A speedy round-up today because not every single post can be 1200 words you total transfer fiends.
There are a few rumours taking my fancy. The main one being Marcel Sabitzer for £15m. What a steal that would be. I think he’d be a nice replacement for Granit Xhaka. He’s more productive in the final third, he’s great at interceptions, and he can do all the long ball progressions and switches that the Swiss offers us. He’s 27 years old, but look, we need to have some experience and at that fee, does it really matter?
Well good morning my darlings, what is coming home? FOOTBALL CHAPS BUT IT MIGHT BE HELD UP AT THE BORDER DUE TO COVID RESTRICTIONS.
What a game, absolutely thrilled to see Southgate massacre the demons of 1996, and chuffed to see Bukayo Saka take part in a high-pressure game, with fans, and do really, really well.
The atmosphere looked absolutely electric, I can feel the UK hangover from here this morning, so good to watch an England side compete like they’re one of the better teams in world football. What a generation of talent we have in our hands.
Answer without thinking: Do Arsenal need a new striker?
At the end of their incredible FA Cup run, the answer was, “Of course not.” But following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s at-times anemic campaign, Alexandre Lacazette’s emergence as some fans’ preferred centre-forward, and the numerous rumours linking the Gunners to exciting, young attacking talent, the question is not as easily dismissed.
Arsenal’s strikers in 2020-2021: What went wrong, and what worked?
To really get to the bottom of the question, we first need to figure out what happened to PEA this past season. Fans rued his missed chances, complete lack of involvement in some games, and at times, complete lack of enthusiasm. In 2020, we talked about how to play Auba together with Laca. By the end of 2021, many were talking about playing Laca instead.
By the numbers: I assembled 16 key data points measuring striker performance to get an idea of where Aubameyang’s season ranked, statistically speaking. He ranked in the 51st percentile across those categories, performing best in non-penalty expected goals (81st percentile) and his ball control (97th in mispossessions/game and 98th in dispossessions/game). But Auba was among the poorest dribblers playing forwards this season, ranking in the 10th percentile. He also made few key passes (31st percentile) and created very few shots for his teammates (20th percentile).
But what of the missed chances? Auba was just below average in shots on target percentage (47th percentile). He ranked in just the 32nd percentile in goals minus expected goals, basically the measure of how many goals you scored versus how many you mathematically should have scored. Doing poorly in these areas paints a very clear picture of someone who quite simply missed the target too often. Given his weakness as a passer and ball progressor, those missed chances were glaring.
Alexandre Lacazette did better than Auba in most areas, and he was rewarded with more playing time. He ranked in the 70th percentile across the 16 categories I studied, and you could certainly do worse from a pure tactical perspective than giving Laca another year, if he could keep up the play that helped him top the table in shots on target % (98th percentile) and goals per shot (91st). He was either incredibly lucky or incredibly good at shooting this year.
How about Eddie Nketiah, everyone’s favorite tap-in artist? He ranked in the 97th percentile in npxG in his short time on the pitch, and performed well in dribbles completed (84th), but otherwise performed poorly as a finisher. In fact, he ranked in the second percentile in goals minus xG, meaning he was either a truly ineffective finisher when he did play, or he had historically bad luck.
Arsenal links: What to make of them?
Strikers are hard to study because they’re all so different. You don’t just sign a striker who can dribble, shoot, win aerial duels and pass: You build a statue of him. So where do Arsenal’s credibly-linked targets excel? Let’s take a look, one by one.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin paints the least appetizing all-around image, ranking in just the 45th percentile among my chosen categories. DCL miscontrolled the ball 3.5 times per game this past season, ranking in the eighth percentile among strikers. He made less than half a key pass per game, putting him in the fifth percentile. Where he succeeded was getting his shots on target (97th percentile), and winning aerials (85th). Perhaps someone who can stay close to goal and finish crosses? He did score 16 goals in the EPL last season, but only three of them came against big-six clubs. At first blush, it’s hard to see him as a 50-million-pound acquisition in a summer with bigger priorities.
Alexander Isak, everybody’s favorite striker target, especially after the Euros, was next-lowest overall, in the 52nd percentile. He didn’t display particular skill as a passer for Sociedad, ranking in just the 14th percentile for key passes and 20th percentile in goal-creating actions. But he showed above-average ability to dribble (69th) and ranked in the 66th percentile in carrying distance. He’s a little stronger in aerial battles than Auba and Laca. He ranked highly in npxG (86th) and his shots were on target often (83rd percentile), but he did rank a pretty average 54th percentile in goals minus xG. There are two ways to view that: Either he could improve as a finisher, or he scored 17 goals without the benefit of luck. I tend to look at the combination of factors as a positive. The biggest hurdle in my mind is his price tag, reportedly a 60-million-Euro release clause.
