The Ornicle Speaks of Moneyballs

David Ornstein, Arsenal twitter’s most trusted reporter (and butt of tons of puns based on his last name), dropped a bomb this morning – posting two images with rather lengthy explanations of what actually happened this summer with Arsenal in the transfer market. As Steve Martin once famously said Comedy Is Not Pretty and I also think someone once said no one should see how the sausage is made. But when the sausage turns out as comically bad as Arsenal’s summer transfer sausage, I think it’s important to have a look behind the scenes. Thankfully, Ornstein is available to give us a tour of Arsenal’s sausage factory.

First, I’m going to link directly to the tweet. And then I will put the full size photos of his quotes up on the site.

It’s important to note that these are Ornstein’s words but that he is the most connected Arsenal reporter in England. He is also a BBC employee and they have actual standards for their reporters. I know that everyone is obsessed with “fake news” these days but this is a trusted source. Not everything he says is true, because reporters are sometimes handed misinformation which suits a specific party, but everything he says is well sourced, documented, and corroborated. You know, like an actual journalist.

So, let’s just start with the first slide:

Like everyone else, Ornstein was led to believe that Arsenal were going to not only spend money this summer, they were going to spend MORE than last summer. But the club conveniently left off the fact that they would have to sell in order to finance all of that spending.

Arsenal are often accused of “not having a plan A or a plan B” but to their credit, they had a plan A: sell Elneny, Jenkinson, Szczesny, Chambers, Wilshere, Gibbs and others; keep Ox, Ozil, and Alexis; buy Lacazette, Kolasinac, and Lemar. This is an ambitious plan and could explain why Ivan Gazidis was quoted saying that signing Wenger would be a “catalyst for change” this summer.

But like an episode of Game of Thrones, soon the plan just unraveled and half of the characters were left dead. We know that several clubs came after Chambers and the bids were high too, over £20m. Wenger instead sold Gabriel and decided to keep Chambers and it looks like Arsenal were then blindsided by Mustafi wanting to leave but were actually ok with it because Wenger doesn’t rate him.

This is not a surprise to me because Wenger spent most of the summer talking to various outlets about how one day the stats boffins will simply pick the team and the manager will be little more than a figurehead. We know that Mustafi is one of the players that Arsenal’s in-house stats team predicted would be a great buy, along with Elneny and Xhaka. And to see that Elneny was included in the Arsenal-out pile only confirms what I have publicly speculated over all summer: Wenger is at odds with the in-house stats team.

As I said earlier in the year, I also think Wenger is at odds with board member Josh Kroenke. Here is what I wrote about Josh v. Wenger back on May 12th,

I think JK wanted Arsene out this summer and failed. And interestingly, all of the players identified by the stats guys as good buys have been retained even though it looked like they were put up for sale. Whether that was luck or whether a board member dug in his heels at the prices on offer for his StatsDNA favorites is unknown. I think Josh Kroenke may fancy himself re-branding the club as a “Moneyball” team: meaning a club which uses advanced statistics to find diamond in the rough players. This matches up with a quote later in the Ornstein tweet as we will see in a minute.

That final paragraph in this image is the most clear evidence of disagreement between Wenger and the board and of the ensuing chaos because of it. Arsenal were so afraid that they couldn’t get replacements in that they hemmed and hawed over selling Lucas – a player clearly out of favor. And the Gibbs thing is completely crazy: Arsenal were offered £10m earlier in the summer and waited so long that they eventually sold him for £7m.  But it gets worse:

Suddenly, Arsenal faced a mass revolt among the Arsenal players. Lucas, Gabriel, Mustafi, and Gibbs all wanted out. Now we are told that Bellerin and Ox both demanded a trade along with Alexis. Not only that but Arsenal put a four players up for sale that they ended up keeping: Wilshere, Giroud, Chambers, and Elneny. That doesn’t include the fact that Arsenal put Alexis up for sale and then reneged when they couldn’t get Lemar. Nor that next season Aaron Ramsey will be in the last year of his deal. What chance do you think Arsenal have of re-signing him this season?

Is there any wonder why Arsenal looked so disjointed against Liverpool? Almost none of those players wanted to be there. Plus, Arsene Wenger had apparently let Ox know how he felt about him and then went ahead and played him against the team that was courting him. That’s weapons grade foolishness and no wonder Ox looked like he couldn’t plow a furrow in water.

Two more things from this panel that I want to point out: first, Mesut Ozil, who has been playing Arsenal fans like a damn kazoo all year with his “hey guys” brand of Facebook/Instagram posts, hasn’t even negotiated for a new contract since March – this flies in the face of his public pronouncements; and second it looks like Arsenal at least shopped Ozil around and that he generated almost no interest.

But then the Orn dropped his third panel, which details basically what the board have told him he can say publicly about the summer transfers:

This entire three point panel reads like an announcement that Arsenal are going to go down the Moneyball route but that they are still poorly planning for that transition. In the first paragraph we are told that Arsenal need to sell to fund big money replacements. But if Arsenal have to sell to buy then holding on to Alexis is madness – it means undermining the club’s ability to buy a player like Lemar for next season as well as this!

Second, the bit about “pulling a Leicester” is not something the sponsors will want to hear. Arsenal are not Leicester. Not only is Leicester a remote goat town somewhere far away from both land and sea but they won the League because all of the other top-spending clubs failed not because they had such a brilliant long-term plan and brought it to fruition. It was luck.

