Give us this day our daily Hleb

Whoa.. early game today, 10am local time (PST). Right, so, I better get this published.

Uhh, you know by now that Arsenal are playing BATE and that BATE are 11-time champions of the Belarusian League. And… that the stadium is like an hour outside of Minsk. And that former Arsenal star, and Champions League winner with Barcelona, Alexandr Hleb used to play for BATE.

I remember Hleb well. I was at Highbury when he scored his second goal for Arsenal. It was what would become a “typical” Hleb goal: a shot which looked like he was forced to take, rather than one he wanted. On that freezing Spring day, Hleb started the attack, driving at Charlton’s defense, passed to Adebayor and then something happened – maybe Adebayor tried to shoot? But after a brief jumble of legs, the ball fell to Hleb and he shot it as hard as he could into the back of the net. A collector’s item, a goal from Hleb.

I get why Hleb’s name comes up, because he played for BATE last year. But what’s strange is the hagiography everyone is crafting for him. He was a miraculous dribbler, he was fast, and he drove the team forward. He played like Cazorla with the ball at his feet and could open almost any defense with his close control. But in the final third he went from Cazorla to Gervinho – he couldn’t pick out the final ball and he refused to shoot when he was wide open and mere feet from the goal.

Hleb was the first of many players from the “Banter era”. He was one of Arsene Wenger’s “bargains” and the first player I ever heard the term “pre-assist” applied to. What that meant was that he passed the ball to the guy who passed the ball to the guy who scored. And while I understand the importance of passing the ball to the guy who passes the ball, it’s not like Hleb was just two steps ahead of everyone else and playing chess with teams, he was simply the guy who liked to run with the ball and when he got deep enough, he dumped it off. Figuratively saying “I got this far, now you do the rest.”

He was a number 10 who didn’t score or assist. According to transfermarkt, he played 131 games for Arsenal, scored 11 goals and assisted 16.  Those 16 assists include “fantasy assists” which are times when a player falls over in the 18 yard box and wins his team a penalty. In short, he played in the Özil role, free from any defensive duties, yet didn’t even provide for his team: he was the ultimate luxury player at a club who were pinching pennies.

His Arsenal career doesn’t even warrant the space I’ve given him here but he is emblematic of a type of player that Wenger absolutely loves and which fans are ecstatic to see sold. He was the most frustrating player I have ever seen play for Arsenal. He was timid in front of goal, he couldn’t pick out a final pass to save his life, and he was an absolute waste of space defensively. But boy, he could dribble.  He was replaced by a player who had almost all of the same qualities but who at least could score: Samir Nasri. And Hleb’s latest doppleganger was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Wenger loves these types of players, that’s a fact.

Let’s let Hleb’s Arsenal career rest in peace. And please don’t @ me with how great you thought Hleb was. He wasn’t. I also don’t care to hear his sob story about how he should never have gone to Barcelona. I wrote a “good riddance” article about him in 2009, and I mean it now as much as I meant it then. Did he want to get to 300 games so he could get 30 assists?Anyway, none of these footballers are going to feature for Arsenal today. So, I apologize for wasting your time with my trip down memory lane.

Players I am excited to see play today: Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jack Wilshere (bonus points to anyone who points out that Jack is kind of a Hleb/Ox).

Wenger said before the game that AMN is perfectly suited to play in the defensive midfield role so naturally Wenger will play him at left back, or maybe right back. Meanwhile, Wilshere will probably get the CM role, though whether that’s as the Aaron Ramsey center mid or the Özil role is unclear.

This Arsenal squad is so thin at the moment and with another match on Sunday coming up, Wenger has to rotate. But the key player he needs to rotate is probably Elneny. Unfortunately, Arsenal don’t have enough CMs to rest Elneny, nor enough right backs to play AMN in the CM role.

Come to think of it, Arsenal don’t have enough left-backs either. Right now, Monreal is the backup left back but he’s playing center back, so unless you’re going to play Koscielny (who won’t be playing much this season as his career comes to an end due to chronic injury) and then use Monreal three times in a week at two different positions, Wenger almost has to use Kolasinac or someone from the youth team.

