20 July 2013

Brendan Rodgers explains why we shouldn't pursue Luis Suarez

We've all been drooling over who we might sign, and although the names have changed from Jovetic to Higuain to Rooney to Higuain to Suarez, there's been one maddening constant: we haven't signed anyone. With the club off on the Asia Tour, we'll have to content ourselves with the lighter news of our boys wearing local garb and playing friendlies, which has been wonderful. Connecting with and expanding the Arsenal family is unquestionably a good thing.

However, I can't help but feel a little anger at the fact that we apparently didn't nail down a signature or two before leaving. It's not impossible to conduct business from seven time zones away, but it's a heck of a lot more difficult. In the absence of any concrete news, then, we twiddle our thumbs and scan too many sites for news. Luis Suarez, of course, has dominated the transfer-news lately, and the persistence and pervasiveness of the stories make them hard to ignore. I've pushed back against a Suarez signing here and here and here. My latest attempt comes armed with ammunition from Brendan Rodgers himself, who had this to say a few days ago:
Last year, you mustn’t forget that [we] gave Luis Suarez the opportunity to flourish and hopefully this year that will continue to be the case. I made the decision last year to move Andy Carroll out on loan because I wanted to work the team round Luis's talents. All our movement patterns and our tactical ideas were based around him and he flourished from that.
In other words, Suarez scored as often as he did because the entire team was built around him as were all of Liverpool's tactics. No surprise there. It does serve to remind us, though, that Suarez scored frequently because of his talent, yes, but because the entire offensive scheme went through him. According to whoscored.com, Suarez has a conversion-rate of only 12.3%, taking some 188 shots to get his 23 Prem League goals. Here, by comparison, are the conversion-rates of some of our players (from arsenal.com, courtesy of opta):
  • Walcott: 22.58%
  • Podolski: 33.33%
  • Cazorla: 16%
  • Giroud: 12%
Many of us have lambasted Giroud for his conversion-rate and the number of squandered opportunities he's guilty of, and he cost a mere £12m. How are we going to feel if and when Suarez offers the same conversion rate at four times the fee? If we do sign him, are we going to have to funnel the offense through him as they have done at Liverpool? What would this mean for the development of Giroud or Walcott? Giroud did tolerably well in his first Prem season and might replicate his achievements in Ligue 1, where he went from 12 goals in his first year to 21 in the next. Walcott, scorer of a career-best 14 goals this year, is possibly on the verge of a breakout-season, something I've argued here. Bringing in Suarez, and all of his considerable baggage, would scupper any hopes of either man breaking out.

Speaking of fees, Gazidis has given Arsène something like £70m to spend this summer. If we were to commit £40-50m for Suarez, we'd leave ourselves with precious little for securing anyone else's services. Say we do get him for £40m (unlikely, as Liverpool have apparently already rejected this). We'd then have £30m left. This might be enough for one more very good player or two could-be-good bargains. Maybe. However, we'd then go in to a season having committed more than half of our reported transfer-budget to one player with little guarantee that (a) he'll deliver on his potential, (b) do so without squelching our other attacking options, and (c) stay on the pitch without getting suspended again.

I'll keep on coming up with ways to prove why we shouldn't sign him until I hit on a magic solution that someone brings to Arsène's attention or until he's signed for us or elsewhere.

Before you go, go over to the 2012-13 YAMA Awards to vote for best Arsenal bloggers, tweeters, and writers. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Blog, and I hope to earn your consideration (and vote). Thanks!

18 July 2013

Would Suarez secure or scuttle Arsenal's Champions League run?

We all agree on one fact: Suarez is a gifted footballer. Beyond that, Gooners have a lot to sort out. Some point to his goal-scoring prowess as incontrovertible proof that we must sign him; others, like me, are more circumspect, questioning his value in light of the various controversies and suspensions that he has incurred. Put in another way, would he help or hurt us? We've been on the knife's edge of Champions League qualification for the last few seasons, relying just as much on the faltering form of others as on our own strong finishes in the final run-in. It took a last-gasp goal in the 52nd minute of the final game of the season to secure fourth place this year.