Also, Chelsea are not the huge-spending club that they used to be. Lumping Chelsea in with Man City and Man U is weird. Chelsea have only spent around £80m in net transfers over the last four years. Arsenal have spent double that amount: £165m. That’s “net spend”. And Chelsea’s total salary is only £15m more than Arsenal’s per year. I think what they mean here is uncovered in the last bullet point: that Chelsea’s owner is willing to cover losses with his own money and Kroenke is not.

But now read back up top where I wrote about Josh Kroenke fighting with Wenger and the shift to Moneyball. If Josh Kroenke wants to move Arsenal toward a more stats-based regime he will need to oust Wenger. Despite the public belief that Wenger is into analytics he has actually resisted the data movement for years – Arsenal only recently started giving players data on the opposition in iPad form a few years ago. This information is corroborated by journalists such as Rafa Honigstein who has reported that German players have been critical of Wenger’s lack of preparation behind the scenes.

What I think is happening now is Josh Kroenke letting Wenger hoist himself on his own petard. It’s a shrewd move. Wenger will get all the blame for the fallout of this season: Wenger wanted to keep Alexis and Ozil, so when they underperform (which they will) and then are let go for a free in May (or worse, sold in January, which I suspect will happen with Alexis), Wenger will get the blame for that. Wenger is also going to be the focal point for the results this season. With the squad so clearly in turmoil and with so many players wanting out there is no way I can see this club getting that “unity” needed to play at the level required to make a top four and Europa League run.

It’s all going to be down to Wenger. Unless he’s able to pull off a major turnaround and get a trophy in, say, the Europa League, any negativity of the season will be on his shoulders. And I think Josh Kroenke will use that as an excuse to fire him in the Spring – don’t be surprised to read about contacts with other managers in February.

To be clear, I’m not wishing for a bad season at Arsenal and I’m not say that Josh Kroenke is either. But I do suspect that this is Wenger’s Last Stand.

What happened to the Denver Nuggets after Josh Kroenke blew them up? They went from winning over 60% of their games to winning just 42% and from making it to the playoffs every year to finishing 4th of the 5 teams in their division every year.

Qq

66 comments

  1. Well, I don’t think going to a moneyball approach is bad per se. In fact, I see it as the only way forward. Arsenal cannot financially compete with the two Manchesters, Real Madrid, Barca, Bayern, and PSG. We will never be able to stock our squad with Ballon D’Or winners and candidates. Every club not in that financial bracket will have to look for value in the transfer market and hope they have management infrastructure to get a marginally less talented squad to punch above it’s weight. Financially, Arsenal are actually one of the best positioned of those”other” clubs.

    Unfortunately, I guess the board aren’t in agreement that Wenger is no longer a manager who can tactically elevate a squad. And if Wenger is against using advanced level statistics to ASSIST in identifying players who could fit into a tactically coherent approach, that is further illustration of his unsuitability to the task going forward. Which leaves us in the situation where the house is going to have to be burned to the ground in order to facilitate change.

    1. I disagree and don’t think Moneyball is anything other than a marketing strategy. It’s the same old “we don’t BUY stars, we MAKE them” thing that Arsenal have been selling for 15 years.

      Second, Wenger is one of the shining examples of Moneyball. What he did was exploit weaknesses in the market: first to capture Vieira and then Henry (others before him as well). He was also able to exploit lack of information to sell players for huge profits who were in their final few seasons. And was able to exploit loopholes in Spanish v. English transfer rules to snare Fabregas.

      In the last few seasons, you have to give credit to Wenger’s encyclopedic knowledge of players in Europe to pull the trigger on Ozil and Alexis. Those two deals, however, were a lot less an example of Wenger going out to capture players he wanted and a lot more of just getting lucky and banking on his rep.

      So, I would say we’ve seen Moneyball at work at Arsenal now for 15 years and it has worked about as well as I think it would based on other examples I’ve seen.

      My point is that Kroenke is going to go down a new Moneyball path. One which veers away from Wenger’s old version and focuses more on stats and other metrics. So far, I’m not convinced by the StatsDNA choices. Elneny, Mustafi, and Xhaka all have similar strengths and flaws: they all pass the ball exceptionally well but are erratic at best in defense. This is because passing stats are much easier to measure and quantify than defensive stats – because a lot of good defenders actually do nothing, just occupy space. Just making it difficult to pass, run or shoot is hugely important to defending. Number of tackles can actually indicate that a player is OUT of position as much as in.

      But here’s the problem with Moneyball: anyone can do it and big clubs can actually do it better, because they have more money to spend on better analytics and to “swoop” on good players when they are identified. I think this is where we actually are right now. Very few teams are “missing out” on top talent, in other words letting top talent go unidentified.

      So, unless a team gets lucky, I don’t think Moneyball is a consistently winning approach. It may win a title or two every 25 years but overall the big teams will still win trophies. What Moneyball does do, is give us fans something to talk about.

      1. Moneyball as I understand it is the approach of using advanced metrics to identify players who otherwise might have flown under the scouting radar and who bring a valuable skill. For example, I can tell you as a Red Sox (follower more than fan) that Kevin Youkilis was identified by advanced metrics for his unprecedented ability to draw walks. He was called the “Greek God of Walks” by the numbers nerds. He was brought to Boston amidst huffs and puffs of who is this guy? And they only went and won another championship in part thanks to his ability at the plate. FSV (who also own Liverpool) have championed the Moneyball approach and also backed it up with big time investment when necessary. That has led to 3 championships since they bought the Red Sox, a team that hadn’t won anything in almost 100 years at that point. Money buys stars, advanced stats help build really good teams on a budget. They are and should be complementary and necessary parts of building good teams, not opposed.

