One of the things that seemed to go over really well this summer were some transfer shopping pieces I did for The Tomkins Times and Arsenal Column. Instead of the usual rumour patter, or simply quoting popular names in the media to fill holes at the club, I looked at the underlying statistics for players and suggested players based on that. This allowed me to find some names that people probably hadn’t heard of, while also making for interesting and fun pieces to write.
I had hoped to start producing these in mid-December, but data collection time and then the holidays set me back a bit. Thankfully, teams have been incredibly slow at filling any shopping needs so far (except Chelsea), which means I still have time to deliver these before they became stale and moldy. Today’s topic is… Arsenal
Needs: A Forward that scores at better than a league average conversion rate. Possibly one of top, top quality, but honestly… a warm body is needed at this point.
There were other possible needs thrown out (a young center back, a right back to potentially replace the departing Bakary Sagna), but Arsenal’s primary need is exactly the same thing that they needed this summer - another forward.
The problem here is that good forwards are hard to buy. They are expensive, prickly, and come with labels like “High Maintenance” and “Dry Clean Only.” Arsenal needed a world class forward this summer too, but somehow let the one guy not named Ronaldo or Messi who has been in the Top 5 in goalscoring rate 3 of the last 4 seasons slip through their hands because they’d didn’t want to stump up £32.5M. Who, by the way, was also only 25.
I’m not sure what the math on the value equation for
NOT Ronaldo OR Messi BUT Scores LIKE Ronaldo OR Messi?
is but I’m pretty sure Arsenal answered that question wrong.
Aaaaanyway… here we are again.
The rules for Arsenal shopping are as follows:
1) Must be 27 years old or younger. I would not complain about them signing Berbatov, but he’s pretty much the only over 30 I would be in for.
2) Must be maybe, potentially, kindasorta available. Dzeko is possibly the best target man with rumors of availability and Wenger has admitted that he crushes on target man forwards more than in his younger days (I mean… have you looked at Giroud?), but there is ZERO chance City will sell to a title rival midseason. NONE. Fuggeddaboudit.
That’s it. Due to recent commercial revenue growth, Arsenal are now able to fund transfers up to the Edinson Cavani level, which leaves about five guys in the world that they could not potentially afford. Wenger has typically been very frugal in transfer spending, but Ozil’s move in the summer proves that he will spend for the right player.
[Note: All stats are current through at least Dec 30.]
Target 1) Drax the Destroyer
Rumored to have a £40M release written into his contract, Arsenal were supposedly sniffing around this past summer for a potential move in summer 2014. Mounting injuries have pushed that interest forward, but Schalke are still in the Champions League, and while they have already bought Sidney Sam as a potential replacement, he’s not moving from Leverkusen until the summer either.
Here’s Draxler’s statistical profile from the last couple of seasons. Remember, he’s only 20 right now, so earlier seasons were as a teenager.
Note: All acronyms are explained at the bottom.
To me, these stats suggest that Draxler has played different roles in each season. I dug into this a bit more, and a profile from Christian Nyari says that Draxler was generally deployed on the left in 11-12, moved central when Holtby left in 12-13, and was moved out left again this year in place of… Kevin-Prince Boateng. Blech. It also suggests that Draxler is playing the wrong position now, as his production from the center was much more valuable than out wide.
It’s tricky to evaluate these stats for a number of reasons. First, Drax gets moved around a bit, which means they are not isolated to one position. Second – and maybe most important to Arsenal – none of these have him playing as the main forward. His central role in the second half of 12-13 was mostly as a 10 or second striker.
The Good When deployed centrally, Draxler can score. .42 NPG90 (Non-Penalty Goals per 90 minutes) for a 19-year-old is great. Shooting accuracy when centrally deployed and SOT90 (Shots on Target per 90) looks like a center forward. 17% conversion (goals/shots) is also really strong out of what is essentially an attacking midfield position.
The other thing that Draxler does absurdly well, both in the center and when out wide, is dribble. His current rate of 5.44 per 90 is better than anyone posted in Europe last season, and assuming my data is correct, he’s never been worse than 62% successful in his three seasons of heavy rotation. For reference, Ribery succeeded at a 51% rate last season, Messi 65%, and Suarez 37%.
This season? 71%. On 101 dribbles.
Is that even possible?
[Checks with Opta Stats guru Duncan Alexander.]
Yep, totally possible.
