene handed the start to Danny Welbeck in the FA Cup quarter final against Man U. But Welbeck repaid Arsene for that chance and scored the winner with an industrious and well taken goal.

Welbeck, in many ways, symbolizes both the problem and the solution for these English players. The problem is that there is increased competition for places at Arsenal. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. Giroud may be in better form than Welbeck but what Welbeck needs to do is exactly what he did on Monday night against his former team: work his buns off and score goals. If he does that, there is no doubt that he will eventually win the starting spot from Giroud.

The other thing that Welbeck symbolizes is youth. Welbeck is 24, Giroud 28. If Welbeck takes a long-term view of his career, he will see that within 1-2 years he should be entering his prime, have more experience, and be starting regularly over Giroud. Now, I know that in our instant gratification society this seems an impossible ask but that is just the reality he is faced with.

Gibbs as well is facing rather stiff competition from Nacho Monreal. Monreal isn’t the most exciting player, he runs a bit like a duck, but Monreal is a model professional and a good example for his younger, English, counterpart, Gibbs. Monreal and Gibbs have essentially split the left back duties this season but Gibbs has youth on his side, Monreal is 29. If Gibbs just keeps plugging away and taking his chances when they come to him, he will surely get the starting role at Arsenal.

For some of the other English players, the story is a bit different. I’m talking specifically about Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Wenger bought Özil and Alexis for a combined £70m and both of those players bring an undeniable quality to the team and both of those players start in the role that Wilshere and Walcott fancy.

Let’s start with Walcott. All the signs were pointing to Walcott having a breakout season last year. And it was shaping up to be as well, but then he went down injured. It was yet another injury in a career which is marked by his time spent in the treatment room. That injury set his career back again and allowed for other players to come in and take his starting spot. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has better close control (dribbling) and similar speed. Ox also defends better than Walcott. And, as if that all wasn’t bad enough, Wenger bought Alexis this summer. Alexis does all those things better even than Ox and the only reason he hasn’t started much on the right is that Wenger prefers him on the left where he can cut in on his right foot.

But worse for Walcott is that Arsenal have adopted an all out pressing style. This doesn’t suit his game. He is young, and he could pick this habit up. In other words, he could learn to play more like Alexis. But until he does, I can’t see him getting many looks in.

The incredible thing is that Theo Walcott is only 25 years old and his next 4 years will probably be the best of his career (if he can avoid injury). I could see Arsenal selling him this summer because he doesn’t fit our style of play and have him go to some place like West Ham where they play the type of compact, long-ball that does suit him, and where he wouldn’t have to play the type of pressing game that he would at Arsenal³, and he could score 20 goals a season. That would leave many fans wondering “why didn’t Arsene get the best out of him” and “how come we didn’t adopt a playing style that suited him” or “why doesn’t Arsenal buy him back???”

See, this is the complicated thing about Wilshere and Walcott. It’s not always down to whether they are good players or not, they are both clearly good players. Most of the time, it’s actually down to whether the players fit your system or whether you can integrate their talents into your system. And like Walcott, I also worry about Wilshere.

Wilshere wears the number 10 and he is an exciting number 10 style English player. He is very direct, he likes to attack defenders square up, and he’s got great close control so he often gets by the defender. But the problem is that Arsenal have a veritable cornucopia of these types of players. Cazorla and Ozil both play ahead of Wilshere in the central attacking midfield role.

The other problem is that Jack hasn’t proved himself adaptable. He nominally plays a defensive midfield role for England but having watched him now for several years, he lacks the passing range and surety needed for a defensive midfielder. And despite his “tigerish” reputation, he is a terrible tackler, and doesn’t pay attention to his defensive duties at times, rather looking to start the attack.

I’d like to think that there is more to come from Wilshere. His career, like Walcott, has been cut short by injury². So, there is the hope that he will come back healthy and get a run of games. He’s also only 23 years old. Players get better at passing with age. If anyone can teach a player how to pass it’s Arsene Wenger and by the time Wilshere is 27 years old, I suspect he will be calmer and more reliable with his passing.

But even if he comes back healthy and even if he works tirelessly developing his game, he still faces stiff competition in a crowded midfield at Arsenal and might be tempted to take his game somewhere else.

Some of you will read what I’ve written and say that I’m worrying about an “implosion” of the English Core at Arsenal. Far from it. I see that the English core is being challenged and that the challenge is world class. Having players like Özil and Alexis on your team should make the others better, not worse.

What I’m suggesting then, is that this project is going to take a little more time than I think many fans (myself included) wanted or expected. I think a lot of people in England expect that a 20 year old player who has a few good games is going to be the next big name, but that’s not how this works. It takes time and hard work.

Chambers isn’t a bad player, he just needs to nail down where he wants to play. Gibbs isn’t a bad player, he just has an equal challenging him. Welbeck isn’t a bad player, he just needs to keep working hard and taking his chances when they are given to him. And Wilshere and Walcott face the most direct challenge and need to figure out where they fit at Arsenal, if they want to stay.

But all of these are young players, who have at least another World Cup in front of them. If they can rise to the challenge, Arsenal could still form the core of the English national team. Of a damn good English national team, I might add.


¹This isn’t meant to discount Chuba Akpom, Carl Jenkinson or other exciting academy players but rather at the time they weren’t really mentioned as part of an Arsenal core.
²It is absurd listening to Mourinho moan about how Hazard is kicked when Jack Wilshere has had his ankles routinely destroyed by every team on the planet for the last 4 years.
³Contrary to popular belief West Ham do not force their players to play much actual defense. They rely mainly on team shape to defend spaces and are less interested in tackling the ball away, intercepting, and other hallmarks of defensive play.