        Wenger never used advanced metrics. He simply had knowledge of French players and connections in the French market where nobody else in England did at the time because they were so wrapped up in their sense of isolated self-supremacy. Once the jig was up, we started getting beaten to top French talent time after time because of both money and because Wenger’s connections and knowledge became ordinary instead of unique. I do give him credit for identifying and bringing to England a slew of top talent which then ran riot against the mediocrity we had here. But to say that that was Moneyball is far wide of the mark in my view.

        1. The Red Socks are a fabulous example of how Moneyball is just marketing. Red Socks have has 2nd-3rd highest payroll in MLB for decades. They use metrics to identify players, sure, but so do all the clubs. Then they use their superior buying power to get those players to sign with them instead of some smaller team. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

          1. Right; they buy Chris Sale because everyone can see Chris Sale is awesome. You need the cheese for that. But how did they get Xander Boegarts, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi all at the same time coming out as rookies and turning into such good players so soon 1, 2, 3? And now they have this Rafael Devers guy who is hitting the cover off of the ball after being promoted to the team mid-season at the age of 19? That’s not financial muscle.. that’s some really amazing player evaluation (By the way, the guy they traded to get Sale, Yoan Moncada, was considered the #1 prospect in all of baseball). I don’t know about you but I don’t believe in that many coincidences.

          2. Two things. First, they bought Bill James who, and let’s be fair, invented the topic. By doing that, they were way ahead of the game but the crucial thing here is that they were able to buy Bill James. It’s not like the Mariners could have done that because when the Rd Socks come calling, with their massive salaries and ability to attract players, you go. I also need to point out that Baseball is rather unique among sports in that each team literally sifts through thousands of players to find these gems. I get the Red Socks have unearthed a number of top players (Sale) and Bill James deserves some credit for that.

            But here’s the kicker: The Red Sox just publicly said they won’t rely so heavily on Sabermetrics and immediately went from 5th to 1st in the AL East! Analytics are good and Arsenal need them but I tend to agree with Wenger that we can’t rely on them so much. Especially in Soccer.

          3. I don’t think the metrics are as reliable as they are in baseball. In baseball, every action follows a set piece. Every data point can be tracked and massive samples can be obtained. I agree it’s unique, but that’s also where the whole concept was born. Basketball is a much more open, flowing sport where parts move fluidly, albeit for much shorter lengths of time; yet they have developed advanced metrics there as well which helps teams identify undervalued performers. I don’t think football is there yet, and the players StatsDNA unearthed are proof of that… by all accounts I’ve heard, they are as ahead of that particular game as anyone, yet they haven’t found players with the requisite qualities… yet! I would also say it’s a bit early to judge some of them, and that perhaps they’d do better in a team that wasn’t dysfunctional.

            Also it’s important for me to underline once again that I am absolutely not discounting money as the prime ingredient here. But I don’t believe that sabermetrics are just a “front” and I do believe that they can be used to construct rosters in an intelligent way.

          4. You make some excellent points.

            The point about baseball is perfect: you have action/reaction and both can be and are measured.
            But the thing about basketball is that you have players taking 20 shots in a game. In Soccer you have players taking 20 shots in a season.
            Also, in soccer, unlike in baseball, basketball, and gridiron football the game changes in extraordinary ways when one team scores. So, there’s simply the problem of soccer being more volatile.

            I’ve put a lot of thought and testing in to football stats. I think team metrics are reliable but player metrics are not. I’ll still quote how many tackles a player had but I think it’s a junk stat. 50% of defending is just following your man. Maybe statsDNA could and does measure that and if they did it would be an excellent stat.

            We’ve had these conversations before and I know you hate when I say this so I apologize in advance. My problem with Elneny and Mustafi is that they are soft. I have seen Mustafi duck out of aerial duels. As a player, I know what that looks like. I know what it looks like when a guy goes missing on a cross and tries to pretend it wasn’t his fault, which is what Mustafi does, a lot. Elneny has a different problem, I think he’s just afraid to get involved in challenges when he should. How do I measure those things? Right now, it’s my gut. I could, however, set up a definition and apply it to actions in a match and then compare these to other players in the League to determine a “softness” datapoint. But that would have to be my full time job!

            So, I agree that we should not be throwing stats out – they need to be improved. But it’s pretty clear that whatever analysis that the Arsenal stats team are doing is not working.

          5. Yeah, I think we can agree there. Football’s sabermetrics revolution has a long way to go. Although even in football, some clubs clearly have more success identifying and developing top talent than others. I’m thinking here of Southampton, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund, though I haven’t really taken the time to extensively research this question and am very open to being corrected.

        2. Without discounting Wenger’s and knowledge, I think he was massively complemented (is that a word?) by David Dein’s contacts and ability to close deals on the prospects he identified, plus he seemed to have enough influence to on Wenger to make him spend. Once Dein left our transfer biz has gradually drifted downhill to where we are now. Wenger still identifies players – he was onto Mbappe, admittedly French before he was a star. But he can’t close or is too ‘prudent’.

          1. And/Or other clubs/agents are onto him and know how to hold him at ransom, publicize the interest and wait for a bigger bidder to come through. There are so many layers to each transfer story. I’m fully of the mind that Arsene isn’t what he used to be and transfers are a big part of that, but I do think it’s naive to lay it all at his door as well.