It’s incredible to think that Wenger has 9 defenders, 9 midfielders, and 7 forwards and somehow we are already short and shifting folks around. That’s mostly down to the fact that Debuchy is still on the team but will never play for Arsenal again, that Chambers is clearly not wanted (also injured), Welbeck is injured, and Cazorla and Coquelin are injured.

As for BATE, their star player is a number 10 who does shoot, score, and assist: Mirko Ivanic. He’s a fairly tall midfielder with a decent touch who likes to pass the ball into the net. He will probably find the speed of this game and the physicality of Arsenal’s players too much for him, but if Arsenal fall asleep he could hurt them.

BATE’s only chance for points in this match is to press Arsenal’s back three. Holding will probably start and he is a liability with the ball. And if Elneny and Wilshere are the Arsenal center mid pairing, BATE could effectively trap the ball in the Arsenal half for long periods. But it’s a risky tactic and I would be surprised if BATE go for it because if they leave space in behind, Wenger’s players will find Theo Walcott, who I expect to start, on one of his trademark runs. And Theo will punish them (eventually).


Further reading:

Alas Poor Hleb, I knew him Horatio!

Alas, poor Hleb! I knew him, Horatio.


  1. I have professed my affection for the dribbly wonder before and do not want to provoke more exasperation. I will just note that his link up play with fabregas was great to watch and our young Spanish captain certainly appreciated his talents.

    I appear to have affected a rather pompous tone of voice in this comment and shall proceed no further. Enjoy the game tonight everyone

  2. I have a Hleb jersey. I really liked him when he played for Arsenal. I will just leave it at that. To each their own.

    Ancelotti unfairly fired – for the third time (Chelsea, Real, now Bayern). I would love Ancelotti at Arsenal. First class manager.

    1. Nah, there was nothing unfair about his firing. The team regressed considerably under Ancelotti. PSG was just the pinnacle. He’s not going to develop the team and he pretty much lost the dressing room, it was just a matter of time.

      1. It’s not that Hleb couldn’t — it was that he WOULDN’T. He was emblematic of an era when Arsene’s team loved to over-elaborate… score the perfect goal, or try to work the perfect opening. When the stadium, as one, would yell, “shoot!”

        That was why we took to players like Vermaelen — refreshingly direct, in a way that Hleb was frustratingly overly-intricate. Scoring a goal from outside the box seemed like an affront to the arsenal aesthetic.

        Those were the days when we sold Barca some tat. Like some guy in a dirty raincoat flashing fake watches.

        I was indifferent to him, though I liked the way he wore his socks low. In that, and in good skill but low productivity in front of goal, one hopes that Iwobi isn’t Hleb reborn.

      2. That post ^^ in in the wrong mini-thread. Apologies.

        On Ancelotti… I thought that PSG thrashing was a stunning result, but I did not expect Bayern to fire him.

        1. It has been coming, last season wasn’t very good and players were nit satisfies. The team regressed visibly and there is no obvious plan visible. The other thing is, Bayern is going through a rebuilding phase and Ancelotti was never the right man to develop young players. Better to act decisive. See Arsenal.

  3. I remember taking a lot of heat for criticizing Hleb’s lack of end product back in those days. There’s something emotive and evocative about him that the sort of football purists who flock to Arsenal (suck as yours truly) truly enjoyed. Though I will say my favorite tiki-taka artist was and forevermore will be Rosicky.

    I didn’t watch the game but from the sounds of it, Wilshere is playing his way into good form and it will do no harm for Walcott and Giroud to get on the scoresheet.

    1. Jack bossed it in the first half and lifted the whole team. Then he seemed to lose interest in the second half, as the rest of the team came unraveled. But MAN, does he know how to unlock defenses. With a bit more maturity he could easily replace Ozil, if the latter decides to bugger orf…

  4. Lol… Reading this after the game and i marvel at ur predictions. Theo and Ivanic did come true and wilshere did an Ozil but from the left. Why do u rate Elneny?I dont and you know why. Maybe his stats may tell you. Nice one Tim am loving the a.m.

    1. I don’t rate Elneny. He’s never been able to play defense. I just like that he doesn’t go running all over the place (normally) which he did the exact opposite of in this game.