Andre Silva is interesting. Data loves him, particularly non-penalty xG, where he ranked in the 96th percentile, a.k.a. the Nketiah zone. He was in the 89th percentile in shots on target %. He was in the 78th percentile in goals minus xG, meaning either he finished awfully well, or was lucky. He’s a bit more on the average side as a passer (51st percentile), which you can probably forgive if he finishes that well. The only other areas he dipped in were frequency being offsides (15th percentile), dribbles (43rd) and progressive carrying distance (54th), so he may not advance the ball on his own as much as an Isak. But again, do you care if he can keep up that finishing? For 40 million, he could really work out.
Gabriel Jesus just … feels … like the most unrealistic of the credible links, but data loves him as well. He exceeds as a dribbler (91st percentile) and carrier (81st). He’s more of a creator, with expected assists (88th percentile), SCA (85th) and GCA (81st) ranks near the top, all of which makes sense for a solid false nine. Of course, his shooting is weak. He was dismal on shots on target % (13th percentile) and slightly below average in goals minus xG (45th). I don’t know if a false nine would be the way to go, considering how it worked out when Arteta occasionally did employ one last campaign.
Of the credible links, the all-around highest score belonged to Joaquin Correa. The Lazio man also profiles as more of a false nine or second striker than a finisher up top, with carrying (94th percentile), dribbling (80th) and key passes (76th) ranks that are matched by few in this analysis. When I honed in on finishing, Correa was less impressive. His goals minus xG outranked Auba but were still a little below average, in the 46th percentile. His goals per shot were in the 47th percentile. Combining these two stats with his 11 goals scored last year and his 81st percentile rank in shots on target percentage points to a player who may just not be an especially strong finisher. It would be hard to see his fit in the current Arsenal squad without a more ruthless striker to play with him, or a big bounceback from Aubameyang.
Other strikers: Who could be worth a shot?
The good news for Arsenal is that there are plenty of promising strikers with interesting profiles who could be worth a 25-to-30-million-Euro gamble. Here are a few who stand out.
Sasa Kalajzdic, Stuttgart’s towering Serb, has drawn comparisons to Peter Crouch for obvious reasons. Since he’s 6’6”, he’s a natural target man, and has good passing ability, ranking in the 64th percentile for expected assists and 73rd for goal-creating actions. Another thing to like about the 23-year-old: His goals/shot ranked 91st percentile this year, while his goals minus xG ranked 98th percentile. Given he scored 16 goals in 33 Bundesliga appearances at Stuttgart this season, I’m inclined to believe those stats indicate more strong finishing than good luck. And of course, because he’s tall, Kalajzdic was an elite striker in the air (98th percentile in aerials won). There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal could use an aerial threat, so I wonder if he’d be worth the 25 million Stuttgart reportedly want for him.
Another all-around bright spot was Rafael Leao. Milan’s 22-year-old scored only seven goals in 37 appearances this past season, but separates himself from the crowd as a ball carrier. His progressive carrying distance ranked in the 96th percentile among forwards, while his dribbling ranked 82nd. He excels on the ball, ranking 84th percentile in dispossessions and 82nd percentile in key passes. His lack of goals was his biggest weakness this past season, and perhaps that’s due to an average display as a finisher, with a 54th percentile rank in shots on target %, 55th in goals per shot and 66th in goals minus xG. Leao reportedly wants out of Milan and could be had for between 30 and 40 million Euros, a potential bargain if he can improve as a finisher.
I always like to make at least one random suggestion, so here’s mine at striker: Breel Embolo. The 24-year-old Swiss international produced only six goals for Borussia Monchengladbach this season, which would make him a tough sell for some fans. But he’s played well at the Euros. And the data shows a few interesting points. His npxG (85th percentile), SCA (70th percentile) and GCA (88th) profile a player who makes an excessively positive contribution to the attack. But his finishing data show that he didn’t score the goals he should have. He ranked in the eighth percentile in goals minus xG, which signals either atrocious finishing or a lot of bad luck. His goals/shot was in the 38th percentile as well. But he did rank among the elite at dribbles completed (95th percentile) and drew more fouls than just about anyone (99th). Put it all together, and there may just be something there for a striker who could be a 20-million-Euro bargain.
The Xhaka move is edging along at a snail’s pace. The latest from Italy is the deal will be announced at the end of the Euros. Fantastic if it happens, whatever the price.
Arsenal has nearly reached a deal with Mavropanos for a loan to perm move that could total £5m. Now, I understand that Europe is broke, but I cannot fathom why we can’t land more money than that for a player that is young, starting games in a good German side, who one of the best scouts in the world really rates. The only thing I can imagine here is the sell-on clause is something disgusting?
