Monday, 26 August 2013

Five thoughts on Fulham 1 Arsenal 3 and the remainder of the transfer window

We had two centre backs available
I read several blogs in the run-up to the game about how we only had one centre-back available and that this was a dereliction of duty from the manager and the club blah blah blah. This wasn't true.

I think it's fair to say that given Sagna played centre back in pre-season and has spoken about training in this position, him playing this position was something under consideration before Koscielny was sent off against Aston Villa and suspended for this game. Whether it's a good thing is another question.

There seems to be a trend among Arsenal fans online that everybody needs to have a very strong opinion on everything. On this one I don't, really. I think having Sagna as in effect our fourth choice centre back still leaves us one player short at the back, but more than that, I think it leaves us little cover for Mertesacker with the other three centre backs all playing a similar style. Still, it's hard to believe that this is anything other than a short-term solution. Seven defenders seems one too few to last an entire season while attempting to compete for four trophies.

The strange case of Lukas Podolski
The weirdest thing about the general bemoaning of Arsenal missing out on Higuain was the focus on his chance conversion rate. This seems a strange stat to look at in isolation without looking at a player's game. For example, a player like Olivier Giroud is never going to have the highest chance conversion rate in the Premier League because many of his chances are headers which are harder to aim in such a way as to guarantee a goal. (For more of the same, witness how Mignolet's high save percentage at Sunderland does not mean he is a very good goalkeeper).

And it's in this light that I view Podolski. Podolski is a bit like a less good version of Higuain. Good against small teams and with an excellent chance conversion rate, but mainly because he shoots from realistic positions where you would regularly expect a goal. That's not meant to be a slight on Poldi, but it does show that if people are frustrated by Poldi, they would have felt the same way about Higuain. After all, it has gone somewhat overlooked that Podolski had the third best chance conversion rate in the Premier League last season.

All this said, he's clearly an excellent player who we can expect more from in his second season. I was discussing Podolski with fans of other clubs this week and they thought my valuation of Podolski at minimum 20 million Euros was crazy. As I said to them, how much less than this would be a reasonable price? Quite.

Should Yaya Sanogo be playing for the first team?
I'll caveat this by saying that I'm fully aware that Sanogo only had 10-15 minutes on Saturday. However, in this time he seemed very ponderous, with poor anticipation and positioning, hampered by seeming quite static. This is to be expected: he is young, has played relatively few senior games, and is in his first season in a new country.

But there was a part of me that wondered whether Wenger subbed him on to show that we have a summer signing who is of high calibre. All summer Wenger has re-iterated that we've signed Sanogo in all his press conferences but he didn't strike me as being nearly ready for the first team. If Le Boss was trying to prove a point, I wasn't convinced.

Turning to Premier League players as transfer targets
It's striking that many players from across Europe have opted to turn down the Premier League this summer, in favour of either staying put or moving to another country. I say this, because it's the only sensible explanation of Arsenal reportedly targeting multiple Premier League players - supposedly Begovic or Krul, Cabaye and Mata.

In the case of Suarez it was different (the apparent clause rendered him good value) but generally, Arsenal under Wenger haven't signed Premier League players for serious money. The only real example of us doing so is Mikel Arteta. Put simply, it's because Premier League players tend to be seriously over-priced due to the 'guarantees' you get when signing them. So if we do move for multiple players who are already based in England, it's a concrete acknowledgment that players based overseas are not interested in moving to England.

What happens in the remaining seven days of the transfer window?
To what extent clubs are posturing when they say they won't sell beyond a certain date (i.e. before deadline day) remains to be seen. It's never struck me that clubs have acted like this in the past, but it's entirely possible they may actually behave this way - as a way of trying to have a successful football club, it makes sense.

Assuming they are and Arsenal still want top players, it's a case of looking at top clubs who are over-stocked with players. The two who stand out to me are Real Madrid and Chelsea. With the arrivals of Isco and Bale, Özil and Di Maria must feel their places are under threat. Chelsea have continued with their strategy of signing ALL the midfielders the summer and reportedly Juan Mata is available. It's hard to believe that Chelsea will sell to Arsenal having finished just five points ahead last season, but Real could well need money to finance their summer business.

My main conclusion from Wenger's messaging in today's press conference when he speaks of "special" signings is that there will be at least one highly impressive signing. But he has been saying similar things for two months. We'll just have to wait and see.

Keep the faith.

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