  5. tim, you’re being incredibly unfair to hleb. he was a #10 for vfb and belarus but played most of his games at arsenal in the #7 spot. he only played in the 10 spot for arsenal in his final year at the club and his contribution was significant; he helped lead arsenal in their only real title challenge since the invincibles season. his defensive contribution to the midfield was easily the best i’ve ever seen from an arsenal #10. if you don’t believe that, i challenge you to watch any random arsenal game from the ’07-’08 season and see the pressure he applied and the tackles he made. he worked very hard in midfield.

    hleb’s biggest flaw was that he didn’t score many goals. i’ve deduced that he simply couldn’t shoot and he knew it. if the ball didn’t fall to him perfectly or he couldn’t pass the ball into the net, he wouldn’t attempt a shot. in the mid ’90s, i played with a guy like that so i recognized it in hleb. it’s also why i knew he would fail at barcelona.

    speaking on the hleb to barca move, i felt that if wenger asked hleb to stay, he would have stayed at arsenal. i believe wenger wanted hleb to leave because he wanted to re-install cesc into the #10 role and knew the players, including cesc, would have resisted. it’s the only season in cesc career at arsenal when he didn’t play as a #10 and it was the best season of his career, numbers-wise; fabregas had 14 goals and 22 assists in all competitions for arsenal that year. selling hleb also justified wenger playing walcott while also collecting a decent transfer fee.

    hleb’s dribbles as a #10 collapsed a lot of defenses, made a lot of space for fabregas, made it impossible to focus exclusively on adebayor, and drew a lot of fouls, to include ‘fantasy assists’ that led to real goals. hleb was unstoppable on the dribble and his play coupled with adebayor’s pace and power, cesc penetrative passing, theo’s speed, and rosicky’s industry made arsenal a potent attacking proposition worthy of a championship.

    1. Wow. That gives a completely different picture.

      Personally I started following Arsenal by 2009 after Hleb had already gone and I have no opinion on him.

      I guess Hleb lay somewhere in between Cazorla and Gervinho. Perhaps closer to Cazorla than Gervinho.

    2. Great point about the 2007/08 season. But let’s break that season down by his actual contributions to the team’s title failure:

      1. Scored two Premier League goals that season – 1 against Fulham on opening day and once against Reading in November. For the rest of the season, he took just 11 shots and scored zero goals. Teams worked out how to play against him: cover everyone else.
      2. After January he provided 5 assists in 22 matches, in all competitions. This wouldn’t be terrible but like you said, he was playing in the AM (#10) role and it is vital that this person not only draw in defenders but also provide either the final ball or score. Worse, he had only 3 assists in the League after January. 3 in 19 games. Fabregas picked up his slack, getting 10 assists in that same period.

      Then he jumped ship to Barca. And almost immediately joined the chorus of people suggesting that Fabregas should come to Barcelona (remember that?).

      I think I did a fair job representing Hleb for what he was: a great dribbler and a wasteful passer who refused to shoot.

  6. as for the game, it was what i expected. wilshere looked good but is clearly lacking match fitness. it’s the second time in as many games where he started playing lights out only to fade horribly as the game progressed.

    this cup competition is fun. along with the domestic cups, it gives arsenal every chance play all of their players, compete for trophies, and fight for the championship. we’ll see how wenger manages it all.

    1. JOSHUAD
      Agree on all points.

      I wonder if there’s a clause in every Arsenal player’s contract that says:: ” you will not play in your favorite position and you’ll like it”

      Someone has to pull Theo aside and tell him that a clever assist is as good as goal, especially when a shot on goal results in a miss. Giroud and Wilshere might have words with him about that.

      This Europa league might be more fun than the CL.
      Less pressure to win each game since the line ups are full of teenagers who wouldn’t see much of the game time in the CL , due to the all important placing as group winners.

      Still disagree that this is more our level though, as some have claimed.
      The fact other top clubs lost at Bate means very little other than their second stringers didn’t do as well as ours on the day.

      Have yet to see the red star club but thus far I haven’t seen a single opposition player talented enough to displace a like for like Arsenal first team player, which to me is the real mark of being close to someone’s level.