      2. I suppose that the term moneyball has now turned into marketing speak. The bottom line is this, over the long haul, the amount of money teams have available to spend goes a long way in determining results. Teams like Arsenal will never be able to afford the Neymar’s of the world and we’ll never outbid a moneyed team for any player. And yes, that means that most seasons those teams will take the silverware.

        By the same token, having the most money doesn’t guarantee trophies. Most seasons, the teams with the most individual talent will win, but not every season. The most talented clubs don’t always have the best teams. I dislike the example that Gazidis likes to use, Leicester. I’d rather point to teams like Borussia Dortmund, Athletico Madrid, or Monaco. Regardless of how you want to label it, Arsenal have to do think outside the box of buying the most expensive players because Arsenal simply can’t afford the most expensive players. We need to able to field a team that is more than the sum of its parts, that plays better than the sum of its transfer fees. And lately, we’ve failed miserably at that.

        And the Red Sox are not an example of moneyball, Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s were and as far as I can remember, they actually never won the World Series. But just making the playoffs on their budget was an accomplishment. And I think that the problem with applying statistics in soccer is the enormously fluid and dynamic state of play. You don’t want to know how many key passes a player makes. You want to know when a player’s in the half space, against a particular defensive setup, is it better to play through ball to midfielder making a run from deep, a reverse pass to an overlapping fullback, a back pass to a player who can then switch the play, or dribble directly at the opposition defender. So “advanced statistics” in soccer is still very much in its infancy.

        The other aspect of moneyball was identifying players with one or two very strong skills who weren’t necessarily five tool players but who could, in certain situations, be counted on to produce. And then integrating those players into the lineup to take advantage of those skills while still minimizing their deficiency in other areas. Not every team can have five tool players in every position. If Mustafi, Elneny, and Xhaka were identified as having a great, necessary skill in breaking down opposition defenses but are poor in other areas, acknowledge that deficiency and adjust the team tactics as necessary. And how about actually COACHING them to improve their deficiencies?

  2. Really enjoyed that read, thank you.

    Am I correct in saying then that we have just around about £30M from the window just gone and if we do not sell Alexis…..or Ozil in January, then we cant buy Lemar for the £90+m sum we offered late last Thursday .
    Next Summer`s TW will be interesting to say the least then, best players gone (if not sold in January) and little funds to replace them with given the hyper inflated prices that will dwarf this summers blockbusters !………………………what ever happened to FFP !

    1. FFP is a joke.

      Arsenal will have the £12m or so from this season (that’s the actual profits) plus probably £40m to invest next season.

      To buy a £90m player, Arsenal would have to sell Aaron Ramsey. He will be in the last year of his deal.

  3. Jesus.

    I posted Arseblog’s cut and paste on Ornstein today in the last thread, but this deconstructs the mess eloquently.

    And it IS a mess. You know what’s the joke? Going back in for Lemar next year. He’d be nuts to come here after the farce that went on on the last day of the window.

  4. If you’re selling, you’re selling. Conte told Costa he was out, and that was it. If you’re going to sell Elnany, Wilshere and Giroud, sell them. The players said they want to stay, and that was pretty much that. We’re not all going to agree or disagree. Wenger is going to get criticised whatever he does with an individual player, but darn, we’ll respect him for being decisive. Jack Action and I for two have said for months that 3 Bosmans should not be allowed. Arsene talked tough about how he’s prepared to do that. Any long term Arsenal watcher could see that the board wasn’t going to allow it (and they’re right not to).

    So we have players to whom we have clearly communicated that we don’t want them, and players who don’t want to play for us. Every club has those — let’s keep some perspeective — but the scale of our mismanagement is something else.

    And Tim, something I don’t get… if Josh is so sour on Wenger, why is Stan so sweet on him? Yeah, they’re father and son, but are they so different philosophically?

    1. I’m in basic agreement with the spirt of your comment, but surely it’s not that easy, e.g. a player we want to move on can refuse to go because they have a contract with us, period.

      1. You’re right. It’s what makes us fundamentally a decent club at the end of the day, I suppose. At other clubs, when you’re out you’re not, contract or not. You don’t play and are frozen out, or you go. Your choice. You either then leave, or do a Winston Bogarde.

  5. I’m not a fan of the Kroenke regime. I think they’re leeches and we’re very much unlikely to win a title with them at the helm. I think they’re a slow-combusting disaster.

    I do just want to point out that the Nuggets, in recent years, have been playing the NBA game perfectly. They have a tremendous collection of assets and an exciting young player that looks to be a star. They were one of the few teams that had the assets to land Kyrie, though the Celtics trumped everyone. The Warriors have screwed everything up and the Nugs have not actually cashed in to fully realize all their work (though they are trying), but they have done exactly what they should do. If Arsenal ends up wisely asset-hoarding like th Nuggets, I’d be thrilled. Because London is not Denver and the games are different and I think it would work out even better for us.

    Again, not a Kroenke fan. I wish he was gone. But there are far more incompetent NBA franchises out there right now than the Nuggets. Sadly, Arsenal has more closely resembled the Phil Jackson Knicks.

    Oh no. That comparison is eerily similar. I want to throw up now.

  6. Appears we are going to be the football version of the Knicks. We have our very own James Dolan. Who is going to be our Isiah?

    I can’t believe this is happening. I went from the kind of Knicks fan who would park on hilltops so I could listen to the games on the radio. Who stood on a street corner in Europe at 4am because that was the only way to watch them in the finals, to someone who literally can’t name three players in the team.

