Showing posts with label Christian Benteke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Benteke. Show all posts

23 August 2015

Can Arsenal exploit Liverpool's soft underbelly?

There was a time, believe it or not, when these two clubs vied for supremacy. I’d like to make a play on “Prem” and “supremacy,” but the era defies such word-play. Ever since 1989, when Arsenal won the First Division in epic fashion, the two clubs have parted ways. At one level, that match seems to mark the arrival of the modern game where television revenues are so central to so many decisions. Whether it also marks the decline of a once-great franchise—Liverpool—is another question.

06 June 2013

How to choose between Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, and Villa...

After Andrei Arshavin's shock away-move caught everyone at Arsenal off-guard, the urgency to sharpen the attack has reached a fever-pitch that--oh, wait. Nevermind. I'm sad to see Arshavin go. Among he, Squidward, and Denilson, I thought he had the most to offer. Oh well. No sense crying over split milk. With the official transfer window still a few weeks away, we have to prioritize our targets. The four forwards we've most often been linked to--Jovetic, Villa, Higuain, and Benteke--all have their flaws and fortés, and we'd be wise the kick the tires on each (being gentler with Villa, of course).

We're going to need a forward who can deliver reliably and ruthlessly. Despite being the only team in the Prem to feature four double-digit scorers, we lack that one player who can change a game week after week with a stunning goal. The committee-approach of the 2012-13 season certainly worked in terms of the sheer number of goals we've scored, but we still limped through far too many games when we just couldn't unlock a defense to score--across all competitions, we failed to score in nine matches and scored a single goal in 18, with predictable impacts on points-dropped and progress in various cups. I won't dredge up those numbers. I don't want to live that much in the past.

When it comes to the pasts of the players we've been linked to, however, it's well-worth a closer look. Sadly, it looks like the most "available" player, and the one who carries the most impressive resumé,  might also be the least desirable at least in terms of our needs: David Villa. He's far and away the oldest of the bunch at 31, and although he's played at the highest levels of football between the Spanish national team and Barcelona, these are factors that might inflate his stats. Simply put, Barcelona's dominance of La Liga has been so complete that its forwards find far-more opportunities to score than forwards at other clubs might. His market-value has plummeted from a high of £44m in 2011, due in part to injury, his age, and concerns over his longevity. He might represent a nice addition to the squad, but he might have to accept a second-string role--I'm not sure he's willing to change clubs without upgrading his role. Then again, with the arrival of Neymar, he's almost certainly going to drop further down in the pecking order.

At the other end of the spectrum, at least as concerns age and experience, is Christian Benteke. He has only one season of top-flight action, this past year with Aston Villa, but has made the most of his time. He almost single-handedly dragged the Acorns away from relegation, scoring 19 goals despite being the focus of each opponent's defense. Aston Villa has apparently slapped a £40m asking price on him with interest from Spurs and Fiorentina making the headlines lately. That might say something about those club's concerns regarding Bale and Jovetic, respectively. If they're willing to meet that price tag, it might indicate that Bale and Jovetic each have one foot out the door, and the clubs plan on using their transfer fees to finance Benteke's move. If Aston Villa is serious about that price tag, he's become ludicrously overpriced. Too bad. Among the current four, he's been my first pick for a while. I see Aston Villa's priorities, though: use that asking price to keep Benteke or use that transfer-fee to finance some new transfers.

I guess I'm tipping my hand a bit by now addressing Jovetic. I'm still not sold on him. No offense against Serie A, but I just don't feel like Jovetic has dominated opponents there as he should in order to justify his current asking-price. Once you look past Juventus and AC Milan, there's a sharp drop-off in quality (according to the Euro Club Index). His thirteen goals this year are good for 11th-best in Serie A, which again doesn't make me drool as much as I'd hope. If I'm going to knock Villa for his injury, it's worth noting that Jovetic has one of his own, one only described as a "cruciate ligament injury". Whether it was a tear or something less serious, he does seem to have bounced back nicely, but whether he's risen to the levels we're looking for and would have to fork over to get is still an open question in my book. At a starting price of £26m, he's feeling a little over-priced.

Even with Higauin, who has all but sworn on a Bible that he's leaving Real Madrid (which should deflate his value just a bit), I'm not salivating. He's been a good player for club and country. Despite having to play in Ronaldo's shadow and having to platoon with Benzema, he's still managed to average 0.44 goals per game, not enough to set the world on fire either, but more than Jovetic's 0.3 despite Higuain being his club's 2nd or 3rd choice attacker and Jovetic being his club's 1st-choice. Even after we repeat the caveat we used with Villa above--that Real Madrid, along with Barcelona, co-dominates La Liga in a way that might inflate players' stats, Higuain now emerges at the head of my list. He's proven himself but isn't ageing, he's high-priced but not exorbitantly so, and he speaks both French and Spanish. Okay. So two of three of these carry a bit more weight than the last one, but it's still worth noting that his ability to communicate with Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta, and others is a factor to at least keep in mind if not front and center.