  7. I don’t know what’s up with Wilshire fading, it might well be match fitness but does anyone else feel that he has always faded in influence and concentration? Has he always tended to overrun the ball and get injured late in games when he’s struggling physically? I don’t know what the stats say. He has that stocky build and bandy gait of someone not built for stamina…

  8. You kind of own a player’s memory based on your experience and your life around the time he used to play.
    I remember one of my friends once mocked a few of Pediatrics Consultantsin the morning ground round by Hleb!
    We were RMO’s in pediatrics ward when he claimed he admitted a child the night before with “Hleb Syndrome”
    Who was discharged by parental consent!
    Of course no body knew nothing about Hleb Syndrome but didn’t dare to ask or challenge the diagnosis!
    It was fun!

  9. We’ve had a plethora of underwhelming players at Arsenal over the years and I don’t count Hleb as one of them. The lack of goals was clearly frustrating but the 07-08 season was my favorite season after the Invincibles and Hleb was an integral part of it. We should have won the league that year but two things happened. 1) Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg and 2) Wenger sold Diarra in the winter. I am quite sure barring those two events, we would have won the league and Hleb would be remembered differently despite his lack of shooting skills.

    1. I’ve always thought Arsene’s decision to sell Diarra one of the most baffling decisions I’ve ever seen a professional football manager make, ever. The only way that makes sense is if Diarra was an absolutely poisonous presence in the dressing room, and even then, he’d have to be pretty poisonous to merit this. I remember thinking it was crazy at the time, and sure enough, a few months later it came back and bit us in the ass. I’ve always thought folks oversell the Eduardo injury’s importance, but not having quality cover for Flamini (arguably he was a better overall player, though Flam was brill that season) was a disaster waiting to happen.

      1. The story was he wanted to play regularly to guarantee a spot in the French team for the Euros so he agitated for a move (to Portsmouth of all teams!). Wenger could have handled it better. He was just starting to play really well and you could see that his abilities on the ball were far better than Flamini’s. Just seemed like a real lack of foresight from the manager.

        1. Yeah, lack of foresight and stubborn commitment to “ideals” (“if a player really agitates for a move in the middle of the season because he’s not playing enough, I let him go” (see Debuchy, Wilshere, etc)).
          I remember at the time thinking there’s NO WAY Fergie would have let him go, unless he deemed it was actually better for the team. This was one of the big differences between the two men: no one’s personality was allowed to trump Fergie’s at that club, so if he wanted to get rid of a problem player he did so quickly and ruthlessly, but if, on the other hand, he wanted to keep an unhappy player for the good of the squad, his will won out against the will of the unhappy player. But typically this also involved him being able to persuade the player to focus on contributing at United until the season’s end. It seems Wenger’s never had that same force of personality, nor the ruthless single-mindedness that puts the success of the current campaign above all else.

  10. The LANS bantz is justly a joke among Arsenal fans, but if Jack can stay fit this season (and I don’t see why he shouldn’t be able to with luck, given that his last several big injuries were all impact related), he really might be a genuinely fantastic LANS this season. People always make comparisons with Diaby, but the better comparison might be RVP, who had a terrible injury record for years, but then suddenly got fit and stayed fit for 18 months (30 months if you count his United title winning year) over which time he was the best striker in the league. I think Jack could have a similar sort of impact for us. As many have pointed out, he’s our best shot at replacing Santi, and our best approximation of Jean Seri too, a player we arguably should have gone for in the summer.
    A midfield duo of Jack and Xhaka could work well (not the strongest defensively, but if Jack can get stuck in, could be ok), and a midfield trio of Jack, Xhaka, and Ramsey could be even better (I know we tried the 4-3-3 with those two and Arteta in the Xhaka role briefly in Spring 2014, but that was never long enough to establish if it’d work or not, with Ozil and Jack getting injured; and we lacked a top quality mobile CF whose mobility could give Ozil and Alexis the freedom they’d require in a front three, but now we have that guy too).

    1. “A midfield duo of Jack and Xhaka could work well (not the strongest defensively, but if Jack can get stuck in, could be ok)”

      That’s a huge if. Jack’s been tested in that deep mid field role with England and Bournemouth. To say that the results have been mixed, is probably being kind to him. Defensively, he isn’t switched on enough to be effective in that role.

      If Jack played a slightly more advanced role, it would better suit his abilities. With Ozil shamelessly wh0ring himself to every team in Europe (allegedly), maybe it’s not a bad idea to play him there for a couple of games and see if he can cope at this level. He does have goals and assists in him, and he is more creative than Ramsey. Fitness is his real problem.