    Arsene should have a conversation with Jeff Vangundy about cutting your losses while your reputation is intact.

    The good news is that once we have ten or fifteen years of midtable mediocrity people will appreciate Wenger again.

    1. The Knicks comparison has occurred to me as well. They are the ultimate example of how incredibly poor a once great mind can be at adapting and growing with the sport he once dominated. If anybody lives under a rock, Phil Jackson is the greatest coach in the history of the NBA and proceeded to ruin the Knicks utterly, as outlined in this brilliant and sad piece:

      https://www.theringer.com/2017/6/29/16041042/phil-jackson-new-york-knicks-timeline-of-sadness-9f044d137b79

  7. There are so many fascinating questions raised by all of this, and so many things that don’t quite make sense, but I’ve got a lecture to prepare for tomorrow, so I’ll just ask one:

    So Wenger only realized late in the window that he maybe kinda sorta needed a new CM??????? Was his faith in the back three formation and the Ramsey-Xhaka axis shattered by a few bad results? It seems even after signing Lacazette the club clearly had SOME money left, or else they wouldn’t have even bothered making bids for Lemar–in the 30-50m range, so presumably that’s the spare they had left (I’m convinced we have more because I don’t buy this official line the club is telling us, but let’s play along for the sake of the argument–so WHY were we chasing after Lemar, a player that everyone knew Monaco were going to be very, very reluctant to sell, instead of going after a CM? Did Wenger think he could turn Lemar into a CM? The idea that we were trying to do things at the last minute (sign Lemar, sign a CM, sign a CB replacement for Mustafi) and ran out of time is so pathetic and bizarre I don’t know where to start.

      1. Yeah, would make sense, though it’s still a big gamble given (a) he’s not played in that deep position in top level football, (b) it’s a big risk to play such a diminutive, attacking-oriented footballer in a midfield two, especially in the PL and especially in Arsenal’s (ahem) “risk taking” attacking system.

        Also, if that was the intent, Ornstein doesn’t seem to have picked up on it or been told about it (for what it’s worth).

      2. That makes no sense to anyone who’s seen Lemar play. None. Not a quarterback, an attacking/creative midfielder.

  8. @GooonerNC

    “They have a tremendous collection of assets and an exciting young player that looks to be a star.”

    That and $2.75 will get you on the subway.

    It won’t get you into the top four and it certainly won’t win you the league. But given we’ve paid off the stadium, we’re in a huge market with a worldwide fan base and a record Premier league contract, it will definitely be profitable. Particularly when we sell that ‘star’ to the big boys.

    Under Kroenke junior we won’t be Southhampton, but we might be Everton. The perpetual bogey game for the big boys.

    And I know who our Isiah should be. Jurgen Klinsmann

    1. I was talking about the Nuggets, not Arsenal. Denver is actually in a good spot, relatively speaking. Arsenal are not. Denver isn’t done and still needs a good bit of lu k. But they’re rebuilding how they should in the NBA (riding the tanking cycle and asset-collecting). Arsenal are…. not doing the right things. This trajectory lands in mid-table mediocrity. Not good at all.

      1. @GoonerNC
        Yes, I got that you were talking about the Nuggets. Who have no chance at having best record in the NBA, nor, not that it matters, do they have a chance at top four record in the league nor too seed in their divisio. They certainly don’t have a chance at winning the title.

        They make the playoffs, which is really the basketball equivalent of not going down.

        Clearly until this year, much of our fanbase regards top 4 as not a trophy; the FA cup as nice, but not good enough and anything short of winning the league as unacceptable.

        If Josh works his magic on us we will celebrate staying up and cheer that we have young stars in the making like Iwobi.

        1. Trying not to turn this into an NBA nerd debate, but Denver is doing the only thing they can do. You have to get lucky at some point and hope for things to break your way, but there’s really no other option in the current NBA.

          But this is a blog about the Premier League. And it’s different because drafting isn’t a thing and Arsenal could just lay out loads of schwack and buy lots of players. I’m totally fine with fine-tuning analytics so that we buy players on the upswing of their value and not at their peak. But the fact remains that Arsenal need to just spend a shit-ton of cash in a lot of places. And they also need someone better making those “buy” calls.

  9. It occurred to me today that the Arsenal squad at the minute looks a lot like Man Utd’s did at the conclusion of Fergie’s reign: Lots of penetration and creativity sprinkled throughout the squad, but a distinct lack of glue players who can successfully tie the disparate parts together (or at the very least, can do so without better instruction from their teammates/coaches/manager). At the time, I predicted that Man Utd would struggle to finish in the Champions League without Ferguson, who somehow always found a way to cover for deficiencies and under-investment in his squads. At the time I was ridiculed by my fellows, but I was proved right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to sell myself as some sort of football guru: I just think that the situation is fairly similar (albeit as bit worse for Arsenal) and we all know how the Moyes era went.

    This year, I have to say I think you’re spot on with your judgement that Arsenal are more a top-10 than a Champions League contender. Despite a wealth of attacking talent (Sanchez, Ozil, Lacazette, Giroud should easily offer enough variety and panache to frighten any defence in Europe) the disaffection among the playing personnel, and Arsenal’s strange inability to coax it’s midfielders into supporting their defensive teammates, means that I think they might struggle to overhaul sides like Everton (who have a lot less stardust and dynamism, but a lot more solidity, especially in the middle of the park).

