Tag Archives: Ashley Williams

Transfer Odds: Higuain collapsing, Cesar fading, Williams stable…

There are others, to be sure, and we’ll get to them momentarily. The news this week is not for the faint of heart, as two players to whom we’ve been closely linked seem to be receding ever farther from reach as Napoli, flush with cash after selling Cavani, threaten to ruin everything. Jerks. Not only do they seem on the brink of signing Higuaín, their sale of Cavani may be guilty of driving up transfer-fees that much more, not that they needed the help. If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s that nothing’s certain, and as close as Napoli might be, they’re still not as close as we’ve been or rumored to be.

Let’s get a bit of good-ish news out of the way first: we seem close to announcing the first proper signing of a player (Sanogo came in on the cheap, he’s French, and he’s young, so he doesn’t signify a new way of doing things around here). Brazilian midfielder Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte’s odds of signing have skyrocketed to 59% from out of nowhere and is now, according to transfermarkt, our most likely signing. I’ll have to add him to the chart, come to think of it. I’m not sure how excited to get for a 20-year old who stands 5’5″ (162cm), so I’ll have to more research so that I know whether to be excited or enraged.

Bernard’s surge occurs mid-way through my composing this post and as s Higuaín’s odds dropped again from 60% to 58%. We’re now in a neck-and-neck race with Napoli, whose odds grew to 57%. A hefty grain of salt is on order as I still can’t explain how they conjure these numbers—I continue to use them because they make more sense to me than the drivel peddled by The Sun or The Mirror. Statistics feel more meaningful to me. Of course, you can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.

I don’t know what to say about the Higuaín saga. We had apparently agreed to personal terms and a bid in the £23m range only to turn our attention to Suarez when negotiations with Real Madrid stalled. Now, into the breach steps Napoli who have £54m from the Cavani sale and a gap at striker to fill. Partly as a result, Fiorentina Pérez wants £37m for Higuaín. Can you blame him? He sees us offer Higuaín £40m, Cavani sells at £54m, and he wonders why he should be bothered to sell Higuaín at what now seems like a discounted price in seller’s market. We’re looking like rubes in the transfer-market, unable to comprehend how the game is played. That, more than any actual player we’ve signed, sold, or missed out on in the last ten years, might be the most damning legacy of our, uh, prudence in previous transfer-window: we’re thoroughly unpracticed in how to play a high-stakes game and quail at the numbers being discussed, only to see those numbers grow. Meanwhile, Chelsea and PSG and Napoli (apparently) keep on raising the stakes. Are we going to ante up or are we going to fold?

I guess Kenny Rogers put it best in his song, “The Gambler,” when he said this:

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

We’ve spent too much damned time counting our money over the last decade or so; we have upwards of £70m to spend. Get Higuaín for 30m (a price I’ve suggested is closer to his true value anyway). Give up on that biting, diving, racist and save the 50m that Liverpool want; spend it on players who fill other needs, like a defender or two. We’ll be without Monreal and Vermaelen for the first half-dozen games or so, so take the plunge to get Ashley Williams and then bring up Miquel to support Gibbs. We have a soft-enough start to the Prem season that this should be enough to shore up the defense until Vermaelen and Monreal heal up.

As to these other players, not much movement to worry about. For all the talk of Suarez, he’s still a long-shot at 29% odds, as is Luis Gustavo. Further away are Papadopolous at 22% and Rooney at 18%. Fellaini seems to have all but disappeared from our radar for now. Frankly, I could care less about any of these players.

We’d better learn how to play this transfer-window better or we’ll be left scrambling yet again for a fourth-place “trophy” and trying to counter the taunts of trophyless seasons with flimsier retorts of top-four streaks and Champions League appearances. The club finishes the Asia Tour with a game on Friday against Urawa Reds, and this makes me wonder if we won’t hear anything until Monday at the earliest. I just hope the news is dramatic and good and Argentinian.

That’s all for now. Voting in the 2012-13 YAMA awards is still open; please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 as a “Best New Arsenal Blog”—thanks!

