Enjoy the monthly column from Jonathan. Make sure to follow him @jblauphoto
It’s Monday, January 28th, (as I write this,) and Arsenal are the 6th best football club in England.
(I don’t want to hear that we’re still ahead of United on goal different. Shut your mouth.)
It’s a cold, sunny Monday here in the Rocky Mountains, and I’m trying to synopsize the last month for you, since I wrote my “what the fuck is Emery thinking?” column at the end of the year.
At this point, 8 months into his reign, I’d say that the jury is still out on Unai Emery, but doubts are beginning to creep into the global fan base.
(Will he ever stick with one line-up? Or formation? Does he have a grand plan?)
Personally, I was pretty surprised he didn’t run out the same lineup for the United FA Cup match that crushed Chelsea earlier in the week.
Surely, outside of changing the goal-keeper, I thought he would have to play the same team, given how well they handled Chelsea.
Three DM’s supporting 2 (finally) capable CBs, with Ramsey feeding Lacazette and Aubameyang.
I was sure he’d go back to the well.
But, of course, I was wrong.
You can understand why he put Iwobi into the team ahead of Guendouzi, and it’s not like it was a crazy idea. It’s just that almost anyone else would have said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But not Unai Emery, who seemingly loves to chop and change more than my 6 year old daughter playing with her squishies and Shopkins. (Don’t ask.)
Lots of media coverage has focused on Emery the tactical coach, or lately, Emery the failed motivator. On and on, we focus on his rebuild or his vision.
But during the last month, lots of ink was also spilled about the departure of Sven Mislintat, and the nasty power struggle that ended with his shanking out back behind the basketball court.
Surely, to the outside observer, it looks like Arsenal are in turmoil, as there is no firm system in place to replace the “Arsene decides” battle plan that was wheat-pasted up in the board room for the last 22 years.
The truth of the matter is, if you want to understand where we stand in the Premier League right now, you have to look to the Boston Red Sox.
Really, the Red Sox have all the answers.
I’ve noticed lately that Pete has begun to make comparisons to the American sports leagues, but normally he’s cutting and pasting from other articles.
I can tell you right off the top of my head what you need to know.
For a hundred years, the Red Sox were laughing stocks. They were a joke, as they suffered under the curse of Babe Ruth. Having sold the famed ballplayer to the Yankees, their rival, they watched the Yanks win all sorts of things, while their trophy cabinet collected dust like my daughter collects little plastic toys. (She’s got enough to choke a blue whale.)
Always, the Sox were chokers.
They couldn’t win.
But then, a hedge-fund type with partners rolling in Cosby-show-money bought the team, and they became very early adopters of the now-ubiquitous use of analytics.
Yes, that’s right.
Around the time Billy Beane was getting famous for Moneyball, the Sox ownership group, (Henry, Werner et al) went out and hired the man who invented the field, Bill James.
Apparently, he was the numbers geek of all geeks, as he sent out his own photocopied zine that made waves around the sports industry, back in the day.
They hired Bill James, and all of a sudden, began coveting players who drew walks, and got on base a lot. They went after fat guys, (like Kevin Youkilis,) and at first, there was little competition for the players they wanted.
And unlike the Oakland A’s, whose penny-pinching drove them to look for undervalued assets, the Red Sox were a big market team in a sports-crazed city, and they matched their numbers-crunching with some serious investments.
You might not have heard of Big Papi, or Jonny Damon, but the Red Sox players of the early century became Boston legends when they came from 3-0 down in the American League Championship, against the dreaded Yankees, and beat them, going on to win their first World Series in nearly a century.
But that wasn’t the end.
Continuing to invest and innovate, and leaning on their back-room nerds, the Red Sox have now won 3 more World Series.
(Making 4 championships this century for a club that went forever without winning.)
Even better, another of their hero-number-crunchers, Theo Epstein, went to the Chicago Cubs, an equally big loser, and after installing the same operating system, he won a World Series there as well.
So that’s 5 Championships for the analytics team put together by the (gulp) Liverpool owners.
It’s been enough years that I don’t remember when I saw it, but at some point after they bought Liverpool, I read an article about how the owners were investing in football analytics, and expected to be ahead of the curve, as the “right” numbers were not completely understood at the management level across global football.
So here we are, in 2019, and it’s all worked out for them.
Klopp is great, don’t get me wrong, but really, their success has come from finding the right players, mostly for affordable prices, and then making good decisions.
Yes, Van Dijk and Alison were super-expensive, but only because Liverpool got to the point where they were minting enough high-level assets to afford them.
Just think: Mané, Salah, Firmino, Coutinho, Winjaldum… Arsenal could have bought any of them.
(Mané was playing in the Premier League, for heaven’s sake, and had already roasted Arsenal at Southampton.)
But Arsenal, perhaps using the wrong type of analytic analysis, bought Xhaka, Mustafi, and some old guys.
And here we are, in 2019, with a team in need of a massive defensive rebuild, and seemingly requiring player sales of improved assets of fuel the new purchases.
Because unlike the Liverpool ownership group, Stan Kroenke is famous for not wanting to put one of his own dollars into running the club.
So where does that leave us?
Most of you guys probably read this blog each day, and know that Pete has taken on this subject rather often, whether we’ll be a development/analytics club going forward, or a “let me pull out my Rolodex” kind of club, with Raul running the show.
At this point, unlike the last few years, the Kroenkes are finally experiencing genuine success in LA and Denver. (The Washington Post even did a cover story on Stan’s big stadium play in Inglewood.)
The mustache-dude is not averse to spending money in all cases, apparently. And now, he’s getting some serious visuals on how brand-building and winning turn into hard currency.
So that’s where we are now.
I’m hoping that Arsenal will see the writing on the wall, invest in scouting and asset building, and buckle down to work our way back up into the Top 4, and then hopefully into genuine contention by the time Klopp and Pep leave in 2-4 seasons.
There is a blue print out there for us, if we follow it.
Unfortunately, given the resurgence of Man U, and the unlimited funds available at City, plus Abramovich’s addiction to winning, the future does not look rosy.
Not now, at the end of January, 2019.
But, as usual, we’ll know more in May.
Remember, follow him @jblauphoto