    For a long time, I believed (along with most of England, apparently) that this was a personnel issue, rather than a managerial or coaching one. If only Arsene could overcome his stubbornness and buy a capable defensive midfielder or two, then Arsenal would look a lot more balanced, especially when facing counterattacking opposition, or high-profile opponents that were willing to pack the midfield (e.g. Chelsea).

    However, I think that while it remains true that Arsenal haven’t brought in a top-tier player of this type, the rise of Coquelin has perhaps ironically helped to demonstrate that a lack of personnel isn’t the core issue.

    What’s most frustrating is that it isn’t as if there is a lack of willing and ready players at Arsenal capable of performing this kind of glue/defensive-shield/water-carrier role. Conceivably, between Ramsey, Elneny, and Xhaka, Arsenal should be able to repurpose one or more of these players into canny and disciplined link-players. Retraining decent attack-oriented players into valuable team cogs is a time-honoured managerial tradition. Why can’t Arsenal manage it?

    Ramsey, for instance, is a multi-talented player who is superbly fit, and is also a reasonably hard-worker. But he’s not a true goalscorer, and his endless runs from deep often seem to both confuse our attack and leave the defence exposed. I really like Ramsey. I adored him during his wonder-season when he briefly seemed like the second coming of Lampard. But how on earth is it that Ramsey can be played so frequently, without meaningful correction to his hollywood antics, and not either be coached to behave more effectively, or else dropped from the side? I realise that Mourinho is not a popular figure around here, but you know that if the Portuguese was managing, Ramsey would either have to rapidly adjust his game so that he barely ever crossed the halfway line, or would quickly become persona non grata. It’d be the same story if they were managed by the likes of Conte or Pochettino. Those who don’t fit, and can’t adapt, to the needs of the team are quickly forgotten. You only need to see the ruthlessness with which record-signing Sissoko was treated to see evidence for that.

    While it cannot be said that Wenger is not ruthless per-se, it often seems as if this ruthlessness is only contingent on personal loyalty to himself and the Arsenal project. So long as a player is truly loyal in spirit, then it seems as if doesn’t matter so much if their personal playing style -their own natural way of expressing themselves on the pitch- doesn’t chime with the team’s needs as a coherent whole. Sometimes it seems as if Wenger is like an archer who refuses to change how he aims, draws, and releases his bow. He truly believes that if only he can pick the right arrows, then his shots will always fly true.

  10. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand any of this, so I’ve retreated to my Happy Place where Bergkamp serves caviar passes for Henry to finish in sublime fashion and scores Newcastle-like spinorama goals in all 38 league matches. Where Vieira melts the likes of Diego Costa with just a stare and Adams screams proper sense into an indefatigable back 4.

  11. What Ornstein describes is basically a slow-motion mutiny. It’s amazing because all the frugal spending of the last decade was supposedly so we didn’t have to panic if we dropped out the UCL for a season or two. But using the UCL as a piggybank for a decade and allowing yourself to be repeatedly humiliated has done incalculable damage to the club’s brand among players.

    Serge Gnabry said something interesting recently when he was asked if he was okay with Bayern sending him on loan to Hoffenheim. He said “I knew exactly what I was doing when I signed for Bayern Munich”. This is a guy who we thought left because he didn’t like going on loan who’s now perfectly happy with a loan deal so long as Arsenal aren’t in control of his career.

    If this club can’t recruit a manager like Jardim or at least an experienced Director of Football like Michael Zorc then moneyball will never work for us. Jardim must be the greatest creator of transfer market value in the last five years. I don’t care how good your algorithms are if you can’t coach worth a damn.

  12. If truly arsene is against stats data it says y griezman n others weren’t signed by arsenal.stats data ddnt allow it

  13. Arsenal football club will be purchased by some very wealthy Arab in th next two years. Silent Stan and his son will be oust from th board, Arsene will be used as a consultant and some young dynamic coach will be at the helm

    Watch and see

  14. As a stats man yourself TIm, I’m surprised you are not “bigging up” the Stats Data footballers purchased by Arsenal. YOur remit is often based on statistics and where weaknesses and strengths lay. So did Arsenal choose and buy the wrong Stats DAta footballers. Should Arsene have put his foot down and buy The Greek Defender, should Arsene have made an attempt to buy Matic from Chelsea instead of by the Egyptian….Arsene needs to write that book, and include all the flaws and blemishes of the past twenty years.

  15. I am no sensationalist and am a patient fan (hard to be a Gooner otherwise!).

    As an older supporter who well remembers teams like “The Almost Invincibles” the one thing I can definitely say is that we are on some unpleasant New Ground.

    At face value it may resemble some of the shambolic starts we’ve had in the past but the confluence of ineptitude and misfortune is entirely new.

    I honestly don’t know where we go from here. A Leicester City championship was a once in 50-100 year combination of of good luck, good timing and yes – not inconsiderable skill on the part of players, owner and manager.

    Arsenal seem adrift and a long way from the kind of cohesion and spirit that infused that team into achieving something so special.

  16. Somebody should do a study to determine whether spending less time on Twitter correlates with greater life satisfaction and happiness.