As we look at Suarez's 23 Prem League goals this year, it's tantalizingly easy to place those goals here and there and—presto!—a loss here becomes a draw, a loss there becomes a win, a draw over there becomes a win, and we're in first place. Of course, it's not that easy, but it's entertaining. On the subject of entertainment, let's entertain two rather large if's: one, if Suarez can repeat his form; and two, if Suarez can avoid suspensions. With those in place, we'd be virtually assured of a higher league finish, and perhaps further progress in league, FA, and Champions League competitions.

However, reality has a way of dashing these sorts of hopes. Securing the services of a prolific scorer can sometimes backfire as his presence can stunt the development of other players, cause the offense itself to stagnate, and sacrifice team success at the altar of individual glories. I'm not saying that Suarez is this kind of player by any means, but it's worth considering his impact on the squads for which he has played. To wit: the only time that a Suarez-led team has finished in first place is Ajax in the 2010-11 season—the season that saw Suarez leave in the January transfer-window after his first bite. In fact, before he left in January 2011, Ajax was in third place, six points behind PSV Eindhoven, having taken 41 of 63 points (65%). After Suarez left, Ajax surged to first place, taking 32 of their last 39 points (82%), despite not making any significant signings to replace him.  Taking 82% of the points over the course of a Prem season would net a team 94 points, just one below Chelsea's record of 95 in 2004-05. Moving on, Ajax has won the Eredivisie every year since Suarez left. This looks to be a little bit of addition by subtraction. Despite losing their most-prolific scorer, Ajax finished that season on a run of form that would be the envy of any team anywhere.

And what of his impact on Liverpool? When he joined Liverpool in January 2011, Liverpool was in 7th place, having taken 32 of 72 points (44%). Liverpool finished the season in 6th place with 58 points, having taken 26 of 42 points (62%) after his arrival, an improvement to be sure, but hardly a dramatic one. In the years that Suarez has played for Liverpool, they've finished 7th in 2011, 8th in 2012, and 7th in 2013. In other words, he's an exciting addition because he scores buckets of goals, but it doesn't seem as if he changes a club's prospects in any meaningful way. Of course, he is just one of eleven men on the pitch at any given time, so it's not entirely his responsibility to deliver salvation or shoulder condemnation. All the same, we'd be remiss to splash £40m, if not more, on a player who doesn't alter his club's aspirations for the better. Liverpool didn't suffer much from his suspension to end the 2012-13 campaign, finishing with three wins and a draw (against Everton) without him, which suggests that his presence or absence mattered little to the club's place in the table.

How then would Suarez fare under the brighter lights and more-intense scrutiny of playing for Arsenal, pressing for a top-four finish (if not higher) and progress in the Champions League? It's unlikely that he would respond with grace and dignity as each tumble on the pitch would draw howls of simulation from opposition fans if not referees, and every opposing player would look to get under his skin at every opportunity. I don't think we can afford—literally or figuratively—to sign this man. He's one instigation away from sabotaging our entire campaign. If it's true that Arsène has £70m or so to spend, why invest more than half of it on such an unpredictable commodity?

No, thank you. If we're serious about brightening our prospects and £35m is the going rate for a top-flight center-forward, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease sign Higuaín. I all but guarantee that he will score and score and score again. Real Madrid values him at £37m now? Fine. We can haggle down a few mil. The man's no mere poacher. He'll create his own shots and can score with the left or right, and he'll do so without forcing us to defend his character or morals. Each Suarez goal will be met with a well-timed "yeah, but doesn't he bite people every now and then?"

The last thing we need is a scorer who sees a tense run-in and decides he'd rather cut bait than stand and fight. If we sign Suarez and still somehow find ourselves scrabbling with Spurs, Chelsea, or Everton for a fourth-place finish, can we rely on him to keep his cool, or would we end up slapping our foreheads as he once again lets his club down through bites, dives, hand-balls, or racist effronts? I doubt it.

Please, Arsène, please tell me that this Suarez bid is just a diversionary tactic and that you'll announce Higuaín's signing in the coming days. Please?

Last but not least, go on over to the 2012-13 YAMA awards. I hope you'll consider voting for Woolwich 1886, nominated for a "Best New Arsenal Blog".  Thanks!