Let’s be honest, there’s a way to go before Arsenal are in Liverpool’s league for selling on duffers for mega-money.
Quite stunning to read some of the pitiful reaction of the fanbase to the potential signing a player for big money yesterday. The fear should be ‘we just had a brutal pandemic, we’ll have no money’, instead, it’s clear we now have cash and the panic is ‘ooof, this feels rich.’
We need to pick ourselves up. We’re behaving like mistreated dogs. We have ‘bad summer’ PTransferSD after some horrendous letdowns over the last decade. YES, I remember Wenger’s big surprise signing being Silvestre, but it’s time to get over it.
Arsenal fans need to trust again. Let yourself be free. Live, laugh… love the rumor-mill again.
Here’s a piece on Ben White. It’s interactive, so you need to watch this entire video before you jump in.
This is the summer of positivity and I’m not going to allow the bad noises in.
We’ve landed a number of potentially exciting things in Ben White, IF, IF, IF, it happens.
Firstly, pace and athletic profile.
This kid can move at speed, something that is essential if we want to play a high line, something that massively important for a team that is prone to ‘WE NEED RECOVERY PACE’ fuck ups. Bringing a player in that can hold their own against pacey forwards, but also use that movement to break lines with good dribbling is going to be a big bonus for us next season. I think we were already pretty robust against counters, but he’ll add more security.
This player is sharp. When Pep G won the league first time with Arteta, I think they recorded the least tackles in the league. Quite something. It felt counterintuitive. Arsenal is building a system where controlling the space is going to be absolutely key to our defensive work. City and Liverpool set up so if you even slightly misplace a pass, their players are there to nick the ball and break at pace. Orbinho on Twitter had a great stat that showed Arsenal ranked 16th for interceptions last season and Ben White ranked 5th in the entire league. This is a player that reads the game well in a positional-based system. Also one that is capable of applying fast pressures. This move feels like the analysts have identified a weakness and found someone that can solve for it.
I love reading the conspiracy theories about what players can possibly do in the Arsenal system. Wenger was the master. He’d bring in a DM and play them at right-back, or turn a winger into a world-class striker. Ben White played 7 games as a DM last season. When he was at Leeds the season he won the Championship, he played 4 games there and was also regularly deployed in that role in their training sessions.
Arsenal fans have had fantasies of a centre-back that push up into midfield since the days of Vermaelen. Manchester City have players that can play both roles. I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to imagine that part of the appeal with White is that he has that ability to offer additional cover. Notable he can also fill in at right-back, so if push came to shove, he could offer inverted cover at some point, though I imagine he’s mainly going to be used as a center-back.
I would imagine a big push on why he’s so appealing comes from the different environments he’s played in. He slipped into the Leeds central defence during their title push and rocked an astonishing 46 games. That proves that he is robust, mentally capable of playing for one of the most demanding managers in the game, and more than capable of playing a highly intensive game if there’s a need. Leeds was so keen on him, they bid three times for him, the final one topping out at £25m.
He then shifted into Graham Potters team, slinked beneath the radar and landed an England call-up. This line from a Brighton journo was interesting.
He has been a consistent presence who has barely put a foot wrong whilst playing more Premier League minutes than any other Brighton player.
His ability to cover multiple positions has proven to be extremely useful and ultimately, he has ended up becoming only the second Albion player ever to go to an international tournament with England after Steve Foster.
Who was our best defender last season? David Luiz. Could you say that he didn’t put a foot wrong? Absolutely not. I’ve seen people say that we need Ben White to come in and blow-up like peak-Cannavaro to represent value. I’d maybe disagree there. We need Ben White to come in and ‘not put a foot wrong’ for a season. We don’t need spectacular, we need someone that can be trusted to stay focused, move the ball at speed with confidence, and not make massive game-changing errors every 5 games.
It’s a huge ask. The pressure will be different. But if you can play for 16th place Brighton and get ‘not a foot wrong’ reviews from fans, that’s a positive.
Center-backs are important
I honestly cannot believe how many fans think that the defensive situation last season was ok (despite the solid numbers)… and worse, how many people come into the comments section here complaining that ball-playing center-backs aren’t a key part of the system we’re trying to play.
You have to look to City if you want to understand the foundations of the vision Arteta is trying to bring to Arsenal. City signed Ruben Dias last season, a centre-back who was player of the year.
This is a write-up about what he offers to City.
Dias is equally important for both the defensive actions and the build-up play. While he shows great composure and anticipation skills in defence, he also shows confidence on the ball and strong work under pressure.
He reads the game well and shows intelligence in his movement and actions. His awareness often allows him to win the ball through his positioning and anticipation skills and his smart pressing movement is often beneficial for the team.