      The other thing is, given Xhaka’s form I am not sure if anyone would work well with him right now. But let’s assume Xhaka is playing at his best level, you would have two players in the center of the field who don’t really excel at winning the ball. I think we need that quality in the center of the pitch –
      and frankly, have needed it for longer than I care to remember.

      Maybe it could work with both Ramsey and Xhaka behind him. Ramsey is actually pretty decent at winning the ball. Not as good as Coq but better than the rest of our midfielders. Wenger would have to give very specific instructions to Ramsey to pick his runs carefully and not bomb forward during the buildup of every attack. Do you see that happening? I don’t. I only see Ramsey and Jack getting in each other’s way.

      1. 1. Jack is not a “ball winner,” but, provided he can get back to his best level and isn’t significantly diminished physically now (recent signs suggest he’s not), I think he’s better at competing in the midfield engine room and winning 50-50’s than you give him credit for.

        2. I agree Jack-Xhaka would not be ideal, but then ideal would be a midfield partner for Xhaka who’s a) very mobile, b) great at tackling/ball-winning, and c) very assured in possession (actually, ideal would also involve d) great at dribbling, but that person hardly exists, and anyway that’s an extra rather than a necessity). Coquelin is great at b), more than competent at a), but seriously lacking in c) (and obviously d)). All our other senior midfielders lack b) in a big way. Or, in Ramsey’s case, are unwilling to concentrate on b) ahead of getting forward (and, as I’ve said many times, he’s also erratic when it comes to c)).

        3. So we’re dealing with non-ideals. But my thinking is
        (a) Xhaka in form is actually quite a good defensively, provided he’s not exposed for pace/quickness and responds by rashly diving in.
        (b) A combo of two midfielders (in this case, Xhaka and Jack) who are both switched on defensively and at least have appetite and basic skills for competing physically in the middle of the park can largely make up for the absence of a specialized ball-winner. And,
        (c) if we’re going to play 3-4-3 and our midfield’s going to consist of Xhaka and one other, then Xhaka + Jack doesn’t seem significantly less defensively secure than Xhaka + a tackle-shy, lightweight Elneny or an undisciplined, goal-obsessed Ramsey.

      2. As for a three of Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere, you don’t play Ramsey behind Jack (if you’re going for a 2-1 triangle with two sitting and one “10”, you put Ramsey furthest forward, I guess). Rather, you play a 1-2 triangle with Wilshere and Ramsey slightly either side, and slightly more advanced than, a sitting Xhaka, who shields, picks the ball up from the defense to start attacks, but rarely charges forward since he doesn’t have to.
        Since they wouldn’t very often be playing in the exact same spaces, I don’t see why Wilshere and Ramsey would have to get in each other’s way, any more than two box to box midfielders ever have to get in each other’s way in a 4-3-3 (did Xavi and Iniesta get in each other’s way??).

        1. Also, Wilshere was quite good in the deep role for England (was by common consent England’s best player in Euro 2016 qualifying), and rarely played there for Bournemouth, as Howe usually put him in ahead of two holding players.
          Whether he’s disciplined enough defensively is debatable. Unlike Ramsey, I think he’s generally positionally disciplined enough, but that doesn’t address whether he can stay “switched on” defensively (one can be in the right general areas when your team is without the ball, but still fail to track runners, of course). The jury is out, but I think it’s worth a try.
          But just to clarify: I’m not suggesting Jack should play there as the “DM” more than Xhaka, but rather as the “number 8” to Xhaka’s deep-lying playmaker (e.g. just as Xabi Alonso often played deeper than both Khedira at Madrid and Vidal at Bayern, but in both cases both midfielders had significant jobs to do on defense).

      1. I think this is simplistic, to say the least. Other than the fall of 2014, which I already mentioned, they’ve rarely started in the same team, especially not in a formation that suits them both (the 4-3-3 being the obvious one, since both of them are “number 8’s” most naturally).

    2. Jack and Xhaka absolutely can’t work. Who’s going to win the ball?

      Jack is a decent ferryer, yes, but his good footballing instinct means he’s more No. 10 than 8.