  17. I will say that that worst times are the best times to renew your vows. Fair-weather fans never have the real bragging rights as those who have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

  18. 1) I read the Ornstein posts with a real sense of distrust – at first it sounds like a behind-the-curtain look at Arsenal but then it ends with paragraphs that sound typed in the Arsenal PR department. “Desperate and hungrier than ever”? Bulls**t. So when you close with that, how much else is Arsenal PR?
    2) The Moneyball thing is self-evidently going nowhere. It was a new novel economic way of building a team when only a few teams were onto the idea… but now they’re all on to the idea. There’s nothing unique now about having an in-house stats team identify players. But what it does do is reduce the scouting load and mitigate against the risk of a bad purchase; we haven’t taken an actual flyer on a player since Wenger bought Yaya Sanogo and look how that turned out.
    3) We are NOT a financial powerhouse. That said, I look at our roster and it ain’t bad. It’s good enough to make top 4… provided we had the right coach. And that’s what I want to discuss with regards to the stats players we signed; Gabriel, Ospina, Mustafi, Perez, Elneny, Xhaka… maybe Wenger doesn’t rate them and maybe the stats don’t tell the whole story – but they’re pretty good players and I would say we didn’t overpay or waste money on any of them, including Mustafi who if you look at the current market would easily be a 40m player if a Premier League team had come for him this year. I will argue not one of them is merely average, they’re all good, solid players – is that a bad thing? With the right coach they could form the core of a very good team with a sprinkling of above average talents added in and a manager that was able to make all the pieces work. Seems to be a formula another North London team is using to good effect right now.
    4) Wenger is the problem. 100%. All these players want out because they are not sold on the project any longer. It’s Wenger who sat Kolasinac, Mertesacker and Lacazette against Liverpool. It’s Wenger who apparently, incredulously, persisted with Oxlade-Chamberlain. A good manager would keep players believing in the project and get maximum results from this roster.
    5) Arsenal have never been a club with much transparency. Very little actually. What we’re not seeing behind the scenes is a generational turn over. These things are never clean. This will get way uglier.

    1. sorry jack, but arsenal definitely overpaid for mustafi. valencia only rated him at just over half of what arsenal actually paid for him. likewise, mustafi is garbage; there is no way he’s worth £40m in the current market or any other.

      with that, i do agree that the moneyball concept was once a novelty but now everyone has some sort of moneyball-type approach to their business models. data provides good reference but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

      1. How is a German international “garbage”? He’s 24, an experienced international, versatile, a good passer and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He just needs coaching. Nobody was calling him garbage when we didn’t lose for… what? 15 games in a row with him in the line-up? Then sure, he melted down against Bayern and looked exposed ever since – but he’s not “garbage”. He needs to be coached. He needs to be put in a position to succeed.

    2. That’s exactly my problem with Ornstein’s announcements. This is not so much a knock on him but being wary of his sources. Obviously someone at the club is feeding him this info but it sounds all very convweniently packaged at times.

  19. I personally think Ospina is bang average (nice bloke, though). On the other hand, I’ve never heard anyone say he was a stats-based signing (got the impression Wenger himself rates him and brought him to the club).

    Otherwise, I agree those guys are all good players, but I disagree that they could form the spine of a team that could consistently challenge for top 4 in the current Premier League (and I don’t think they’re anywhere near as good as the Spurs spine, though I agree Pochettino would get way more out of our squad than Wenger is getting (and probably insist on shipping a few out as well)).

    As much as I think Wenger’s not the greatest organizer or tactician, I STILL think the greatest thing holding this club back (given that Wenger is no Pochettino, no Simeone, etc) is the mess we’re consistently making of the transfer market. In years gone by we were just stingy. We at least had a plan and style of play. But the last four years we’ve been all over the shop, and, while I absolutely think Wenger must shoulder a huge share of the blame for the window (probably the lion’s share), the narrative that Ornstein tells suggests to me that others behind the scenes also are a huge part of the problem. Whether that’s Josh Kroenke or not, I have no idea, but it’s hard to not see dysfunction in how the club recruits and keeps players.

    For instance, I think it’s just misleading to claim we don’t have enough money to go out and bid, e.g., 90m on one player if we really want them (and without selling more players first). The issue, from everything reputable that I’ve read, is in salaries. It’s silly to hold up Lacazette and Kolasinac’s salaries as eating into our approx. 100m transfer budget (because salaries are never factored in in this way), but the issue was rather that our bloated squad–and mediocre revenue streams–meant our wage bill was too high for PL rules. This is (a) something we should have planned much, much better for going into this summer, and (b) only a problem in the first place because of all the players we’ve signed that either aren’t good enough or that our manager doesn’t really rate (perhaps because he didn’t really sign them), as well as all the players that have been at the club forever because Wenger finds it hard to let certain players go even when they’re probably not good enough (this one’s on Arsene).

    1. I may be wrong on Ospina being a stats signing, I only suggest his name because his purchase falls after we started to purchase players that had been scouted first by the stats department. If he is average and a Wenger-rated guy, that’s yet another indictment of Wenger’s recruitment.

      I agree that recruitment has been all over the map – why is that? It’s got to come down to the manager. If he’s unhappy with the players being identified to him by the scouting/stats department then the onus is on him to step in and direct them on what he needs so that following iterations the process continues to improve.

      Wenger has got to go. It’s analogous to trying to renovate an apartment without evicting the current occupant who just gripes about the changes and gets underfoot while the work is trying to go ahead.

  20. StatsdNa is garbage! Not advanced yet enough to determine what is important and not. Soccer is not baseball.
    jK and his dad are a pile of $h*te.
    All of their teams blow-seriously. The denver pile of nuggets, the avalanche are an avalanche, and the raMs- nuff said.
    Please, scouting and money will get you a good team, as there are no financial constraints-look at PSG.