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!

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!

Transfer Updates: Higuain's fade, Cesar's signing, Williams's surge…

There’s a queasy feeling that I just can’t shake, and I’m going to blame Suarez. Ever since the news that we may have put in a bid for him, our pursuit of other players has faltered. Thankfully, the oddsmakers still rate Real Madrid as his most likely destination, and the probability of us signing him(as rated by transfermarkt) has never risen above 35%, my arbitrary threshold for including a player on my little chart. In fact, that probability has sagged to 25%, which I take as a good sign. On to the current Top Three Players Most Likely to Become Immediate Arsenal Legends at the Stroke of a Pen.

What’s that shiny thing Williams has?

There are rumors to the effect that Julio César may have agreed to sign with Napoli, but there’s no official verification. Should that turn out to be true, this would be a setback, to be sure, although not a disaster. The website oddschecker.com shows no betting sites taking bets on him going anywhere, but that’s happened with players before only to change. I’ve argued that we should sign him, but if he prefers to take a pay-cut to return to Italy, there’s not much we can do about that. We’ve been linked to him a little but not seriously, so it’s not as if someone has snatched him from under our noses.

News regarding Higuaín, however, is a little more troublesome. For the first time since I’ve started tracking him closely, the odds of him signing have fallen, from a high of 80% a week ago to 73% today. Along similar lines, the betting sites have started taking bets on him again, with us at 5/4 and Chelsea at 4/6, meaning that Chelsea has somehow emerged as favorites. By contrast, transfermarkt still rates this as a ?, so there’s still hope. All the same, I worry. I tell myself that Higuaín wants no part of playing for Mourinho after shabby treatment at Real Madrid, but, for all I know, they’re besties and can’t wait to join up at Chelsea. Mourinho makes me nervous, I’ll admit. Such is the way my paranoid mind works. We’ve been linked with Higuaín for so long and we’ve come agonizingly close. Once the club left for the Asia tour, though, I gave up on there being any news this week. With hope, the change in his status simply reflects an absence of any other real news.

Along similar lines, I’m hoping that all of the talk of Suarez is a smokescreen meant to distract us from the real behind-the-scenes dealing that will result in Higuaín’s signing next week. I’ve dubbed it Wenger’s Law: the more headlines there are around us signing a player, the less likely it is we’ll sign him. Under this law, the Suarez story was meant to gobble up all of the headlines like they’re so many Serbian defenders. Then, when everyone’s obsessing over whether or not we should sign Suarez (something I swear I haven’t done at all), Wenger calls a press conference to announce that we’ve signed Higuaín. Presto! Wenger’s Law strikes again. I’m crossing my fingers.

In more-optimistic news, the likelihood of our signing Swansea’s Ashley Williams has surged dramatically, almost doubling at transfermarkt from 24% to 42%. The betting sites agree that we’re favorites for his signature with a betting line of 2/5. He’d be a nice addition, but I’m not feeling a huge tingle in any parts of my body when I hear his name. We already have three solid center-backs, and squad-depth is usually a Good Thing. This would be a good signing, but not the kind of paradigm-shifting addition that Gooners crave. He’s only played two seasons of top-flight football (helping Swansea earn promotion, it must be said) but has done pretty well. However, whoscored rates him as weak in aerial duels and tackling. On the other hand, Swansea play an Arsenal-lite kind of football, so he might bed in more quickly than other center-backs we might consider.

Other players still on the peripheries are Fellaini (28%), Papadopolous (22%), Grenier (18%), and Rooney (17%). We’ll continue to track these and others with the hope that something dramatic and exciting and, above all, factual, can be reported. Until then, this is the silly season in all of its, uh, glory.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for taking a minute to consider voting for Woolwich 1886 as a “Best New Arsenal Blog” at the 2012-13 YAMA awards—you can click here to access the survey.

Center-back Review: still room for Vermaelen?

