Villa’s problem, Arsenal’s six injuries and the cost of January transfers

By Tony Attwood

It struck me as Blacksheep and I walked back from the game to Archway underground station, what a warped vision of football is created by the arrant nonsense that is pumped out by so many blogs and the newspapers each day, with their endless story that the only thing that matters is the BIG BIG transfer and the transfer window.

Of course BIG transfers are great when they happen – Ozil and Alexis being cases in point.  But that is not primarily what Arsenal is about. People who expect big transfers for us each window don’t understand the club they purport to report.

A major part of our story of late has been players who never featured on the transfer news.  I think of course of Coquelin – a player who cost us nothing and who was even written off when he came back from loan – there was talk of “desperation” in the Arsenal camp at bringing him back rather than a tactical move to give the player more games to get him ready for the big show.

And there is Bellerin – Arsenal were damned in many quarters for playing “kids” in games where the top quality was needed, and our defence in depth approach was described as non-existent.

But now we see that in him we have a player of the highest quality, who just needed to get going.  Had he not had his chance and had we brought in another full back, he would undoubtedly have left, and Man U, Chelsea, or Man C would have snapped him up.

Or Koscielny – whom Arsene Wenger recently described as his best buy in money value terms among the current squad.  He is said to have cost us around £8.5m – a fair old sum, but not the megabucks the fans wanted at the time.

£8m for Monreal seems these days to be fairly modest too – a real smash and grab looking at his performances now.

Giroud at £9m was regularly seen as not good enough, yet seven goals in 8 starts in the Premier League this season in a team that contains numerous other players expected to score is not such a bad return.  (That’s 0.88 goals per league game.  Henry in Season III averaged 0.72 goals a game in the league).

And all this before we think of the players who joined us young and were nurtured: Ramsey, Ox, Theo, Gibbs.   And we are still just learning what Mr Wenger sees in Akpom, chosen from an array of young striking talent to be the one who comes through the ranks.

But no, the only thing that matters is transfers.   Even when the transfer window “snaps” (or if you prefer “slams”) closed the rumours won’t stop.  Even though 98% of the rumours were untrue they won’t stop.  Even though most of the people who read them and take them seriously, must know they are being treated like mugs, they won’t stop.

Even when we have had another transfer window of us buying a goalkeeper and Suarez, they won’t stop.

What knocked us back in the first half of this season was not the size of the squad, but the injuries and curious decision making by the tiny bunch of refs that PGMO chooses to employ.

OK, we are still not even in the top four (we are one goal from being there, and one point from being third) and top four is not a trophy (although come to that the FA Cup is not a trophy either according to the anti-Arsenal Arsenal.)

But we can see the difference between having just Alexis, Arteta, Debuchy, the Ox, Gnabry (who I thought was back from injury but seemingly might not be) and Wilshere out of the team, and what we were suffering last year.

Note – that was “just” those players.  Six first team players out of the team and we are thinking “luxury”.  Compare and contrast with most clubs.

Plus it is done without sinking into a defensive style of the Graham era.  13 goals in the last four games.  Rather jolly in fact.

So what of Villa?   Their supporters, let us admit it, were very good.  They took all their allocated space (recognising a good deal in seat prices when they see it) made quite a bit of noise in the first half, as their team had (amazingly) 52% of possession.

But I think Blacksheep and I were able to ascertain what Villa’s big problem is.   Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, spoke to Five Live after the match, and we listened intently or the car radio.  And neither of us could understand a single word.  I think he needs a translator.  At least for the English speaking members of the squad.

The other point proven by this match was how instantly the media will change their views.  Every week the mantra that you are only as good as your last match is made clearer and clearer.  Here is the Guardian today, on Arsenal.

…”few, if any, sides in the country better equipped at slicing through opposition,”

Compare and contrast with everything said about the club in that paper in the first half of the season.

I think we should also consider a word for Özil.  As I say I haven’t yet watched the film of the match but there was an extraordinary moment as our lackadaisical (I do love that word now) midfielder got the ball to Giroud so he could go a-wandering, half seem to lose the ball, regain it and score.  The Maestro scored the second himself.  Two in two, all seemingly without breaking sweat.

