Here we are people, welcome to Friday. It’s been a fun week.
There’s not a lot of news doing the rounds. David Ornstein set tongues wagging when he suggested Arsenal might not have the funds to finance a Maddison deal. Honestly, that sounds about right… Arsenal dropping £70m on a creative midfielder felt a little bit wild to me. If we went to £35-40m for Buendia, that seems closer to the number you would expect. That said, odd that there are so many strong stories that the player wants Arsenal. Surely Edu wouldn’t harass a player without knowing the costs?
There’s a lot of general angst in system about how we’re spending money we haven’t spent.
The best news of the summer dropped on the .com, with Arsenal making Emile Smith Rowe their brand new #10.
This is huge.
The player is a pure manifestation of everything we want out of a young player at Arsenal.
He’s extremely talented.
His attitude is exceptional.
He has an outrageous athletic profile.
He’s a Gooner through and through.
This is a massive win for Edu, who despite his obvious flaws, has made it his mission to stop the flow of young talent exiting the club.
This is also a massive win for Mikel Arteta. There’e a vocal section of the fanbase that keeps telling us he’s bland, a dictator, and bad for young players… yet here we are, another of Hale-Ends finest, putting pen to paper on a long-term deal.
You can say that’s money, but it’s not. Hungry players give a shit about one thing and one thing only… career development. They see a future at Arsenal and you have to be pleased about that.
The other massive win is the new vision for Arsenal. Clearly, we’re ageing down the squad, finally accepting smartest way to the top is to do things properly.
Build a young squad, coach them well, make sure when they hit the Champions League, they are ready to compete for the trophy.
This model is already reaping rewards. Tavares said he wanted to play with The Smith and Saka. Sambi Lokonga had offers from elsewhere in Europe and he chose Arsenal. We are now and attractive option for a younger generation of kids who see London, great training facilities, elite stadium… and the chance to make their mark in the best league.
I’m thrilled about this. Nearly all the young players we wanted to stay are committing their longterm futures to Arsenal. Saka, Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe, Balogun, Kido Hart, Okowono… what a summer!
Now Edu and his team have to get to work to fill out the rest of the squad.
We still need a Xhaka replacement.
We are in desperate need of additional creativity in midfield.
We don’t have an acceptable right back.
The back-up keeper needs are getting desperate.
There are still 15 centre backs in the squad.
Plenty of work to do, but the summer is starting to feel a little bit sexier, and the mood is starting to lift.
Let’s see what the week ahead has for us.
Emile Smith Rowe, number 10, how very, very exciting.
Mad times at Hotel Rumour Mill. We are being linked with MANY players and some of those rumours refuse to go away. One thing is clear, we have profiles we’re targetting, with many options that are moving targets. That’s great news, years gone by, there was one target and then we were done.
First big one, Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal #2 for… £30m.
I can’t really suss it out. That sort of cash seems extremely rich when we have a very, very competent #1 in Bernd Leno. The young keeper clearly has talent, he’s capped for England, but he doesn’t boast any outrageous qualities we couldn’t pick up elsewhere for less outside youth and Englishness. When a player like Onana is moving to Marseille for sub £10m, you really have to wonder what is going on here.
So here we are people. Sambi Lokonga lands at Arsenal as our second signing of the summer. The Belgian midfielder has already joined up with training and he looks VERY happy to be here. Just look at that finger point… so assertive.
Obviously, there aren’t many of us who know what he’s all about. This player has come straight from the transfer school of Wenger when he was at his absolute peak. Sambi has the right athletic profile compared to someone like Ceballos, he’s adept at interceptions because of his sharp mind, and he looks to have the full range of passing skills Thomas Partey boasts.
This sort of signing might not bang in year one, but for me, this is exactly where a club like Arsenal should be putting their money. Clearly, he’s been picked up by the analysts for his unique talents. The club has no doubt picked up secondary information from Vincent Kompany and maybe even Thierry, which means his character has been assessed. Then we’ve moved fairly rapidly to pull the deal over the line.
Arsenal has spent the last 5 years trying to shortcut success with older players that might have one last push in them. This summer, it looks like we’re getting back to basics of sorts by signing young players, with high ceilings, that can grow with a young coach famed for his developmental skills.
The idea here, I would imagine, is if this squad of young players gets us into the Champions League at some point, they’ll be ready to compete for the trophy right away… versus the shortcut method of fumbling into the competition, then having to drop a massive reboot to sustain ourselves.
I’m thrilled at the prospect of having athletes back in midfield, I truly am. This is a great signing and it speaks to lessons learned.
That said, I still think there’s going to be a sneak attack from transfer windows of the past at some point. James Maddison might be the dream, but it’ll be very tough to find the funds needed to move on him. It’d be sheer madness… and I think there are rumblings that Coutinho might be on the radar. He’ll be available for a pittance because Barca is broke, he’d solve an experience gap with have with our creative talents, the kids would probably love him there, and he’s Premier League proven.