I've come to the end of this, then, having not quite convinced myself as to which of these four we should put at the top of our list, so I doubt I've swayed anyone who's come this far with me. I apologize, but maybe it's a sign of a bigger issue: should we not step up our ambitions to pursue another bigger name? I don't want to see us going after the likes of Ronaldo or Rooney, necessarily; I don't want to devote so much of the club's finances, personality, or locker-room oxygen to someone quite that big. It might stifle other players as much as it inflates our wage-sheet or goals-scored. Still, a step-up from the current batch could split the difference. Lewandowski? Cavani? Any other suggestions?

30 May 2013

Let's not waste money on Jovetic. He ain't worth 25m. Go for Benteke!

Stevan Jovetic's name has been bandied about in connection with Arsenal since 'round about the Pleistocene Era, it seems, but I have to admit that I'm not impressed with the man. I don't think he represents a significant upgrade on who we currently have as our #1 center-forward. This is not to say that I'm entirely satisfied with that center-forward although I do think he will settle in quite well and show us more of his quality in his second season in the Prem. Giroud may have only scored 11 goals in the Prem this year, but I'd suggest that he was straining too hard to replicate van Persie's heroics from last year. Once he plays his game rather than van Persie's, I think we'll see his goals and assists grow tidily enough that we'll be thanking him, if not altogether lauding him.

Which brings us back to Jovetic. I'm still not sold on this guy being worth £25m. Heck, I'm not sure I'm willing to see us spend £15m on him. I've dived into his numbers just a bit, something I've done before, here and here and here, if you're interested. In its simplest form, he doesn't seem to represent a significant upgrade on Giroud. He might just outclass Gervinho, but, then again, so does my cat, and she doesn't seem to understand what I'm doing when I send a through-ball past the ottoman. Nonetheless, she puts it home more often than not.

That, after all, is the purpose of a center-forward: put it home. By that measure, Jovetic doesn't do this more-often or more-effectively than Giroud does--certainly not enough to justify the price-tag. When you compare Giroud to the other forwards we've been linked to, a few key insights emerge. One: Jovetic is not a dramatic upgrade. At twice the cost of Giroud, he might put a few more shots on goal, but fewer of those shots find their way home. Contrast that against Benteke or Villa. Each of these forwards seems dramatically stronger than our current option (with apologies to Gervinho). I'll put Villa on the back-burner if only because he's 31. Benteke's stats jump off the page--he puts twice as many shots on goal compared to Giroud or Jovetic (or nearly so), and he has by-far the highest conversion-rate of any of the four. Even Villa, playing for one of the most prolific teams in the world, can't match Benteke, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that Benteke is the only Acorn to tally double-digits in goals. In other words, every Prem team would focus on stopping Benteke, and he still found ways to become the league's #4 scorer, behind only van Persie, Suarez, and Bale.

Actual goals aside, Benteke still outclasses Jovetic. Of all of Jovetic's shots, only 29.9% are on-goal. Contrast that against Benteke, for whom 41.4% of his shots are on-goal. Long story short: in addition to scoring more-often than Jovetic, Benteke creates far-more pressure on keepers, leading indirectly to more second-chance opportunities for teammates along the way.

The resolution, therefore, seems crystal-clear. Instead of spending £25m or more to land Jovetic, offer Aston Villa £16-18 for Benteke (and maybe throw in Gervinho along the way). Jovetic isn't even Fiorentina's best finisher, having two teammates who pose a similar threat and therefore diffuse opponents' defenses all the more. Benteke has been a one-man wrecking crew, going into each game knowing that the defense will be keying on him but scoring again and again all the same. The fact that he has outscored Jovetic, and that he has done so in the Prem, all-but by himself and more clinically, makes him a far-more logical choice for us than does Jovetic.

Not that it matters a whole lot, but signing Benteke would fall in line with Wenger's philosophy. Signing Jovetic, by contrast, might skew things too much. He'd become Arsenal's highest-paid player with a pen-stroke, out-earning the likes of Walcott, Wilshere, or Cazorla without having played a minute in the Prem. Even if he does deliver, I worry about the impact such a signing would have on other players who have represented Arsenal year after year. Far better in my book, then, to try to land Benteke at a more-modest sum (even if still outpacing his current value). He represents a far-better investment, both in terms of actual statistics as well as in the far-muddier terms of philosophy and chemistry.

I don't like to kick a team when it's down, but, Aston Villa, I'm sorry to say that my modest recommendation is that Arsenal go all-in for your best player. I'd love to see Benteke play for us. His size and Walcott's speed could be absolutely massive for us next year. Two twenty-goal scorers on one team? A boy can dream...