Gonzalo's Diary Entry: 18 July 2013

Dear Diary,
I write with a heavy heart today as my destiny is still as unclear to me as it has ever been. It seemed that just weeks ago I was prepared to join Arsenal, leaving behind that insufferable egomaniac and his penalty-kick hogging ways and getting a few chances a year to stick it to that other insufferable egomaniac and his "Special One" nonsense. Between the two of them, I've been made to feel like an unwanted step-child. I wish I could go somewhere where I'd feel wanted.

Instead, diary, I drift along in limbo, buffered this way and that by the cruel summer winds, casting this way and that for something solid to hold onto. Each day, I scan the headlines, desperate for some information that will confirm for me once and for all. It seemed that I was ready to seize my destiny with my own hands and to forge it into something once again glorious, resurrecting the form that saw me scoring goals with aplomb, at will, and with stunning style. The idea that I could do so at a club as venerated as Arsenal was almost too much to bear.

At times, I'll admit that I felt doubt, and perhaps this uncertainty is my own punishment. I wondered to myself, pacing like Hamlet, if I was up to the task or if it would destroy me through its immensity. I asked the heavens, "who am I, La Pipita, to dare believe that I can score 20 goals a season in the Premier League?" Yes, I have done this and more in La Liga, but this is after all little more than a two-team league.

At other times, I have committed the sin of arrogance, daring to assume that I deserve to be Arsenal's number-one striker and it is perhaps this crime for which I am punished. Yes, I am the third-highest scorer in La Liga since 2007, behind only Messi and that Portuguese prick, but who am I to presume? I have flayed myself and prostrated myself before the Lord to atone for my high-minded ways.

And yet, I can't stop my mind from wondering what, if anything, I have done wrong. I have allowed my family members to speak publicly and encouragingly of our discussions with Arsenal. I have allowed myself to be photographed boarding a plane. I have "agreed personal terms" and was ready to move to London. I had hoped to do so by now, but now I hear that the club is in Asia, so there is not a way to meet with Arsène to sign any paperwork. In the meantime, I learn of other movements for other players, players who have besmirched their reputations and brought embarrassments to their clubs, fans, and families—something I could never do, but maybe I should do something controversial, something to show that there is more to me than scoring many, many goals. Shall I kick a small animal or knock down a child? It seems that these are things that some of these, how do you say, Gooners approve? I do not know.

I am confused and disheartened, diary. I learn now that my club wants £37m for me. I am not sure I approve this valuation. It seems to make it harder for me to leave, and it puts more pressure on me to perform whether I stay or go. I am not sure I can take much more; the strain of this process seems to grow with each passing day. Maybe I should just sign with Napoli and end this whole saga once and for all.

First, though, I will check my voicemail and email one more time each before going to bed. Perhaps Arsène has tried to reach me from Vietnam. I will share with you any updates that I find.  Thank you, dear diary, for allowing me to unburden myself to you. This ordeal has been wearying to say the least.


17 July 2013

Transfer Round-up: Higuain, Cesar, Williams, Suarez in limbo

This has been a difficult, trying week for Gooners who are paying any attention to transfer-talk. The one shred of good news we can cling to comes thanks to Atlético Madrid and a laughable rumor that they'd agreed to terms with Santi Cazorla and that owner Miguel Angel Gil Marin was in London to negotiate. Those fools think that they can bid £17.5m on a man whom we brought in for £12m and who is probably worth £25m. Fine. With Arsène and Santi in Vietnam, I'm not sure how far this rumor can stretch. Such are the times in which we live.

However, as I said, that's the good news so far this week. Everywhere else we look, those ninnies from Napoli seem to be botching things for us. There's been talk of them bringing in Julio César for some time, and newly flush after their sale of Edinson Cavani, they're now looking to spend. A move back to Serie A might make sense to César, although Napoli were docked two points in 2012 for match-fixing. They may not yet be implicated in the current tax-evasion and money-laundering scandal (which I covered here), but it's hard to resist the impression that the league itself is a bit of a festery pool. Be that as it may, Napoli did finish in second place this past season, so César would be trading up from the Championship to the Champions League. Transfermarkt has pegged the likelihood of him going there at 80% as our chances sag again to 53% from 62%, and the betting remains closed.

