A Quick Hit on the Arsenal Transfer Window
By Ted Knutson
I do fewer quick hit analysis pieces than I used to do on my old blog, because somehow StatsBomb feels like it deserves longer pieces with depth and breadth of analysis. That said, I just wanted to toss up a couple of thoughts on Arsenal’s transfer window prior to doing the team grades later this week.
1) Minus that guy (and he's pretty special), it was fairly shambolic. The deals they whiffed on (Higuain, Suarez) were both public and painful. You can argue that signing Suarez would have locked Arsenal out of signing Ozil (who is the better player), but signing Higuain – Arsenal’s clearest area of need this summer – would not. Football is too big and complicated now for one person to both manage the team and hunt for talent, and there’s too much damned money and competition for the best players anyway. Arsenal need to change how they deal with the transfer season going forward or this situation will repeat itself again and again.
2) Ozil was the best player signed in the window and one that nobody thought was available. The amount paid for him was almost exactly what I have listed as fair value. It is the first time since I have been a fan (1998) that the club have signed an already-developed world talent on the offensive side of the ball. Huge props.
3) Some noted pundits like Gary Lineker have said they don’t think Ozil really helps Arsenal. Allow me to disagree. While attacking midfielder wasn’t an area of direct need, Cazorla’s best position for Arsenal is likely on the left wing. This gives him space to run and create, and it bolsters what is Arsenal’s weakest area on the pitch (especially with Poldi gone for at least three months). The problem with putting him out there is that Arsenal’s central midfield then lacks an additional creative passer of that caliber.
Put plainly, there is no better creative passer in the world than Ozil (Ben did his career per90s here). He has an exquisite understanding of space, his vision is almost prescient, and he has the ability to weight passes perfectly that Arsenal haven’t quite had since Cesc left. He will improve the offense, the counter-attack, and help the team generate better chances against both good teams and packed defences. He can also score goals now, a trait that Wilshere notably lacks. (Champions’ League goals aside, Rambo has a career record of dreadfulness when shooting, so the combination of him, Jack, and deep-lying Arteta means all the goal pressure is on the front three. Ozil changes that.)
4) Flamini looked better than I expected this weekend. If he plays at anything close to his previous level at Arsenal – and Arsene believes he can or they wouldn’t have signed him – then he’ll be good. I appreciate the desire for a regista like Arteta and Ramsey (now), but in many games Arsenal have definitely missed a terrier in midfield. Flamini provides that in spades and already understands how Arsenal work. They may not be physically impressive, but every one of Arsenal’s current central midfielders can be a feisty ball retriever, which definitely takes certain teams by surprise.
5) This ties back into point number three. Defensively, Arsenal were actually good last season, minus the Achilles heel of personal mistakes. They were basically tied for second in shots against, and were second in the league in goals against. The 37 goals they gave up were 12 fewer than the year before, which is a massive reduction.
However, defensive solidity came at a bit of a cost, as Arsenal produced the lowest amount of shots per game in at least the last four seasons and probably longer. Their shots on target percentage also dropped slightly, meaning overall goal expectation dropped. Signing Ozil should be enough to boost goal expectation back to where they were 3-4 years ago (a 10% boost). Even if that doesn't happen, his ability to create great chances with movement and passing should also boost the shots on target number. He matters.
6) Even if the entire squad was healthy, Arsenal needed to sign another forward (even a slightly-less-than-world-class one was required), and another center back, preferably one that was young and talented. Obviously this is Arsenal and thus the entire squad is not healthy, and the inability to find/sign someone acceptable may cost Arsenal something significant. Flamini may prove to be a bit of unexpected genius in the DM role (he really was good when he left for Milan), but the club had money to buy a stud there and whiffed on that as well. Hopefully the lesson will be learned from this summer, and targets for the new financial firepower will be assessed well ahead of time and purchased early in the window.
Arsenal improved a little this summer. Their problem is that Liverpool improved a lot since last January, and Spurs spunked the Bale money on all sorts of potential (Lamela and Eriksen are already among the best in Europe and they are only 21). The fight for top 4 spots has never been hotter than it will be this season, which is both exciting and a little worrying if you are a Gooner.