Passing percentages are consistently good, and I love the amount of work he does on the defensive side of the ball, which is considerable for an offensive-minded player.
Shooting stats and goal rate when deployed wide are dreadful. His assist rate has creeped up this season as has the throughball rate, and because of his age, you’d he say projects pretty well as a highly creative player for the future. But I would not spend £40M on those stats right now to put him out wide. The fact that he can play wide is a bonus, but you really, really want to plonk this kid in the center of the pitch and let him wreak havoc.
Comparing Draxler's 12-13 shooting locations to this season, you see what the problem is. Last season, he was able to get the vast majority of his shots from prime and secondary positions. This year, for whatever reason, more shots are coming from further out, and it's obviously affected his scoring. Year after year, Arsenal tend to get shots from great locations, so expect that to change if he moves.
Verdict: Given where he’s played, he’s not exactly a center forward right now. However, looking at the stats Draxler posted when deployed centrally – at age 19! – you see a guy that clearly produces like a center forward can. He’s also got a big frame (185cm), so he’s not frail or a bigger injury risk than normal. I really like him as a player right now and for the future.
Would I pay £30M for him? Definitely. All the signs are there, and the market price, while high, is still acceptable.
Now, would I pay £40M for him, as rumored? That depends… am I going to get fired if he doesn’t end up being awesome?
I think he will be.
The data suggests it’s reasonably likely to happen. But that’s a fee at the very top of the food chain, and an amount you usually expect to pay for proven scorers. Here, you’re putting an awful lot of the upside of this deal on him realizing his potential. That price makes it a bit more risky than I’m totally comfortable with.
I confess… I’m hoping he moves just so we get to use this nickname regularly.
Target 2) Antoine Griezmann
Creativity and Defensive Work
I wrote about Griezmann this summer, and this is what I had to say then.
“[His] offensive numbers are good. Over 80% passing success for an attacker is solid. A goal rate of .32 for a non-primary striker is also good. You could perhaps wish for slightly more key passes per game, but everything else is good to very good, and he’s only 22. Likely Price: He won’t move this year because Sociedad are in the Champions’ League, but if they miss out on 4thspot in La Liga, expect the bigger fish to start recruiting him pretty hard. Players with his eye for goal, plus the passing ability, plus a clear desire to work on the defensive side of the ball are to be treasured. £15-18M a year from now.”
I was not expecting this year. I’m not sure any sensible person could have. His NPG90 was solid for a young, wide forward in earlier years, but his current scoring rate puts him in the Top 10 of all forwards in Europe.
Not in Spain.
Shooting accuracy has ramped up in each of the last two seasons (a very good sign), shots and shots on target are also up, and the big scoring driver here is the fact that his conversion rate went from 10% to 22%. Is that sustainable? I have no idea – Luis Suarez is currently experiencing a similar increase, and no one has done the analysis to figure out if a good thing like this can stay that way.
Griezmann’s primary role is as a scoring wide forward. He can be somewhat creative, but that’s not really a strength. He is also one of the busiest forwards I have looked at on the defensive end, averaging between 3 and 4 Tack + Int combined nearly every year. That likely equates to a lot of opponent’s-half ball recoveries and great chances on the break.
Griezmann’s current stats don’t particularly fit with Arsenal’s philosophy that everyone must pass well and be a good creator. Former Arsenal youngster Carlos Vela is the real string puller up front for Sociedad, and he and Griezmann are obviously great together. AG isn’t a great creator - he's fine, but those numbers aren't that exciting - but the finishing is now top notch.
But isn’t that exactly what Arsenal need and have been lacking? If most of the team are already outstanding passers, can’t you get away with one or two guys who just bang the ball home? Am I overthinking this?
Using Colin Trainor's magical shot location database, you can look at Griezmann's past two seasons to see where he's shooting and scoring from. This year, those central locations are very strong. Last year?Pretty good too, actually, they just didn't go in.
Verdict: Sociedad are out of the Champions League, but still in the running for a return appearance next season. Griezmann will almost certainly move somewhere bigger this summer, but prying him away right now will probably take £25M minimum. On the other hand, he stands a better chance of making the French World Cup squad at Arsenal, his wages are probably fairly low in Spain (a big pay rise is coming soon), and coming to Arsenal now would definitely put him in the CL next season and could help them win the title this year.
The other benefit of moving for Griezmann is that if Arsenal were to find a center forward they wanted to buy this summer, you could play Griezmann back out left (an Arsenal weak spot) with no issues at all. Easy Griezy.