As for Gabriel, he got warm applause and cheers, but in case he is wondering how he breaks into the team perhaps we should tell him:

We get kicked to bits and as long as the score is 0-0 or even 1-0 to us, the refs do nothing.  Six players out is luxury for us.  Your time will come Gabriel.  But it will hurt.

And so back to where I began.   Does the January transfer glass panel matter?  Each time we poke fun at the latest saying (“seen arriving at Heathrow” has more or less vanished since we did the Chambers “seen driving round the M25” article,) others pop up to take their place.

And yet, despite all the fuss, in the past four January transfers there have been under 75 transfers, and under 50 of the players are over 22 years old.

And not all of those have quite worked out.   Fernando Torres for example cored 20 goals in 110 games which makes it £2.5m a goal in transfer fee (£3.4m a goal when you include salary).

Andy Carroll, scored six in 44 for Liverpool after costing £35m.  Which is about £800,000 a game or £8m a goal.

January transfers are in fact only interesting if you look at few minutes many of these transferred players actually get on the pitch.

So let me leave you this morning (or at least this morning in the UK where it is bright, sunny and bloody freezing in the East Midlands) with this, again from the Guardian…

“rather than chuck several million pounds at a player – and a perceived problem – a better option might be to blood a youngster from the reserves. Who knows how many other Harry Kanes and Francis Coquelins are out there.”

Ah.  If only they had been reading Untold on 25 July 2008 when we said…

“And what about Francis Coquelin? Aged 17 from SASP Stade Lavallois Mayeene MFC of whom you have never heard (and nor had I) he looked amazingly sharp in the game this week.”

Funny old business, the media.

Classic Untold

How Tottenham tried to stop Arsenal signing Ozil.

Watch out Mourinho, Dean is not one to mess with.

The books


35 Replies to “Villa’s problem, Arsenal’s six injuries and the cost of January transfers”

  1. Think this must be the most relaxed transfer window for a long time. If Mr Wenger sees fit to sign someone, great, it not, pretty satisfied with who we have. Great to see our much maligned manager can spot a gem or two.
    This team and club is in a very healthy place.
    The Villa fans did make a noise, and their team gave it a go, but it seems Mr Fox has his work cut out there, and that maybe ownership issues….with Lerner desperate to sell….are making their way onto the field. At least Fox has learned a thing or two at Arsenal, and for the moment at least, is not going for the knee jerk sack the manager scenario.

  2. Now that is an excellent piece of canon powder there, you bombed them out of their red devil pants mate. Top gooner, top writer and incisive! Please forward your excellent piece to that sorry excuse for a pundit by the French name LeRoy at Fanzone, he sounds like the midget Michael Owen everyday!

  3. I really don’t think we need to buy anyone today. Let’s keep our powder dry and save up for one or two (only) really big signings in the summer – but even that is not essential. Every position is well-covered. Think we have the strongest squad out there – assuming everyone is fit. Still trying to find a bookie with odds for the 2015/16 season…

  4. I still think we will land Edison Kedira or Sami Cavani, and maybe add Hugo Cech and Petr Lloris (or is that Peter Lorre ed?)

    Spend ALL the F******* money (then spend it again!)

  5. Interesting to hear media comments that both Man City and Chelsea lack squad depth and have limited talent to call from their benches. It’s not so long since the same people were criticising us for allegedly lacking squad depth and comparing us unfavourably with those clubs.

    Maybe they have both been to reluctant to spend money to buy players?

    The serious point is that we have always had a strong squad. Our “weaknesses” have resulted from half the squad being injured for much of the season to date, many as a result of opponents’ foul play permitted by referees. Media never mention this.

  6. Apparently only squad lacking squad depth is the PGMOL. Wonder who they’ll sign this window!!

  7. Arsenal13, I have a friend who is a great Fulham supporter. They, as you know we’re relegated in summer and are now mid-table in the Championship. He tells me most weeks that if I think the Premiel League referees are bad (I do) then be thankful we don’t have these plying their trade in the Championship as they are truly awful. Don’t expect reinforcements riding over the hill any time soon.