If only that were the end of Napoli's meddling. They're now "in talks" with Gonzalo as they seek to replace Cavani's 29 goals. It's maddening to think of how long we've pursued his signature, only to see the odds sink to 71%, down from their high of 80% on 7 July. Worse, Napoli are now rated as a more likely destination by skybet, putting the line at 4/5 and us at 2 (meaning that if you bet five on Higuain to Napoli you win four; if you bet one on him to Arsenal, you win two). C'mon, Napoli. Be a friend. Just finish signing Damião and leave it at that. He's a decent striker. I don't think Brazilians and Argentinians like each other. Uruguayans and Brazilians, however, are like peas and carrots. Or so I hear. Go get Luis, leave Gonzalo alone, and we promise to root for you to overtake Juve. Deal?

The other possible glimmer of optimism comes concerning Ashley Williams. Despite being named Swansea's captain earlier this week, little has changed as his odds remain at 42%, and skybet still sees us as the odds-on favorites to get him. The captaincy is a nice honor and recognition of his importance to the squad, but I'm not sure it changes much as far as availability. I seem to remember some other club whose captains had little trouble departing. With Vermaelen out for the first three or four games of the season after aggravating a chronic back problem, we may see the club pursue Williams or another center-back with more urgency. Vermaelen's injury highlights the need for a fourth center-back as we're one injury away from having only two in the squad.

Further off on the edges of the radar but still registering at transfermarkt are Suarez (32%), Papadopoulos (22%), Fellaini (20%), and Rooney (18%). Until that number climbs above 35%, the chances seem too remote to entertain.

With the club in Asia until 26 July, it seems unlikely that we'll hear of any news before then, as desperate as many of us are. With Arteta, Wilshere, and Walcott recently making public statements about the importance of some new signings, however, perhaps we'll see something sooner than later. Arteta, as vice-captain, and Wilshere, as a club talisman, surely have Arsène's ear when they speak publicly and did so just days after Arsène spoke of "secrets and confidentiality." In that same press conference in Jakarta, Arsène said that "we want to give happiness to all of our fans". Well, Arsène, seeing the current squad in the flesh is a well-deserved thrill for the fans there, but I'm sure I speak for everyone in the Gunner family when I say, please announce a significant signing, and soon! <S'il vous plait, Monsieur Wenger, je vous en supplie!>

That about does it for today, then. If you have a moment and haven't done so already, go on over to the YAMA awards and vote. This blog, Woolwich 1886, is nominated in the Best New Arsenal Blog category, and I hope to earn your vote. Thanks!

16 July 2013

Man U does us a favor in its bid for Cesc

I couldn't be happier to hear that Man U have put in a bid for Cesc Fabregas. In fact, this might be some of the best news of the silly season, as far as I'm concerned. As scary as it might have initially been to hear that another club is bidding for him, this sets in motion a number of wheels, all of which are turning for us. Let's remember that Cesc holds a special emotional appeal for Gooners and we should be careful of investing too much of our emotional energy into hoping for his return. Having said that, it's intriguing to consider the possibilities. It's all very pie-in-the-sky, but it's a lot more fun than pondering Suarez's candidacy.

We've previously looked at whether or not to pursue dear Cesc here and pondered the rising Spanish Armada at Arsenal here, but Man U's apparent bid is the first time in a while that the possibility of Cesc's return has taken on any life.

First, let's deal with the cold, hard cash element. Since 2011 (the first year that FFP regulations apply) and including the current transfer window, Man U is a full -£92m in transfer revenues over the last three seasons, and Barcelona is in similarly bad shape at -£81.5m. Arsenal sits on a tidy positive balance of £17.8m. Barcelona's debt is fueled in large part by its signing of Neymar, so they will have to start looking for other ways to trim that deficit. They've already let Thiago Alcantara and David Villa leave for pennies on the dollar, and they've resigned Sergio Busquets to a new contract with a buy-out clause of some £130m. In other words, they continue to bleed out faster than a stuck pig.