Two Potential Fliers
It’s hard to find available forwards for reasonable prices, period. It’s especially hard to do so midseason. Given that this is Arsenal, I have gone to France to find two young players who seem to have a lot of promise, and good scoring stats to back it up
Target 3) Alexandre Lacazette
A 22-year old speedster who plays for Lyon, Lacazette has certainly benefitted from moving into a more central role this season. He’s young, very fast, and plays forward in Ligue 1 – seems like a perfect Wenger target.
Creativity and Defensive Work
I really like his shooting stats, and he seems well-adapted to the center forward role. NPG90 is elite for his age (and nearly elite period), and shooting accuracy in two of the last three seasons is exactly what we want from forwards. SOT90 is a bit less than Griezmann or Draxler posted in their best seasons so far, but you likely aren’t paying the same price as you are for either of those guys. Conversion rate has also been over 15% in two of the last three years, including 21% this year. Put a kid with this pace in front of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, etc and you could see some amazing goal numbers go up on the board.
Then imagine a healthy Walcott playing alongside him. Zoom!
Shots per 90 isn’t quite as high as you want from an elite forward (you probably want 3+ per game), but he’s young and these can improve. Passing numbers are fine for a center forward, tackling numbers are also good, and though his dribbling doesn’t hit the insane heights you get from Draxler, he’s still pretty good and succeeding at a 50% rate this year.
I kind of like this one, depending on price. When was the last time Arsenal had a speed merchant in the center of the pitch to keep central defenders honest and create more space for the attacking midfielders. The numbers add up to a kid who is good already and could potentially be excellent. That said, he’s not playing in as good a league as Griezmann or Draxler, so it may take a while for him to adjust. I think Lacazette would be a nice fall back choice for £13-17M.
Target 4) Vincent Aboubakar
This guy is… a project. He’s not surrounded by cultured players like Lacazette is at Lyon, but he has the physical tools to be a serious pain in someone’s ass – a bit like Christian Benteke at Aston Villa. (But maybe only a bit.)
Creativity and Defensive Work
Okay, maybe I was being a little generous earlier. This is the discount bargain bin of forward shopping. You are getting a guy who can score. And maybe pass a little. But compared to the other guys we looked at earlier, Aboubakar doesn’t bring much else to the table.
On the other hand, he is good at scoring goals, and physically he’s built more in the mold Wenger has said he likes for center forwards (though I personally think that’s overrated, especially seeing how nearly every other great team in Europe plays right now).
Oh, and he’s healthy. Unlike Sanogo, Theo, Lucas for most of this season, and pretty much every other forward Arsenal have outside of Giroud. Given the last eight years or so, I think it’s impossible for Arsenal fans to underrate someone who is actually healthy.
He’s pretty average outside of the scoring. He plays on a bad team, which goes one of two ways: either he’s creating goals in spite of them and would look even better in a good team or he’s about the same level as they are and will look out of his depth when he moves.
His defensive work rate is about the same as Adebayor after signing a fat new contract. Actually... it's worse than that. It's probably closer to Adebayor playing for the reserve team after signing a fat new contract.
We’re desperate here, people – it’s January! No good forwards are moving without overpaying.
I hope it doesn’t come to this. Also, Wenger would not make this deal.
In fact, he’d probably just stick with what he has and hope it all works out.
Which it won’t.
Because Arsenal are exceptionally thin at forward, are still competing in the CL, FA Cup, and Premier League.
And are almost certainly not going to win any of those with a single forward who converts at a 13% lifetime rate.
Yet, for the first time in seemingly ages, the league is right there for the taking, almost in spite of the fact that Wenger and company failed to address their biggest need this summer.
Pull the trigger! Win some silverware!
P90 - Total minutes played in a season divided by 90.
NPG - Non-Penalty Goals
NPG90 - Non-Penalty Goals Per90
ShAcc - Shooting Accuracy (multiply by 100 to get the percent)
Sh90 - Shots per 90
SOT90 - Shots on Target per 90
GConv - Goal conversion rate. (Multiply by 100 to get the percent)
A90 - Assists per 90
GA90 - Non-Penalty Goals + Assists per 90. A better measure of overall scoring contribution.
Drib90 - Successful dribbles per90
KP90 - Key Pass per 90
TB90 - Throughballs per 90
Pass% - Passing percentage.
Tack90 - Tackles per 90
Int90 - Interceptions per 90