On the flip-side, his injury record is absolutely woeful, this also makes him a peak-Wenger signing. Remember when he got lucky with Overmars knee, then developed a broken player saviour complex? I do. Edu is probably gambling on last season being the freak and looking to his fairly robust past before then. It’s risky business, but if you can get Coutinho firing, you really do have a player that can do it all creatively. Nooooot quite sure he’s going ramp up the intensity for you though.
Arteta is also seeking out leadership.
‘We need some senior players, players with different types of leadership in the team, with different qualities, people that complement each other.’
I’m not sure if Ben White is a leader or has the level of experience we are looking for, so who knows what we’re looking for here, or in what position. One would expect that it’ll likely come from whoever replaced Granit Xhaka, but I’m not sure that’s Neves?
We’ll see, it’s all rumours at the moment, but I tell you what, we’d be rude not to knock on the door at Barca and see if they have any jewels that we could bring to the carpet. Sergiño Dest anyone? 19 years old, a right-back, played 41 times for them last season? I mean… come on, let’s ask and see what they think.
In absolutely awful news, exArsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has been diagnosed with throat cancer. Everyone here wishes him the best and prays for a speedy recovery. Judging by his quotes, that got it early, and clearly, he’s going land elite levels of medical support. Cancer, what a fucking awful, awful thing.
Right, I’ll be on the Twitch Stream chatting all things Arsenal at 6pm GMT. Tune in or… don’t, but maybe do?
Buckle up people, Adam Rae Voge (@AdamVoge) is back with a bang.
If you follow Arsenal with any degree of closeness, you’ve heard the talking point by now:
“After Boxing Day, when Arsenal pulled off its infamous 3-1 upset of Chelsea, the club played top-four football.”
Boxing Day brought the season debut of Emile Smith-Rowe, who quickly endeared himself to supporters and the manager alike becoming a permanent fixture in the starting 11.
The basic statistics make the club’s improvement after Boxing Day easy to see. Arsenal recorded 14 points in its first 14 matches, a pace that over a full season gives you Burnley, 17th place, and relegation fodder. In the 24 matches including and after Smith Rowe’s introduction, Arsenal minted nearly two points per match, which over a season gives you Manchester United, 2nd place and Champions League glory. The club scored 12 goals in the first 14 matches, and 43 (1.79 per game) after. Arsenal conceded 18 goals in those first 14 outings, and only 21 in the 24 matches to follow.
All that considered, you’d expect it to be apparent from match-by-match statistics just how much Arsenal improved once it made the change. Having spent a few weeks wandering that forest, I’m here to tell you it’s not so simple.
Some of the more basic statistics show marked improvement after Boxing Day, even if it’s not earth-shattering. Arsenal averaged about a shot on target better in its final 24 matches, about half an expected goal scored, and completed about two percent more of its passes. The club won about two more tackles and successfully pressured the ball six times more each match.
Some key statistics actually got worse after ESR’s introduction, such as shooting percentage, ball recoveries, and progressive passes per 90 minutes.
In what proved to be some of their most substantial areas of improvement, the Gunners committed around four additional shot-creating actions per match after Boxing Day, and nearly two goals creating-actions. That’s significant – two GCA/90 is also roughly the difference between United and Burnley.
But does any of that make the club almost literally twice as good, in terms of results? It’s hard to say. What’s even harder to say is whether some of those improvements could actually be tied to Smith Rowe, who ranked fourth at the club in GCA/90 and sixth in SCA, behind the likes of Willian and Dani Ceballos.
Smith Rowe is not a statistical darling. He doesn’t score a ton of goals, and his key passes are in the slightly-above-average range among Premier Leaguers. He’s not a Xhaka-level progressive passer, statistically speaking, and he didn’t have eye-popping pressing numbers like some attacking midfielders. (Giovanni Lo Celso pressures the ball about twice as often as Smith Rowe, and with a significantly higher rate of success.)
So where does Smith Rowe, Aston Villa’s dream target, really make his mark on this club? It’s all about the buildup play, and improving the play of Arsenal’s key attackers. And after searching at length, I finally found the data to back it up.
Emile Smith Rowe contributed to Arsenal about 0.59 xgChain every 90 minutes after being introduced, according to Understat. If you’re unfamiliar, xgChain is the cumulative value of every possession a player is involved in. So basically, possessions involving ESR were worth 0.59 goals per 90 minutes.
That rank puts Smith Rowe 49th among midfielders and forwards in the Premier League with at least 1,000 minutes played last season, and third among Arsenal players after Saka and Lacazette.
Another key metric from Understat, xgBuildup, puts Smith Rowe 29th in the Premier League, with 0.35 xgBuildup per 90 minutes. xgBuildup is similar to xgChain, but it doesn’t count your key passes or shots. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen in football to what’s commonly referred to as a “hockey assist.”
