Was Hleb really that bad?

hmmm, should I pass?
hmmm, should I pass?

I got some stick yesterday from my meatworld friend (and Arsenal supporter — Alex) for saying that Hleb averaged 25 shots per season over the last three seasons. It’s true! I swear! It’s such an amazing statistic that it’s hard to believe but according to his profile on ESPN.com it’s true. We’re not talking “shots on goal” because last year he only had 13 shots on goal — in all competitions. I mean total shots; 25 shots, 11 assists, and 4 goals — in 38 competitions.

The other thing I got stick for was my characterization of Hleb as a forward. In the Arsenal 4-4-2 he lined up on the left side of the midfield but as we all know, he rarely played that role of winger; I honestly cannot remember him putting in a cross all year. And there were times, in the 4-5-1 that Hleb was slotted in as a second striker. You have to at least characterize him as an attacking midfielder.  And for an attacking midfielder to average 25 shots per season for three years on one of the most proliferate shooting teams in the world, should indicate that something is seriously wrong.

To give you some perspective; Gael Clichy had 21 shots in all competitions last year, Kolo Toure had 40 shots and netted 2 goals and 2 assists, just go ahead and click through and look at the rest of the team I think it’s pretty clear that Hleb was profligate.

So, yes, Hleb really was that bad.

Arsenal are falling apart

Of course, now that Gilberto, Hleb, and Flamini are gone the press are having a great time sticking the needle in. For some, our midfielders are disappearing so fast that “Arsenal’s midfield is the Bermuda triangle.” For others, winning anything this season would be Wenger’s best accomplishment ever, on and on.  The bloodsport of the press second-guessing Arsenal’s practices (transfer and otherwise) in in full swing. Which has been spurred by Wenger’s latest statement that buying a big name now would be “killing” the youth program that he has built up.

Well… it would. If Arsenal signed Marcos Senna, they would be taking opportunities away from Diaby, Denilson, and new boy (announced today) Francis Coquelin. If Arsenal are a business, as everyone in management keeps telling us that they are, then bringing in a big name player is bad business because big named players cost more money than you’ll ever get back on them. It’s like buying a new car, the moment you sign Marcos Senna he really has no place to go but down in valuation. Buying Francis Coquelin on the other hand isn’t 100% guaranteed to pay dividends but if he does pay off it’s almost always a huge payout. Just look at the money being offered for Adebayor.

The only problem with the youth system, and the reason that Wenger and Peter Hill-Wood keep doing their media blitz and saying the same things over and over, is that a youth system makes trophies less likely. Not impossible, mind, just difficult. Experience matters on the football field and team full of green players would most certainly be run off the field.

But that’s the genius of Wenger’s system. People point out how few players over 21 that Arsenal have available to play in the midfield as if age was the only factor in determining experience. Fabregas is only 21and already he has over 175 starts (for both club and country) he’s been to several different competition finals, and this season earned a starting spot on the Spain team who won Euro 2008. He’s got more experience than most 27 year olds and all credit for that goes to Arsene Wenger. He bloods these kids in cup competitions and so forth but more importantly, he stands behind them when he puts them in the starting lineup and gives them all the room they could ever need to grow. By the time a 17 year old has reached his 21st birthday, if he’s put in the hard work, if he’s got the talent, and if he’s been lucky to escape injury he will be as experienced as most players in their late twenties.

I know a lot of Arsenal supporters have gotten used to the idea that the team wins trophies. But the thing you have to remember is that we don’t deserve the trophies, we earn them. Arsenal cannot afford to splash out £100m over a year (as Tottenham and others have done) buying a big name players just to satisfy a few cranky fans who feel like we deserve a trophy. We don’t “deserve” trophies at Arsenal, we earn them. Hard work, dedication, and the genius of Wenger will get the club another trophy I have no doubt.

There is no shame in this. I’d much rather support a “selling” club who knows when to turn a hefty profit on a player than support a “buying” club where every year the fan expectations are doubles and trebles and superstars.

So, when we see Wenger buying another 17 year old we’ve never heard of we should rejoice, because it means we have the opportunity to watch another player blossom before us, maybe win a trophy or two, and then go off to Barcelona while filling our coffers.

This weekend and next week

I am going on “vacation” tomorrow. By which I mean I am driving my family from the beautiful Pacific Northwest to the Badlands of South Dakota. To visit my in-laws. Who I just saw two-months ago. Did I mention that I will have a two-month old baby in the car? For 1,200 miles? Yeah.

I will be stopping at places along the way but since I will be in the middle of no where I cannot guarantee that I will update the blog every day. Which means that no doubt Wenger will sign Marcos Senna while I’m gone. Yeah.

So, if you don’t hear from me, that means I’m dead, which will be a welcome relief from the car travel. But seriously, probably the blog won’t get updated every day for the next 9 days. So, here’s to Arsenal: let’s hope they beat Barnet in their pre-season kick off tomorrow. And here’s to me: let’s hope I survive the trip.

1 Comment on Was Hleb really that bad?

  1. Excellent post.

    Good luck on the vacation. You’ll be surprised, 2 months old is good for travel. They sleep a lot. Everything is good up until 6-7 months, then they start crawling and don’t want to stay in the car seat…

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