  21. I saw Ornstein on BBC TV news Thursday last and he put his views re Lemar/Sanchez in pretty much the same way as his article on the BBC web-site. He’s OK, and I’m very encouraged to see a couple of respected Arsenal blogs supporting him, whereas another more despised & ridiculed blog populated by flat earthers continues to keep it’s head up it’s ass & deny the existence reputable well informed journalists.

  22. Josh is Stan’s kid, and by most accounts it was Stan who mandated Wenger’s extension. While it is certainly not ‘news’ when a father and son don’t see eye to eye, there are several million pounds hanging in the balance (Wenger’s severance), so I have to wonder about this element of your explanation.

    1. Wenger’s severance seems fairly small compared to the loss we’re going to take when both Sanchez and Ozil leave on a free next summer. That’s well north of £50M.

  23. this moneyball concept was born of baseball. while data can be used to support some metrics in soccer, baseball is nothing like soccer. baseball is strictly talent. soccer is much more than just talent. while talent and coping with the pressure of the moment is as real in soccer as baseball, our beautiful game is more demanding physically and cerebrally than baseball. the most important component is the cerebral one.

    there are thousands of decisions made by every soccer player in every game based on a continually changing environment with little direction from the sideline, no time for you to contemplate your next move, and someone physically challenging your every move. in soccer, you must be aware of your surroundings, both near and far, and be able to think and act quickly and decisively. if you can’t do that, it does not matter how talented you are; this is the biggest problem with soccer in the united states. there is a greater emphasis on talent and statistics than there is on intelligence. more significantly, there is no quantifiable data point for intelligence or quick decision making.

    so, what we seem to have is an american guy bringing american concept derived from an american sport that he’s trying to implement in one of the most un-american games there is. that’s a problem and it’s not going to work.

    1. once upon a time, a friend of mine, a big american football fan, came to me in despair. he bemoaned that his team’s pro-bowl quarterback, drew bledsoe, had just suffered a long-term injury and they were forced to rely on a backup. i asked who bledsoe’s backup was and he replied “a kid named tom brady”. i asked him quizzically, “tom brady plays for the patriots?” as i didn’t know. he replied, yes. i told him that drew bledsoe needed to find a new team because once tom brady showed what he was capable of, there would be no way for him back into the patriots team.

      i’m no michigan fan but i clearly remember watching brady play in college when my team wasn’t on. it wasn’t his speed, power, physicality, or arm strength that impressed me. it was when i watched the slow motion instant replays and i marveled that things i could only see in slow motion, he was able to see in real time. i remember being impressed by him throwing the football a bit low on a third down because if he’d thrown the ball most quarterbacks would have thrown, it would have been intercepted.

      there is no stat for tom brady’s ability to read a defense. his intelligent throws didn’t make sportscenter. he wasn’t the box-office human highlight reel coming out of college that michael vick was. he was very unimpressive at the nfl combine. however, despite being a 6th round pick, he’s going to the nfl football hall of fame as the greatest quarterback ever. given the choice of a highly intelligent soccer player with decent technique or a brilliant technical ball player with decent intelligence, i’d take the highly intelligent player nine times out of 10. there is no moneyball stat for intelligence.

      1. All of that is true, but Tom Brady is the greatest statistical outlier of all time. It’s all well and good to point to his example, but quite literally nobody else has intangibles like he has.

    2. This. There is absolutely no stat that measures a footballer’s ability to read the game and his understanding of space. At best, you can use the stats to support an observation. If StatsDNA is what has been driving our recent recruiting, it would go some ways to explain our underwhelming signings for the last couple of seasons.

      1. Are they underwhelming though?

        Elneny – solid, tidy, energetic midfielder. Not a starter but definitely the type of squad player you need. Not bad for 15m in January.
        Xhaka – excellent Pirlo-esque passer of the ball over any range of distances. Hammer of a shot, great free kick taker (if we’d let him). Young.
        Mustafi – versatile, mobile, good speed and athleticism, good passer of the ball and can bring the ball out from the back
        Perez – versatile, good movement off the ball, did very well in my opinion every time he played
        Gabriel – versatile, mobile, good speed and athleticism, Martin Keown considered him the best “pound for pound” defender on the team. Was a very solid and tough player.

        In my humble opinion we got good value for money for all these players.

        In all cases the problems with the players seem to be, as Tim points out, defensive or in Gabriel’s case a propensity for mental collapses. But defense can be coached. And if Wenger is upset with the psychological make-up and defensive skills of these recruits identified by stats then work with the scouting department to add new filters so that the next round of recruits have gone through additional scrutiny. And at the end of the day the final scrutineer of these prospects has to be the manager himself. Did none of these players pass his sniff test and all were bought against his objections? I find that hard to believe. Why would he stick around if that’s the backroom cooperation going on?

    3. Baseball is not just talent. There is tremendous expectation and attention to each singular action because of how slow the game is. The mental component should not be under-estimated. Guys wilt all the time in baseball when they are taken out of their comfort zone.

  24. The problem with the Moneyball approach is that it relies on quantitative analysis and ignores qualitative analysis. Wenger is an old-school manager, i.e. qualitative analysis. He trusts what his eyes see. He would have spotted Xhaka’s poor positional and poor tackling skills. He would have also noticed Elneny’s inability to win duels. The fact that Wenger described Xhaka as a box-to-box player when Xhaka joined the club shows that some signings have been imposed on Wenger. Unfortunately, the manager is too loyal to the management to call them out in public. Maybe in a book some day…

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