Smith Rowe’s xgBuildup was third among Arsenal players with more than 1,000 minutes (Martin Odegaard scored a 0.42 xgBuildup/90 in just over 800 minutes.) Again, that may not blow anyone out of the water, but the combination of the two is interesting. At left, you can see the two charted against each other. Smith Rowe’s plot is among Arsenal’s best, showing his quality contributing directly to goal-scoring opportunities as well as contributing to the build-up play that leads to those opportunities.
Even more interesting, though, is the statistical change in Arsenal’s other leaders once ESR took the pitch. [I know what you are thinking on the graph, grow up]
Statistically, it’s hard to find an Arsenal outfield player who looked to benefit more from Smith Rowe’s introduction than Bukayo Saka. The ⭐Starboy⭐ recorded half a key pass more per 90 minutes after Boxing Day, a.k.a. the difference between Allan Saint-Maximin and Son Heung-Min. His xgBuildup rose from 0.25 (on par with Sander Berge) to 0.37 (Christian Pulisic). And his xgChain rose from 0.49 to 0.72, a difference comparable to going from Granit Xhaka to Jack Grealish.
Four of Saka’s five goals came after Boxing Day, as did all three of his assists.
Another player whose numbers grew significantly was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Pre-Boxing Day, Auba was in the midst of a major slump. Auba had four goal involvements in the first 13 matches of the season, and his buildup numbers weren’t any better. Auba was putting up 1 key pass, 0.35 xgChain and 0.1 xgBuildup per 90 minutes. Perspective: Jarrod Bowen averaged 1 key pass, Daniel Podence has the same xgChain rank and that xgBuildup over a full season would put Auba in the bottom 20 percent among attackers and midfielders in the Premier League.
After Boxing Day? It was a different story. Auba’s numbers shot up, to 0.84 xgChain (comparable to Mo Salah) and 0.22 xgBuildup, still an unremarkable but vastly improved number. Nine of Auba’s 13 goal involvements came after Boxing Day.
Other Arsenal regulars such as Alexandre Lacazette, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney improved their play after Boxing Day, but one who stands out as one worth mentioning is the club’s 72-million-pound man, Nicolas Pepe.
Pepe had scored two goals headed into Boxing Day, one from a penalty. His passing was dismal, with 0.31 key passes per 90 minutes, a rate more suited to West Brom’s attack than Arsenal’s. And he was doing next to nothing to create goalscoring opportunities for his teammates, with 0.14 xgChain/90 and 0.06 xgBuildup/90 (again, both comparable to West Brom’s attacking output).
Pepe didn’t start on Boxing Day, but his performance improvement after that point was perhaps the club’s most significant.
Pepe after that day was a different player:
His key passes/90 rose to 0.7, still a low number but a statistical moonshot from his earlier performance.
His xgChain rose to 0.56, roughly the statistical equivalent of replacing Karlan Grant with 2020-2021 Paul Pogba.
His xgBuildup remained low at 0.27, but again was a vast statistical improvement, putting him in the company of Marcus Rashford and Gabriel Jesus, rather than Rhian Brewster or Willian Jose.
That’s right, even Nicolas Pepe did more to help in the build-up! It’s also worth noting that eight of his 10 Premier League goals and his lone assist came after Boxing Day.
So there you have it: Arsenal’s build-up play improved significantly starting on Boxing Day, and its stars performed substantially better. Of course, it is impossible to say precisely how much of that was as a direct result of Emile Smith Rowe’s introduction. Tactics will not have remained exactly the same, and the Chelsea match happened shortly after the switch to the 4-2-3-1. Martin Odegaard’s introduction was also some help. But no matter which way you slice it, ESR’s first start of the season was a major turning point for Arsenal, and likely helped cement him as a starting 11 fixture for the foreseeable future (sorry, Villa!)
Give Adam a follow @AdamVoge and thank him for this immense piece of work. Sambi Lokonga just did! #WelcomeSambi
Podcast records tomorrow, we’ll be live streaming, so put some time aside in the evening to come say hi. 7pm GMT. (TWITCH HOME IS HERE)
Preseason moved into game two yesterday against Rangers. Mikel Arteta went back to the club that gave him his first British experience, even though it was against the backdrop of the smallest crowd he’s probably ever played there.
The game was so, so.
The players looked fitter and sharper. We controlled the 90 much better. We also created a lot of chances. 19 attempts with 9 shots on target is far closer to what most of us were hoping for against teams in a weaker league.
I mean, every single time I complain about slow biz, Arsenal deal that day. No sooner had I let rip that our summer was going down the pan because Captain Edu was busy sailing on the Don Shouldwebedoingthis… we signed a player. Well, kind of.
David Ornstein revealed that the Ben White deal has clocked in at £50m, making the right-sided centre back our 3rd most expensive signing in history. For a club that took made players bring packed lunches last season to save money, this is quite the statement.