Building from the back, I’m continuing a retrospective look at each position and will this time around scrutinize Arsenal’s center-backs. With Sebastien Squillaci out of contract and Johan Djourou’s loan to Hannover looking like it will continue into the next season, we are currently

looking at going into the 2013-14 season with three center-backs: Kosciely, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen. On one hand, this was enough to largely see us through without much trouble; on the other, it leaves us one injury away from having only two players available. In addition to the insurance a fourth center back might bring us, it would help to add a bit more competition for the starting roles to keep everyone on their toes. Whether this means Arsenal should sign another center-back, such as Swansea’s Ashley Williams, is a question to keep in mind.

Using whoscored.com‘s stats, then, let’s look back at how those three center backs performed. We’re again using American high school letter-grades, which might bear a quick summary:

  • A= superb. Exceeds expectations and rarely if ever falters. Consistent excellence.
  • B= very good. Meets or exceeds expectations with occasional but moderate mistakes.
  • C= average/tolerable. Meets most expectations, falls short of a few, and commits mistakes of varying degrees of severity but rarely serious.
  • D= poor. Struggles to meet many expectations and falls short of most of them. Mistakes tend to outnumber successes and are often serious. Occasional patches of quality.
  • F= Fails to perform to any acceptable level. Frequent and serious mistakes. Moments or short stretches of decent performance are not enough to dispel serious doubts about the player’s abilities.

Thomas Vermaelen: D+

  • whoscored rating: 6.84
  • Appearances: 25 (4)
  • Tackles per game: 1.5
  • Interceptions per game: 2.1
  • Clearances per game: 4.9
  • Clean sheets: 7
  • 15W, 3D, 11L

It’s telling that the first image that comes to mind for many Arsenal fans have when they think back over Vermaelen’s season is the flubbed clearance that allowed van Persie to score. Whether this is fair or not is a separate debate for the ethicists. The symbolism is indelible, and it does seem to represent his season on the whole. More damning to him, perhaps, is how well the defense played over the last ten or eleven games without him. Of course, much has been made of the Kos-Per partnership, but the improved defensive effort is just as attributable to the emergence of Ramsey and his partnership with Arteta, and an improved teamwide effort overall. It’s possible that a strong partnership between Vermaelen and Mertesacker could have emerged in these circumstances. Withott slighting Koscielny, he flourished both through his own efforts as well as those of the team as a whole, so it’s only fair to suggest that Vermaelen might have done the same.

Back to Vermaelen, then, let’s dismiss the apparent Effect of the Armband. He co-captains the Belgian team quite well enough that the pressure of captaining Arsenal should not be too much to bear. It was a factor to some degree, but it alone is not enough to explain his drop in form. Instead, what we seem to have witnessed is a confluence of factors that, under the microscope of the captaincy and a slow start to the season, grew larger than they might have otherwise. Namely, some of his long-held flaws were more noticeable–concentration, discipline, positioning, etc.–that might have been tolerable under a non-captain but are much less-so for the captain himself. More grievous (to me) than the flub against Man U was poor communication, such as that between him and Monreal against Spurs at White Hart Lane in March: it’s one thing to try but fail (as Vermaelen did against Man U); it’s quite another to be so unaware of a teammate (especially one new to the team and struggling to learn the language) or an opponent’s whereabouts.

Having said all of this, I still firmly believe that he will come back next year stronger and more-focused, ready to challenge for a starting role, even if the captain’s armband goes to someone else along the way.

