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When Arsenal takes the field at Newcastle this Sunday, there will be millions of fans worldwide optimistic that the upcoming season will be better than last year’s, that our club will be back in top-4, a goal that many big bloggers, tweeters and podcasters once disparaged.
Part of this optimism is based on the club’s almost frenetic activity during the transfer window. Approximately £130 million was spent, the second highest among all PL clubs. Mainstream media have had numerous articles supplemented by graphics demonstrating how Arsenal came second in the transfer sweepstakes, next to United.
Transfer addicts within the fanbase have been giddy at the activity by the executive for football operations, Raul Sanllehi. Some on twitter have gone far as to call him “Don Raul”, for ruthlessly buying and selling players, unlike the caution displayed by his predecessors. According to the Daily Mail:
“…new Head of Football Raul Sanllehi has quickly made himself a cult hero with the fans, masterminding a number of brilliant deals over a summer that has by far and away exceeded expectations.”
But did Arsenal really become better after the transfer window?
Unlike the majority of conventional analysts and transfer addicts, to me it is useful to first analyze who we lost from the 1st team and rate whether it was a Positive, Negative or Neutral for the club.
- Alex Iwobi, Left Winger: 23 yo and lifelong at the club from a junior educated in the Arsenal-way. Three years with the 1st team with 129 appearances demonstrating increased goals and assists with every passing year. His shots per game and passing percentage declined last year as under the new manager he was asked to play wider than in the past. Nonetheless WhoScored identified his strengths as his passing and passing percentage. Verdict – Negative.
- Aaron Ramsey: Central Midfielder. Another 9-year veteran but one at the peak of his physical and footballing prowess. An Arsenal career with 55 goals with 55 assists, 1.8 Shots per game and 85.6% passing rate. WhoScored rated him a 7.02 player over his career identifying his Strength as making key passes, long shots, passing and his defensive contribution. While rated as being Weak in aerials, crossing and tacklingdefensively, Arsenal will solely miss Ramsey’s attacking qualities as well an an intangible attribute; his never say die attitude. Apart from his numbers there is an intangible which was is seen as Weak in finishing, aerial duels, crossing and tackling. Verdict – Negative.
- Laurent Koscielny: Centre-Back. 9 year veteran with a career average 7.22 rating by WhoScored. Experienced, competent but declining with age. Only 13 EPL games last season and with all his key defensive numbers down on his career average. Verdict – Positive.
- Carl Jenkinson: Right-Back. At 27 yo and having been dispatched on loan to 2 clubs during his seven years at Arsenal, Carl must have felt he was close to his last rodeo. Last year he had a grand total of 5 appearances in both Europa League and the League Cup competitions despite injuries to both the 1st and 2nd choice right backs . This was a clear demonstration of the manager’s lack of faith. WhoScored has rated him 6.57 career-wise, which suggests that being less than a 7 out of 10 player he was deemed not good enough. Verdict-Positive.
- Danny Welbeck: Centre-Forward. Absent almost all of last year due to injury. In his four (4) years at Arsenal was a useful second choice striker with 19 goals and 7 assists. WhoScored rated him for Long shots, Through balls, Holding on to the ball and Headed attempts. It is tempting to say good riddance to an injury-plagued player but when fit was always a useful option. Verdict – Neutral.
- Petr Cech: Goalkeeper. An ageing goalkeeper who lost his status as #1 early in the season and announced his retirement mid-year. Verdict – Positive
- Stephan Lichtsteiner: Right-Back. Performances declined as the year progressed due to the ravages of injuries and age. Verdict – Positive
- Denis Suárez: Central Midfielder. Brought in on loan during the winter. A player with inconsequential impact during his time with six substitute appearances totaling 95 minutes. One is tempted to say good riddance to bad rubbish. Verdict – Positive.
In summary Arsenal subtracted two key players from the squad which I rate as a big negative; Ramsey and Iwobi in that order of importance, one at his peak and the other at the beginning of his growth surge. Danny Welbeck is rated a neutral because he was a second choice striker with the club with a history of key goals and assists. But his career was blighted with injury and his impact was never as great as promised. The funny thing is all three were either Arsenal-reared or British players with great experience of the demands of the League, something foreign players have struggled to cope with especially during their first year. These are intangibles that matter when the going gets tough, especially in the winter months away from home, when and where Arsenal usually struggle.
Five other 1st team players were dispatched over the summer or during the window including Koscielny, Jenkinson, Cech, Lichsteiner and Dennis Suarez and I rate their departure as positives for the club. Given the resources already available internally only Koscielny is regarded as a substantial loss needing replacement.
- Nicholas Pépé: Signed for £72 million. Winger or Attacking Midfielder. 22 goals and 11 assists in Ligue Une last year. No PL experience. Nominally replaces Iwobi and Danny Welbeck, both of whom were PL experienced with the former steeped in the Arsenal-way as a product of the academy. For comparisons sake, in the recent ACoN, Pépé had 3 Appearances for 248 minutes; no Goals, no Assists vs Iwobi with 6 Appearances for 559 minutes; 1 Goal, no Assists. According to conventional wisdom and the huge transfer fee, Pépé has made Arsenal better. I beg to differ. this is a transfer that could be a roaring success or easily go tits up. Verdict: Neutral.
- William Saliba Signed for £28 million. Center-Back. At 18 yo, Arsenal doesn’t even pretend he can help the team this year. Signed and sent back on loan to St Etienne. Verdict: n/a.