  8. PGMOL could start by signing a new boss. Even more radically, someone from overseas… Walter, would you be up for it?!

  9. Andrew – The Championship refs may be bad, but are they biased? I guess no one has done the research?

    I assume that the Champ refs are part-time only. Will be harder for them if they have day jobs too.

  10. Andrew – To clarify. I would rather have a bad, but even-handed, ref than someone who is blatantly biased (for whatever reason).

  11. As an Arsenal fan, I’m delighted with the win especially the score line. We need to bury opponents as much as possible especially with so many teams separated by a point or 2 around us. Having a good goal advantage will definitely come in handy.

    On the other hand, I feel for the situation A/Villa find themselves in. Its pathetic for their supporters seeing them like this. Their body language after the 1st goal showed they were not up for the fight. Apart for their new buy (Carles Gil) who was showing some fighting spirit, the other players were less concerned.

    Anyway, that’s their qualms.

    Saw so many articles linking us to Lloris, Tiote, Andre-Perrie Gignac, Luis Gaya, Karim Benzema, Marco Reus, Illarramendi, Manzukic rVirgil van Dijk, Nicholas Otamendi and so many poised to sign for Arsenal by end of the transfer window today. What a field day Wenger will have and I wonder where all these players will fit in. LOL (Enjoying the nonsense)

  12. I’m with Pete. If we had bad refs, then that is when everything really does “even itself out” as we are constantly told.

    Sadly, we have biased refs whose job is, seemingly, to ensure exactly the opposite.

    Give me bad, unbiased refs every time…….poor decisions (but perhaps better protected players) for everyone please.

  13. For the love of me, I could not say less of the performance if ManCity’s was masterclass then this was sublime and perfection at its best. If the game were a portrait, it would be the size of the Mona Lisa and I’ll be proud to hang it around my neck like a trophy – even though some AA don’t count the FA as one. Well, I wish we win it again this year. And as for transfers – its just a matter of time before non-players get on the headlines. Have a lovely week and looking forward to the spurs game! Maybe some God will come down again

  14. Only AW and a few of us can see most of our young players are much better than most of the EPL players. Why? Because AW trust and kept faith in his players, old or young in a way most children won’t get it from their parents.

  15. Three points emerge from your post, Tony, which I feel are worth remembering.
    1. The manager and his professional staff know far more than we supporters
    do about the progress and potential of the young players in their charge.
    2. Because of this, we must have (a)patience and (b)trust in their judgement. After all, they see them on the training ground, in the gym and even at meal times, day after day.
    3.While other clubs, with unlimited foreign funds, elect to buy success, this is not the Arsenal way. Players in the reserves, some bought, most home-grown, are promoted by merit, loaned out to gain experience and a few, very few, make it to the top.
    Arsenal’s youth policy is probably among the very best in the land and the recent emergence of guys like Bellerin, Coquelin and Akpom at senior level is adequate proof of this.

  16. AW has been carefully rebuilding the squad for the last few years – ever since Fabergas et al departed. What we are now seeing is the benefit of that careful planning and team construction – and I don’t think AW is finished yet.

    Just now, we are playing the most attractive and entertaining football in the league.

    Returning to transfers, many of the stories are designed only as headline grabbers or are agents’ ploys – all fictional. We are in a good position now re squad depth and quality, so AW, having created that circumstance can afford to carefully pick out or wait for the correct addition.

    I do have sympathy for the Villa fans, but little for their manager – after they kicked us all round the field last season.

  17. re the match, I thought referee Antony Taylor produced a relatively competent and unbiased performance – something I by no means expected.

    Following his complete horror show in the same fixture at the start of last season (unquestionably the worst referring performance I’ve ever seen), yesterday he gave one of the better referring displays at the Emirates. I’ll be interested to see if Untold’s (always excellent) match referee review/analysis supports my view

  18. one of the benefits of our new tactics is if the opposition have a majority of possession they cant foul our players so much which may lead to less injuries.
    I found that when we have a lot of possession we are targeted by opposition more.

    what do others think?

  19. My view of Arsenal tactically at the moment is that we have concentrated on two areas and through them much improved overall from earlier in the season.