Per Mertesacker: C+

  • whoscored rating: 6.92
  • Appearances: 33 (1)
  • Tackles per game: 1
  • Interceptions per game: 1.5
  • Clearances per game: 5.1
  • Clean sheets: 16
  • 22W, 9D, 9L
I have to admit that I’m still not sold on Mertesacker. I do believe him to be a very good player, but it’s perhaps telling that his rating is only 0.08 points higher than Vermaelen; he is lauded as being among the Prem’s best center-backs while Vermaelen is lampooned. Take away one Vermaelen error, and we might be having a very different discussion. I’ll say one thing for Mertesacker that I can’t say for Vermaelen: he does know his limits and does his best to play within them. He does make up for his lack of pace (and let’s be frank: “lack” is a gentle word to use) with astute positioning. However, there are times when even this is not enough, as when Sagna gifted a pass to van Persie at the Emirates. Mertesacker tracked back, but did so by backpedaling towards the center of the penalty area, which forced Sagna to recover but having to tackle van Persie from 6-8 yards from the goal box. Had Mertesacker applied more-direct pressure to van Persie, Sagna may not have had to act to rashly. 
This is just one example, of course, but it is representative of the larger issue: Mertesacker does not have the pace to deal with counter-attacks. This of course makes for a poor partnership with Vermaelen, who tends to press too far forward, but it also inhibits the ability of Koscielny or of the left and right backs to join the attack. I respect his solidity and intelligence for the game, but I worry that this limitation is one that will ultimately cost the team more than it has to this point. Further, it’s an issue that will only grow over time. He’s 28, and it’s unlikely that he’ll somehow get faster with age. I’m not willing to go so far as to suggest that Arsenal look to sell him this summer, but tough questions and their answers rarely get easier over time. Let’s not forget that  he’s committed a few errors himself, such as his take-down against West Brom that led to a goal.
He’s a nice player and has done well for the club, so I apologize for the shabby treatment I’ve given him. However, it’s my doubts regarding Mertesacker more than my doubts regarding Vermaelen that I find myself wondering about signing another center-back.
Laurent Koscielny: B-
  • whoscored rating: 6.99
  • Appearances: 25 (5)
  • Tackles per game: 1.6
  • Interceptions per game: 1.8
  • Clearances per game: 5.6
  • Clean sheets: 11
  • 19W, 5D, 4L
Here, arguably, is where statistics only tell part of the story. If you believe them, Koscielny is only marginally better than Mertesacker, who himself is infinitesimally better than Vermaelen. However, taking a look at the bigger picture suggests that Koscielny is far and away Arsenal’s best center-back. He falls somewhere between Vermaelen’s brashness and Mertesacker’s conservatism: he joins the attack with aplomb but tracks back and anchors the defense, showing range and positioning to rival the best in the Prem. If his statistics suffer, it may be for falling between the two, losing points for aggressiveness compared to Vermaelen and losing points for stability compared to Mertesacker. 
Like the other two, he has been found guilty of a few errors, such as his embrace of Dzeko in January, but it’s arresting to see that a defender managed to claim three MotM awards from whoscored, a designation usually reserved for attackers who win games with timely goals. That Koscielny joined those ranks while also saving the team’s hash on more than one occasion should surely earn him more attention than he’s gotten. Other teams, notably Bayern and Barca, have sniffed around, but it would be a sore mistake to let him leave under almost any terms. If we were to set aside some of his early and shakier performances, he might just lead the discussion for the Prem’s best center-backs. Limiting ourselves to those who play for Arsenal, he leads the way with those MotM awards (3) and games with a rating of 8.0 or higher (3). 
Between the three of them, therefore, Koscielny seems to emerge as the best of the bunch, possessing the aggressiveness of Vermaelen without incurring the risk, understanding limitations like Mertesacker without letting them inhibit him. If there’s a center-back around whom to build the defense, it is almost certainly Koscielny.
What does this mean for the summer transfer-window? A fourth center-back would be useful under the best of circumstances. Arsenal has been frequently linked with Swansea’s Ashley Williams, but it remains to be seen whether he adds more than he subtracts after just one season in the Prem, and one that was a bit blessed by kismet at that. 

Whom should Arsenal try to sign?

As it stands, Arsenal go into 2013-14 with an enviable set of center-backs that did, after all, lead a defense that only conceded 37 league goals, second-best in the Prem. A shrewd addition to that group would bode well for the upcoming season: competition to keep all-involved on their toes, leading to the best pairings available. Most of the headlines have focused on more-forward thinking options such as Higuain, Jovetic, or Fellaini, but adding one more center-back might be just as crucial to Arsenal’s aspirations in the upcoming year.

