Strange goings on at Arsenal these days. Arsene Wenger urgently changed the system to a back three in April to address the team leaking goals. The change seemed to work*, breathing new found stability to the back line. The back three was such a seeming success that it even gave fresh legs to Per Mertesacker in the FA Cup final. Mertesacker, the Arsenal captain who hadn’t started any of Arsenal’s last 104 Premier League games.
So, going into this season, Wenger seemed to have just about the right number of center backs to play a back three. He has Koscielny, Mertesacker, Holding, Mustafi, Gabriel, and Chambers. Wenger even had Monreal who can deputize there and new signing Sead Kolasinac in case of emergency. But what seemed like a full house soon looked empty: Koscielny revealed a chronic tendonitis, Mertesacker is on his last season, Holding was removed half way through the second half of his season debut, Kolasinac and Monreal were publicly criticized by Arsene Wenger, Gabriel was sold, Chambers has been persona non-grata at Arsenal for years, and now Wenger is refusing to say that he won’t sell Mustafi.
It’s difficult for me to speak about any individual cases because we are now in the final seven days of the transfer market. It’s always very difficult to predict what will happen there. You have to make quick and sharp decisions, and you cannot plan that and come out in the press conference with how you will respond to any solicitation.
Mustafi was one of several players picked by StatDNA for their ability to make a specific type of dangerous pass: the ball which bypasses the midfield. Granit Xhaka is another.
Wenger gave an interview to Phillipe Auclair in which he saw a dystopian future for managers in football. He was oddly specific about analysts picking the team for the manager:
(The manager) will be surrounded by scientists, who will tell him which team to play on Saturday. The boss will be a specialist in management, because the football decisions will be taken by technology and analysis.
And more recently, he gave an interview to the official Arsenal Magazine in which he again highlighted this aspect of his job:
The debriefs after training are absolutely massive and I’m flooded with information: how many steps a player took, how many sprints they did, how many metres per second, how was a player’s heart rate, how many times did it go over 90 per cent of his maximum heart rate, how many times over 95 per cent – absolutely everything is analysed today. So I moved from a very intuitive moment of my career to a super-analytical way to manage today. (source: www.arsenal.com)
Wenger is certainly given all of the information he needs to make his decisions. The question is whether he is alone in making the decisions.
Wenger has also publicly stated that his wish is not to sell Alexis, Ox, and Ozil – three players who will probably leave on a free at the end of the season. He has stated that he wants to keep these players for football reasons and not financial reasons. To get back into the top four, he will certainly need the firepower all three give.
But what a strange thing for Arsenal to do: keep three players which will either not re-sign for Arsenal (losing the club potentially £100m in transfers) or will offer to re-sign only for massive signing-bonuses which other clubs will willingly pay. And to do this while selling Gabriel and, it looks like, Mustafi – both players under contract and first team starters in a crucial position is possibly the strangest financial decision I’ve ever seen from Arsenal.
It looks like Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are dismantling this team. And with Wenger saying that he has “too many players”, and that players prices are “not normal”, don’t expect him to sign anyone else this summer.
*Arsenal conceded fewer goals but as I have pointed out, statistically, they ended up looking like the same old Arsenal.