Man U is in similarly dire straits, having splashed out £27m on van Persie last year and a combined £50.5m on de Gea, Jones, and Young in 2011, and being linked with Ronaldo for some astronomically ludicrous (or is it ludicrously astronomic?) sum. The best they can offer for Cesc is £26m? Yes, this is a low-ball bid to test the waters and so on, but it also indicates a certain trepidation from Old Trafford. Yes, they won the Prem last year, but it was with a team widely regarded as among Ferguson's weakest in years. With new manager Moyes, you might expect some new signings to bolster the squad and steady the ship—but there's been little news other than some murmurs about Lewandowski and Baines, and now this bit with Cesc.

Enter Arsenal, stage right.

When Cesc left, Arsène was cagey enough to have reportedly inserted a few clauses: a right of first-refusal, a 50% sell-on clause, and a buy-back of around £25m. If Man U is serious about this bid, then, they haven't exceeded that buy-back clause. If Barcelona is desperate enough to accept the bid, we get to activate the first-refusal and take Cesc back. I don't see the £25m bid getting anywhere, though, not for a player valued at upwards of £40m. A team in Barcelona's financial straits is not about to sell him at less than his value, especially while knowing that we'll get half of whatever they'd get for him. Could they really sell him on to Man U, getting only £12.5 out of it—getting just a fraction of his value while taking a £20m loss on what they paid for him two years ago? Not likely. Let's step in and match Man U's bid straight up: £25m. In order to better our bid, Man U would have to double that and then some for their bid to be more attractive than ours. Long story short, Arsène holds all of the cards, at least for now.

Having dealt with the grubby financials, let's deal with other, warmer, sentimental issues. Cesc has had a chance to win silverware with his boyhood club. He's gotten a chance to play for Pep. However, it must be a little frustrating for him to have to squeeze onto the pitch here, there, and everywhere. With Neymar's arrival, the midfield will get just a bit more crowded, and Cesc can see how the club responds to Man U's offer to see just how much he's wanted at the Camp Nou. If he's at all dissatisfied or disappointed, he can glance at London and see that his son is there for school, remember his familiar haunts, and, of course, lock eyes with Arsène.  Yes, yes, I'm sure van Persie has whispered to him, trying to lure him to Old Trafford. If he goes there, he's "Vanchester's" second-fiddle. If he comes back to Ashburton Grove, he's instantly and unquestionably the most-beloved and adored player on the squad—with little complaint from anyone else. How much better would Giroud or Walcott or Podolski be with through-balls from Cesc? It's almost too much to imagine. As exciting as it's been to wonder about Higuaín or Rooney, I might just lose my mind if talk around Cesc heats up.

Having said all of that, I must say, thank you, Man U, for nudging this dream just a little closer to reality.

Last but not least, voting continues in the 2012-13 YAMA awards, and Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Blog. I hope you'll go over and vote! Thanks!

15 July 2013

Higuaín v. Suarez: Whom should Arsenal sign?

The Argentinian and the Uruguayan are both capable of making Gooners around the world drool, and we are all, I'm sure, familiar with their impressive statistics. Higuaín is the third-highest scorer in La Liga since 2007, behind only Messi and Ronaldo; Suarez very nearly took last season's Golden Boot after finishing with 23 goals. In short, they're both savory prospects. Who, then, should Arsenal focus on?

By now, you all know where this writer stands. However, a more-direct comparison that looks past these statistics might be in order if only to give ourselves a different vantage-point from which to make the comparison.

With that in mind, I offer this little graphic to help us sift through the positive and negative attributes each player might bring to Ashburton Grove.   While they are both capable of feats of brilliance, we must take a holistic view so that we don't miss the forest for the trees. One set of statistics or one incident in and of itself cannot speak for a man, now, can it?

We owe it to this proud club and to these two individuals to weigh them on their merits without prejudice or haste, lending each quality its proper context and significance and ensuring that both men are assessed on the full canvass on which their lives are painted. We are all capable of glorious as well as ignominious moments, are we not?

All snark aside, I had to take a break from actually assessing rumors and odds and likelihoods. I hope it brightens your day if only for a moment.

In all seriousness, I am clinging to the hope that all of this Suarez-talk is just a distraction to throw everyone off the trail Arsène is actually on: signing Higuain. Time will tell...