He doesn’t dive into many ground challenges and his concentration helps him to avoid committing fouls. While he doesn’t often dive into risky duels, he does use his physical strength to recover the ball and gain back possession which he could then use to start the team’s offensive movement. As the manager mentioned, he always looks out for his centre-defence partner and supports his actions. He was most frequently paired with John Stones who also saw a huge improvement in his form, partly thanks to the leading figure that Dias is.
What he lacks defensively is a distinguished aerial presence. He is rather successful in the air but simply doesn’t contribute with many efforts which is unlikely for a centre-back. He also sometimes has difficulties defending in transitions against pacey players but does compensate with the right timing of his interventions in the defensive third.
While he is an important part of the defensive set-up, his biggest contribution is to the build-up play and retaining possession. Dias is confident on the ball and helps in circulating the ball at the back and his solid work under pressure is very beneficial against teams that employ a high press.
His passing abilities and spatial awareness are crucial in building up from the back where he often has to find the holding midfielder or the wide players in aim to progress the ball.
Now, I’m not saying we just signed Ruben Dias, but you can draw some pretty clear parallels between our needs and what City wanted. You can also see parallels between the strengths. Ben White is more about space, he’s not aerially dominant, and he’s appealing because he has midfielder levels of passing which will be massive to our often-flawed and sluggish build-up play.
If our centre-backs aren’t supremely confident with the ball, like David Luiz was, then the whole system weakens. We become easy to defend against, there’s more chance of errors in the system, and our attackers have to feed off scraps or attempt to break down deep blocks because it takes us 4 hours to move the ball up the pitch.
Now, our system needs more than a Ben White. The most noticeable loss to our build-up play last season was Emi. We also need a better outlet on the right. But a centre-back that has done it in Potter and Bielsa systems is a pretty decent bet, even if the fee feels pricey.
Graham Potter also talks about the benefits of Ben White in his attacking system.
“You need balance in the team,”
“We’ve got wing-backs in Solly and Tariq whose strengths are more offensive than defensive, so you have got to give somewhere, especially when you are coming to the top teams. It depends on how you want to play, of course, how you want to attack, but Ben gives us a good foundation, a good balance.”
If we bring in a right-back that can do what Tierney does, then again, it makes sense we have someone like White to give protection.
Experience through the spine is needed
The William Saliba narrative is beyond boring at this point. If you take the emotion out of it, which many seem unable to, he’s a 20-year-old defender that has a massive career ahead of him. He’s quick, tall, and superb on the ball. No way he’s not going to develop into something special. There is literally no top manager at a big club in Europe that would take a chance on him in a pivotal season. No one. Not even Wenger dabbled in 20-year-old center-backs and he happily started a 15-year-old Cesc Fabregas. People keep citing Fofana, but neglect to pay attention to the output, which was Leicester conceding 20% more goals than they did the season prior to his inclusion. Will Fofana be an amazing centre-back? Yes. But in the short term, did he move Leicester forward? No. Arteta needs to mitigate risk next season, because one major personnel mistake puts him in the gutter.
The ideal scenario for Saliba would be to see him compete for places with the other centre-backs. But even then, if you took a rational view of the moment, what is better for Arsenal? A few games here and there… or some Premier League minutes in the legs so when he lands, we don’t have to go through the painful adaptation period we did with Partey/Gabriel. Premier League minutes mitigates the risk of Saliba costing us points. If we want top 4, that’s a good thing.
I’m not fussed either way. You don’t have the right to a first-team place because Raul Sanhelli splurged on you. You also cannot be #ArtetaOut because you think he’s a rookie, then seriously suggest that he roll a dice no other top manager would roll this season on an untested player in an absolutely pivotal position.
The player is also going to the Olympics, which isn’t ideal, but it could be a nice get out of jail card for the club. If he blows up there, like Serge Gnabry did before we lost him, then it could be a big statement that he’s ready to compete.
Complaining about the extent of our summer after one ‘it’s close’ rumour is so very boring.
Arsenal has money this summer.
There is a will to cycle out players.
There is a desire to bring in exciting names and move us forward with a leap versus a bump.
If we have enough money to go after Ben White for £50m, take that as a positive, because it means there’s a large pot of cash they are working with.
Transfer window isn’t even a month old and it’s already dragging.
Where are my players?
Where are the sales?
Why are we still arguing about William Saliba?
Non-Arsenal news is that away goals are going to be abolished next season. We’re back to extra time and penalties, which certainly makes things a little more exciting… but it’s still quite an excessive way to settle a game in an industry that brutalises the bodies of the players. I don’t have a better solution though, unless they were thinking of bringing back MLS penalties from the 90s?