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Feb Mailbag - Arsenal's Next Manager, Bertrand Traore, Perry Kitchen and More.

By Ted Knutson | February 23, 2017 | Mailbag

Mailbag time. This is when readers ask me burning questions and I attempt to answer them without being too sarcastic, mean, or using the word everywhere. We'll see if I succeed this month.


The short answer is to write and apply the shit out of the stuff you are working on. 98% of the people that will read your work DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR METHODOLOGY. This is not grad school, so don't spend your audience's entire attention span explaining all the little things you did as part of your study. Slap them in the face with your results. Explain why these results are interesting/relevant/just plain wrong, and then way down at the bottom in the Appendix, that is where you include all the gritty details for the methodology wonks.

On the other hand, feel free to completely discount my advice in this area. I have only had the one permanent job with clubs, and the rest of my paid work has been consulting, so I'm not exactly an expert in the How Do I Get Employed By Football Clubs genre.


I thought Conte would be a really interesting change of pace/palate cleanser, but obviously he ended up across London.

I think the most obvious candidate out there is Tuchel. He's switched on toward analytics and knows that he doesn't know it all, which means StatDNA's work should get incorporated reasonably well. Tuchel also brings a combination of attacking style that isn't a total break from Wenger's legacy plus he brings a pressing expertise that Arsenal desperately need at this point. The question is how much do they have to re-tool the squad to play his style?

Slightly further off the beaten path is Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim. I think he would need a couple more years of seasoning for Arsenal to make that leap though. Luciano Spalletti has done a great job at Roma since coming back to Italy and would be another interesting candidate with a fun, high tempo attacking style.

Then on the other end of the spectrum you end up with guys like Jorge Sampaoli and Roger Schmidt. VERY different managers stylistically who are bright and have had past success, and might potentially be available under the right circumstances.

I think Arsenal will be fine in the post-Wenger years. They actually have a lot of infrastructure set up behind the scenes that already helps Wenger in various areas, and is ready to completely take over when he decides to move on.


The same thing everyone else does: figure out how to marry it to my event data. Tracking data is super useful, but if I have to choose either tracking or event, then I'm taking the richer event data set. The marriage between the two in a way that doesn't throw bugs everywhere is a big deal, and important to move the sport forward.


I thought they would be better at this point. All is clearly not sunshine and rainbows behind the scenes, and they've definitely missed Jedinak. The fact that Amavi has really struggled post-ACL tear is also a long-term worry because he was so good before then, and is a tough position to replace.

On the other hand, and I know this sounds weird, Steve Bruce is an actual expert in getting clubs promoted from the Championship. This season is a write-off, but they probably stand a good chance next year if Bruce gets a chance to make moves in the summer.


One of the things working at Brentford and Midtjylland gave me was a looooooot of experience looking for centre backs, and I think we did pretty well in that area. One big trick is knowing what you can and cannot use the data for re: the position. Once you do that, you then chuck everyone into a big scouting queue with the traits you are looking for clearly defined, and watch a lot of film. It's not terribly sexy and it takes a lot of work, but it is effective if you have good scouts.


The only way Kitchen is anything more than a fringe USMNT player is if someone makes a horrible mistake and then keeps making it. I have him as an average MLS midfielder and nothing more.


Baseball, definitely. The NBA now as well. Beyond that, everyone else has teething issues.

It's funny because people look at my work and think that I am a huge stats guy, and I guess that's true, but it would be far more accurate to say that I'm a data champion. This includes a lot of qualitative work like the entire set pieces program, or video technical analysis. I am holistic about this because it's the right way to run a club and a business.

Take a look at what Driveline Baseball is doing to integrate technology, biomechanics research, and technical improvement in baseball and you get a glimpse of how I see the future of football training.

The vastness of what we don't know about technical training, coach training, medical diagnosis and recovery, set pieces, youth development, WHATEVER in football is incredible. This is what you need an R&D budget for, and you need this to be guided by people who understand the sport and how to guide the application of the research back into the real world.

Maybe there are some smart clubs out there already doing this and we just don't know about it. Southampton is leading the way in some areas of youth development for certain. However, the pool of potential knowledge is enormous, and my experiences around football make me doubtful anyone is really pushing the boundaries much across the board.

Basically, if I were Director of Football at a Premier League club, the organization would get a lot smarter, faster, and you'd end up with a practical university environment around the club as part of the process. The trick, however, would be lasting long enough for all of that to pay dividends.

Would StatsBomb ever accept unpaid summer interns? - Einar
Tricky because there are strong social reasons that make me really dislike the concept of unpaid internships in general.

If StatsBomb Services succeeds, then we will likely start an internship program, potentially as early as the end of this summer. However, my condition there is that people would still need to be paid for their time. My other condition would be that someone else would need to run the internship program, because I am unlikely to be around enough to be useful.


The answer the world seems to agree on is Kante plus anyone is good enough. Add Cesc when you need to unlock a defense, while Matic is pretty much an all-purpose midfield battleship.

I think Baker is decent, but not anywhere near the level required to break into the Chelsea squad right now. He's probably ready for a loan in a tougher defensive league than the Eredivisie next year, but I'm not sure he's even good enough for lower PL right now. (And to be fair, he's still very young.)


The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown. Brian Staveley's finale The Last Mortal Bond was pretty good. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London is good pulp. I also thought Richard Morgan's fantasy that starts with The Steel Remains was weird and pretty enjoyable. And the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers was really quite lovely.


Sir Bertrand of Traore, lately also of Ajax.

Bertrand Traore - Eredivisie - 2016-17_feb23

Bertrand Traore - Eredivisie - 2016-17_shotmap_feb23

TamTam Abraham, currently on loan at Bristol City.

Tammy Abraham - Championship - 2016-17_feb23

Tammy Abraham - Championship - 2016-17_feb23_shotmap

I like them both, and I'm pretty sure I like them both as center forwards, which isn't exactly what Traore has played this season at Ajax - he's mostly been playing wide right. This explains the shot locations a bit.

Both players are extremely quick, but Tammy is much taller and stronger, despite also being the younger of the two. I think Abraham's ceiling is clearly higher right now, though I wish Traore had gone to a more defensively stout league and played CF so we'd have a better data point. Can he put up top 5% dribble numbers as a center forward? That would be incredibly valuable.

As it is, both are big assets for Chelsea, but the only one likely to make their squad regularly is Abraham. I suspect Traore will need a restart somewhere else, but could still end up being good enough for the Champions League.


This seems like a good spot to wrap it up. Until next month, please enjoy your Pee-not No-ir.


Article by Ted Knutson