    The first and most obvious from the Man City game is that without the ball we are working really hard to get the right shape to be a complete and effective defensive unit.

    The second is that we have speeded up our transitions enormously and instead of possession football around our back four (I cant be the only one who found this repetitive and totally unthreatening). The fine form of Santi Cazorla and the return of Mesut Ozil being the principal factors in this but we should also note that the improving Aaron Ramsay and excellent Francis Coquelin have played their part too.

    Certainly now Arsenal look a much stronger team and have started realizing the potential to enable them to push on to further success. Let’s hope for third (or better) and the possibility of FA cup for the second year in a row and even the dream of old “Big Ears” itself.

  20. Great article Tony, I feel the same.

    Far too many fans judge players by their value. The more expensive the signing, the better they perceive the player. They seem to think professional football mirrors their fantasy football leagues or those games on their computers. There is a lot more to signing a player than his proce tag.

    Olivier Giroud was an absolute steal. He is an important player for us and he proves the point that you dont have to spend £30m. Yesterday on another blog he was being abused and called names, even after his goal. A goal that he took very well but they chose to criticise his finish (a very good finish by the way). Now had a £50m striker scored that or even Alexis Sanchez, the same fans would be raving. Sanogo is another example, he arrived on a free so he received pelters from day one. It is very strange behaviour but born out of an obsession of the ‘transfer fee’.

    Thsi point is further enhanced when you consider the signings the same’fans’ wanted us to make. They were screaming at Wenger to spend £18m on Balotelli, £25m on Benteke and complaining that Spurs had shown us up by spending £28m on Soldado. Stas for this season make an interesting read:

    Soldado pl 20, Goals 3, assists 1
    Balotelli pl 15, Goals 1, assists 0
    Benteke pl 14, Goals 3, assists 1

    Giroud pl 12, Goals 7, assists 1

    Olivier Giroud has scored the same number of PL goals as the three named strikers combined. Soldaod is teh most expensive signing at £26m, with Balotelli next at £18m. Olivier Giroud cost £9.5m.

    Giroud is also a team player. He contrubutes much more than goals and plays an important role in the team. When he was injured, the team suffered. Unfortunately, he will never receive the credit he deserves because Wenger ignored the armchair experts and defied their ‘transfer fee’ logic.

    Wenger has built a very strong squad and has only spent on two big signings, Ozil & Sanchez. He makes players better, gets them to work for the team and this is great football management. Unfortunately, it isnt appreciated by people who have agendas.

  21. PS: I love watching the way we play football. Since Wenger arrived it has been a breath of fresh air, especially after the tedium George could serve up.

    Nobody in the league plays football like us and I doubt any other fans feel as entertained as we do when we leave that great stadium (or our armchairs).

  22. thenry – your observation/opinion is correct. Most fouling is done on the heel of the player carrying the ball. There were some nasty high kicks (in the FA cup match) to the knees of Alexis that were not adequately punished. In the Villa match there were many fouls not given & some deliberately ignored by a timely head movement by cheat Anthony Taylor. It takes some observation to capture the cheating including the pseudo fouls that just happen in the preferred area for a shot at goal. Despite all of that Arsene got his team well advised to evade issues & injury.

  23. Tony
    I don’t know if Lambert’s accent is Villa’s biggest problem or not ,but I can think of another rather big problem he created for himself against Arsenal.

    His team set up and game tactics were incredibly ambitious and were ultimately proven all wrong on the day.

    Villa are a primarily a counterattacking side with pacey players all over the pitch, whiling to join the attack at moment’s notice .
    What they are not, however, is the high pressing side that does well with loads of possession against top sides like Arsenal.
    By pushing players up the pitch and trying to take the game to Arsenal , they left themselves open for a quick counterattack time and again. Four of Arsenal’s five goals came from those.

    It was quite a reversal of fortunes from a year ago, when Lambert took a page from SAF book on how to beat Arsenal , by hitting them hard in the midfield ,creating turnovers , and transitioning from defense to offense in the midfield area. Yesterday , he decided to attack Arsenal high up the pitch , and he paid the price.