- Kieran Tierney: Signed for £25 million. Left-Back. Nominally a replacement for Kolasinac who is being depicted as a failure in this role and, at best, faintly praised as a wing-back. Tierney is from the Scottish League which is generally recognized as comparable to the English 2nd tier (the Championship), some are less charitable, making comparisons to the 3rd tier (League One). Tierney is 22 yo and his record as a player is paltry. WhoScored.com does not maintain any stats from his local league appearances, noting only his Champions League and national team (2 matches) performances. Unlike the newspapers and transfer addicts, who treat him as the second coming of Roberto Carlos, Arsenal, from all appearances, has bought potential. I have no expectation he will immediately improve the squad but am open to surprises. Verdict: Neutral.
- David Luiz: Signed for £8 million. Centre-Back. A replacement for Laurent Koscielny. Finally a player with PL experience whose future performance is predictable. I am certainly no fan of the Brazilian but the statistics are very clear; Arsenal is getting a younger defender who last year was a far better tackler and passer than the ageing Frenchman. While Koscielny had half the appearances and scored more goals, in the defensive department Luiz is an upgrade. (For the record, during his entire career at Chelsea the Brazilian had one major honor, i.e. the 16/17 championship compared to Koscielny’s 3 FA Cups.) Verdict: Positive.
- Gabriel Martinelli: Signed for £6 million. Left Winger. Only 18 yo from an obscure club in the Sao Paulo U20 league in Brazil. Scour the internet and little information is available on either Martinelli or his old club. Absolutely no experience at a high level. He is clearly a project for the future or a vehicle for something else. Verdict: Neutral
- Dani Ceballos: Signed on loan. Central Midfielder. Nominally a replacement for Aaron Ramsey. This is a 23 yo at the beginning of his career who, prior to this, appeared only 13 times for Madrid (10 as substitute) scoring 3 goals. According to his WhoScored profile, unlike Ramsey he tends to sit in central midfield. He is profiled as Very Strong in his dribbling, Strong in holding on to the ball, tackling and defensive contribution but Weak in finishing, aerial duels and crossing. Ramsey on the other hand is profiled as Attacking Midfielder whose Strength is making key passes, long shots, passing and his defensive contribution. Ramsey is seen as Weak in finishing, aerial duels, crossing and tackling. In his 14 EPL appearances last year Ramsey had 4 goals and 6 assists. As he blossomed into a key player the Welshman was a guaranteed goal-scoring threat and assist-provider for Arsenal until he was allowed to leave on a free. Ceballos is clearly talented and ready for the next step upwards but unlike Ramsey, inexperienced and unproven at the top-top level. Verdict: Neutral.
In summary, in terms of replacing the outgoings, I have identified one positive signing in the form of David Luiz. Despite my personal feelings towards him, objectively he is superior to Koscielny in several key metrics. I am however neutral on the five others based primarily on their lack of experience. The most critical among the new personnel are Pépé and Ceballos who, in my opinion, are replacements for Iwobi/Welbeck and Ramsey respectively. His price tag and, numbers in Ligue Une and YouTube videos are no substitute for PL experience. He will take time to bed in. Similarly I am neutral on Ceballos. Not only is he new to the PL but his track record is being a Central Midfielder not an Attacking Mid like Ramsey. Frankly there are very few people in Europen football with Ramsey’s qualities. The stats clearly suggests we should have low expectations of both Tierny and Martinelli.
Negatives versus the positives
There are 2 big negatives on the subtraction side and one clear positive in the addition column; losing Ramsey and Iwobi while gaining Luiz. Some may see Pépé as a positive but am neutral. Losing Cech, Lichsteiner, Jenkinson and Suarez may be positives but am not convinced we can expect Martinelli or Tierney to make a big difference this season. I conclude the squad is either about the same, if not slightly worse.
I don’t expect this analysis to go down very well with the majority of Arsenal fans. We have been subject to years of propaganda by mainstream media and by our biggest bloggers/podcasters that transfers are the primary way to make our club better. Bu the evidence suggests a club of Arsenal’s financial standing cannot rely on transfers.
If you are Man City, and prior to that Chelsea, with endless millions to buy the best players and the best coaches, then a dependence on transfers will succeed. But United in recent years has proven buying big is no recipe to success. Liverpool and Spurs have pissed away millions on transfers in this millennium and don’t have a single title between them. Their recent success was built on hiring very good coaches who have imposed a certain playing style and year-by-year maximized the talent of the players available to them. Yes, they have made acquisitions but by and large their teams are now stabilized. So much so that last year Pochettino made not one single transfer and this year Klopp is doing the same. As a Gooner I regret to say, both are likely to do better in the League than Arsenal; at least the pundits and “experts” share that opinion as well.
Arsenal on the contrary is still in relative turmoil and uncertainty. Arsene Wenger commenced major squad rebuilding in 2016-17 which was incomplete at the time he and the club decided to part ways. Since Emery was appointed, he acquired six new players last year and another six after this recent window. Both Ferguson and Wenger, the most successful managers of the last 25 years, warned that it is difficult to integrate more than 2-3 new players into a squad at any time. These were both managers with successful teams that played a certain recognizable style. Unlike them, Emery does not have a settled squad nor a settled system. Am afraid the new transfers do not have the foundation necessary to be immediately successful this season.
But I will take great interest in seeing how the new signings are introduced to the Premier League and how they fare starting with Newcastle. With both Ozil and Kolasinac suspended I wonder if any will get a start.
Like most gooners I approach Newcastle with optimism in my heart but with a brain that keeps telling me don’t be disappointed if things don’t go as you wish because our club is still going through changes. Am I alone fellow gooners?