Before closing, I encourage you to go vote in the 2012-13 YAMAs Awards.  Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Arsenal Blog, so if you've enjoyed what you've read here, please consider voting for me. Thanks!

14 July 2013

Aaron Ramsey shows some skills vs. Indonesia's Dream Team (vid)

Today's match between Arsenal and the Indonesian Dream team ended in a 7-0 victory for Arsenal, but I hope the hosts had some fun regardless of the outcome. Among the highlights is this quick moment from Aaron Ramsey, showing himself to be nimble and incisive as he dribbles through the box.

It's only six seconds long, and it's a friendly match, but it's interesting to think about what this suggests for his continued growth as we look to next year. He's quickly becoming one of my favorites, and if he adds these kinds of flourishes to the repertoire and builds on his form from last season's run-in, there'll be more than one naysayer who may have to eat his or her words—and I hope this can be done with relish! For now, savor the possibilities that the young Welshman represents...

I've said that Ramsey is settling into being himself instead of trying to imitate Fabregas, but moments like this make wonder if he's capable of playing a little mix-and-match.

The original poster is courtesy of lagvilava7, so give him a visit by clicking here.

The Asia Tour and the joy of being a Gooner

I've been an Arsenal fan for most of my life, but almost all of it has been a solitary existence. Here in America, we didn't get any kind of access to European football until painfully recently, and so I've missed out on a great deal of the joy of membership in a larger tribe or community. One of my dreams is to come to Ashburton Grove to see the boys play, so I have to admit I feel some good-natured envy of Gooners who will get to host the squad over the next few weeks.

It's hard to describe the giddiness and unadulterated joy I'm experiencing as I check in on the Asia Tour and to see Arsenal greeted by madding throngs of fans, almost all of whom, I'd wager, have come no closer to the hallowed pitch than I have. Do yourself a favor and watch this video for a few minutes and tell me you don't feel a trill of pleasure down your spine, in your cheeks, and in your heart. These are men and women who get to see Gunners in the flesh, slap their hands, hug them. The grins and the chanting are positively ecstatic. Sam Limbert, a writer for arseblog and ESPN, has commented on how the Asia Tour will help to boost Arsenal's brand and commercial strength, which is most definitely true. The more fans we have, the more strength the club has. By contrast, Chelsea's reception in Taiwan has been somewhat more modest, revealing (to me, at least) a superficial element to their support and success.

The converse side of that is the passion and joy that we're seeing among the Indonesian fans who have gotten a chance to see Gunners, not just in press conferences or on the pitch, but face to face as more than just player in Arsenal kits—that is, as people in the flesh. That bond, that connection, is a huge part of what sport is all about. If I ever do make it to see Arsenal play and get beer spilled on me and chant and cheer until my throat bleeds, I want to look around and see not just Englishmen, Scots, and Irishmen, but Indonesian and Japanese and Vietnamese Gooners just as delirious as I am. We may not all speak the same language but we'll be breathing the same air and feeling the same pulsing rhythm in our hearts. A large debt is due to Arsène, not just for bringing stylish football to England, but for popularizing foreign players. Much as we might fault his proclivity for seeking out Francophone players, he was among the first to see the importance of finding the best and bringing them to the Prem, strengthening not just Arsenal but British football as well. Perhaps this tour will inspire the first Indonesian or Indian footballer to come to the Emirates someday soon.

It blows my mind to see the passion of fans who turned out to watch a simple training session—they're more worked up (and perhaps more numerous) than the turn-out for an actual match (well, maybe an early FA or league cup match, but you get my point). I can't wait to see the Indonesia Dream Team take on Arsenal today. We might not be able to watch it live, but a replay will be available to everyone at Arsenal Player sometime around 4:30pm (London Time).

We can look around and check our twitter feeds and facebook pages and see activity from Malaysia, England, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Ireland, Canada, Russia, Vietnam, Japan, France, America, Indonesia and more than I can list and realize that, whatever our nationality, ethnicity, religion, language, politics, gender, or almost any other label we're known by or labelled as, we're all Gooners as well. That is a glorious, glorious feeling to have—and to know it's a feeling that millions around the world share is just sublime.