    Arsene Wenger, on the other hand , had the perfect set up and took full advantage of Lambert’s.

    A lot has been said about refereeing in the last season’s game , but not as much about Arsenal’s tactics which were the primary reason for our defeat.
    Having Wilshere , Ramsey and Rosicky in the mid and Ox on the wing , and no proper holding mid player ( Arteta was out with injury) to protect the back four, created acres of space between our back line and the midfield when Arsenal lost the ball, and allowed Villa players have a free run at our back four.

    Arsene Wenger has learnt from this . He was happy to concede possession this time around ,even though at home, and sit back ,thus taking the biggest danger of Villa’s counterattacking game and nullifying it. Coquelin’s positioning and discipline was the biggest difference for us in this game compared with the last season’s game.

    Possession stats were also reversed from the last season.

    Villa’s high back line against Arsenal at the Emirates, is what you can truly call a kamikaze football.

    Well done Arsenal.

  24. @proudkev
    True, true, i watched the chel$ v manc match and i was bored by half time. There is no other that plays like Arsenal, (many try to do so sometimes).

    Arsenal is now on track for big things again. It’s great when a transfer window comes and there is no great panic wondering who we’ll get, instead, it’s will we get someone? If not also good.

  25. Vintage – not sure it is quite as fluent as it can be. I still think that Ramsey is taking a touch or two too many and then being forced to double back giving the defence time to recover its position. Contrast with Rosicky who is very direct and forward running.

    It was strange all the hoopla around Ozil. His flick for the first goal was glorious, his finish for the second excellent, but I still think there is a lot of improvement to come from him. Once we have a fully fit forward line with Giroud as the pivot and Sanchez/Ox/Walcott running off him – and with Ramsey running past – it will be an embarrassment of riches. And all that without considering Welbeck, Cazorla, Wilshere et al.

    Also thought Walcott was well off the pace – the game passed him by for long periods. But the goal will do him good and we all know it will take a while to get back to top level after a year out.

  26. Returning to the topic of transfers, it is amusing to see the SKY attempts to create a hyped-up interest in a fairly dull subject. They are now grandly announcing breaking news items about transfers that are not going to happen (as if they ever were!)

  27. More exciting news from SKY is that Harry Redknapp is still in his office at QPR training ground and might or might not be on the phone to somebody, arranging a deal for a player

  28. slightly inaccurate if you include Hayden there was eight first team squad players missing and for a second week running a ref who hates us gave us a penalty

  29. Para. Its been great football since Wenger arrived, I think many people take that for granted. Dont get me wrong, I hate losing but I would rather lose and play attractive football then be bored to tears.

  30. Pete

    I agree with everything you say although I might give more allowance for rustiness following long periods out for injury. I also agree that players still to come will make Arsene’s life very difficult in the nicest possible way. We will indeed be embarrassed by an abundance of riches – bring it on!

    My primary point however was in the significant change in tactics (by a manager who doesn’t do tactics!). It is this which is giving me real hope for a bright future.

  31. The most Influential person on the pitch for last season home game against villa was Taylor it was nothing either manager did.

  32. Gunnerjoe
    Spot on. I was shocked to read that villa are supposed to have beaten us last season due to their manager outwitting Wenger in the tactics department. I guess its an insinuation that the ref was ok that day, and the better team on the day won. Sad.

    Back on the subject of the mischief-making media, I happened to be in a crowd with a group of local Arsenal fans while on holiday in south Africa, and they were ecstatic that Arsenal had been reported to be interested in Cavani. I told them that there was less than than 0.1% chance of that ever happening. Some looked at me as if I was crazy, wondering how I could be so dismissive of information that they had just heard on TV. I explained why the English media do this sort of thing, and felt sorry for them as some of them looked genuinely disappointed as they had believed he was on his way to Arsenal and appeared downcast after this piece of news. This lot I can excuse because they don’t understand the workings of our media. What I don’t get is someone who lives in England who reads this crap daily every transfer window and still believes it.

  33. Al,

    I wish you could come down to Malaysia and do the same to most of the morons here. I’ll be glad to introduce my dear friends to you as well. I gave up…

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