What do you think? Whom should Arsenal consider signing this summer to burnish the defense?

Please don't waste time or money on Ashley Williams

In fact, I feel like I’m wasting my own time addressing the issue. We are perfectly fine without the man, or at least strong enough that signing him should not be a high priority. We finished the season as the second-stingiest defense in the Prem despite conceding more goals through errors than any other team but Wigan. Once we cut down on that problem, we finished the season in fine form, taking 87% of the points from our last ten games, including five clean sheets. Such a rate sustained over the entire season would see us take nearly 100 points. Why, then, with the re-emergence of Koscielny and his pairing with Mertesacker, would we target the likes of Williams? He’s had a strong season to be sure, but he doesn’t stand out as being head and shoulders above our current lot.

We are all familiar with how well the Kos-Per partnership has worked. I may have some doubts about the BFG’s pace, but he does seem to make up for it, more or less, with positional awareness. However,  any pursuit of Williams begs the question: what does this mean for Vermaelen? He hasn’t seen meaningful playing time since the 3-1 win over Norwich back in April and has in fact had to swallow his pride to come on as a last-minute (literally) sub against Fulham, QPR, and Wigan. His fall from grace has been stunning, and he probably has doubts about his future with Arsenal, not to mention with the Belgian national team. Vertonghen’s emergence with Spurs further complicates that issue. While we shouldn’t worry excessively about the ins and outs of the Rote Teufeln, it is worth remembering that Vermaelen most certainly wants to represent his country, a desire that is harder to fulfill if he’s stuck on our bench.

It’s not as if Williams represents a significant upgrade from Vermaelen. According to whoscored.com, Williams has finished a strong season with a 7.04 rating. By contrast, Vermaelen has finished a season that was so abysmal that he finished with a rating of–wait for it–6.85. If van Persie hadn’t sent home that squibbed clearance, or if Vermaelen had drawn one less yellow card, we wouldn’t be wasting our time with Williams even if he was begging to come to Arsenal. Why should we take a chance on a decent 28 year-old player who’s only played two years in the Prem when we have a equally good 27 year-old with four years in the Prem? I may not be completely sold on Mertesacker, but I trust the Kos-Per partnership far more than I might any partnership Williams might have to forge with any of our three center-backs at the start of the upcoming season. One of the last problems we want to create for ourselves is having to re-introduce defenders to each other. During the 2012-13 campaign, we only took 15 of 30 points from our first ten matches, including points dropped in a draw with Man City and in losses to Chelsea, Norwich, and Man U (goal-less draws with Stoke and Sunderland don’t really register as these were clean sheets anyway). Such a rate would see us finish with 57 points on the season, good enough for 8th place or thereabouts.

Two more points, one that concerns us and one that concerns Swansea. Let’s deal with Swansea’s concerns first. I respect them, despite them beating us once upon a time. In fact, as a result, I respect them all the more. They’re Arsenal Junior, finding young talent and playing attractive football on a tight budget. In fact, I would even go so far as to dub them my second-favorite team in the Prem. I’m thrilled that they’ll play in the Europa League next year, and even happier that they won the league cup. Therefore, I don’t want us to poach any of their players (well, maybe Michu…). Let’s back-track, then, to us. I don’t want us spending what the reports suggest we might spend to sign Williams. Depending on whom you ask, we’re offering something in the range of £10-12m for the man. Considering our needs and his value, this might overvalue him two times over. Transfermrkt values him at something closer to £5-6m. I understand that you have to overbid in a sense, but doubling down hardly seems sensible, at least in May. Maybe in August. Maybe if our defensive woes were severe. Maybe if the player in question was stellar. If one of these issues was pressing, I could be convinced. However, none of these conditions exist.

Let the lad remain at Swansea, and good luck to them next year in the Prem and Europa League. We have other priorities. A striker might be nice. Can we get Lewandowski on the line?