      1. I don’t get this at all: a footballing instinct is a sign of being a 10 rather than an 8? That’s a new one on me.
        As for “who’s going to win the ball?” I’ve already said I don’t think it’s ideal, but I guess I just rate Jack and Xhaka’s defensive skills more than you do. Also, who’s doing the ball winning when Ramsey partners Xhaka and Rambo’s positioning suggests he thinks he’s playing as a second CF (I refer you to the Stoke and Liverpool games)?

        1. Perhaps I didn’t express it clearly. Jack’s snap and mostly good decision-making in the crowded final third tells me (and I’ve been saying this for years) he’s more of a 10 than a back of the midfield player.

        2. As for the ball-winning, I think that NYCGunner expressed it best — on Jack, Xhaka and Ramsey.

          The is nicely nuanced on the subject, and is worth reproducing, in full.
          “…..given Xhaka’s form I am not sure if anyone would work well with him right now. But let’s assume Xhaka is playing at his best level, you would have two players in the center of the field who don’t really excel at winning the ball. I think we need that quality in the center of the pitch – and frankly, have needed it for longer than I care to remember. Maybe it could work with both Ramsey and Xhaka behind him. Ramsey is actually pretty decent at winning the ball. Not as good as Coq but better than the rest of our midfielders. Wenger would have to give very specific instructions to Ramsey to pick his runs carefully and not bomb forward during the buildup of every attack. Do you see that happening? I don’t. I only see Ramsey and Jack getting in each other’s way.”

  11. You state things as if they are facts. They aren’t. They are just one person’s opinion that doesn’t know player first hand. This tone “who won’t be playing much this season as his career comes to an end due to chronic injury” just pisses me off (and should piss off any fan). I could retort but it’s none of my business to question the author on his writing on his blog. Just express my views on his writing.

    1. The club revealed that he has a chronic achilles injury this summer. He’s played in 4 of Arsenal’s 10 matches this season. Arsenal have announced today that he’s a doubt for Brighton on Sunday.

      I don’t understand why this should “piss off any fan”. I’ve seen a lot of careers wind down at my time watching Arsenal. I love Koscielny. He’s just getting older and he’s buggered now with an injury. He won’t feature much more from here on out.

  12. tim, it was not vital that hleb scored or provided the final ball. what was vital is that his play facilitated the team playing well and getting goal-scoring chances. adebayor scored 30 freaking goals! cesc scored 14 goals from open play and he was almost always completely unmarked when he scored. how did that happen? he also had 22 assists! that’s nuts!

    if you look exclusively at the stats, one would believe that hleb was pedestrian that season. we all watched arsenal that season and know the part that the stats don’t tell. adebayor and cesc’s success was facilitated in no small part by the presence and skill of alex hleb; he was the catalyst of that arsenal attack. just because he didn’t score or assist doesn’t mean he was wasteful with the ball.

    what’s also important is that everyone played in their best position (minus rosicky) for most of that season. it wasn’t until wenger began to play eduardo, and later diaby, on the left wing that things began to fall apart (imagine that).

    this is the root of many of our disagreements, tim. while i agree that numbers don’t lie, sometimes they don’t tell the whole truth. this is one of those times. i also believe you’re a bit salty because of hleb’s departure and subsequent attempts to lure cesc to follow him. they were good friends and had a great chemistry on the pitch; you can’t blame him for wanting to play with cesc again. i would blame that, retrospectively, on wenger. do you remember arsenal having a champions league game and wenger resting hleb and fabregas, permitting them to go to that barcelona game? what do you think they talked about?

  13. “this is the root of many of our disagreements, tim. while i agree that numbers don’t lie, sometimes they don’t tell the whole truth. this is one of those times.”
    Agree completely with this (not saying Tim wouldn’t agree too, just wanting to register that this statement captures how I see numbers and football).

    In the last thread, Dr. Gooner offered, as a “rational, numbers based” approach (these two adjectives apparently treated as synonyms?) to the question of whether Ramsey has great close control or not, a particular stat from whoscored that, lo and behold, Ramsey scored higher on than the likes of Mkhitaryan, De Bruyne, and Pogba (and our own Alexis, if memory serves). Doc took this to mean (and I want to be generous to his point and not caricature it) that there’s at least a good case for thinking this is strong evidence that Ramsey has excellent close control (superior, presumably, to those other players). I take the opposite approach: it’s bleedingly obvious to the naked eye that e.g. Mkhitaryan and De Bruyne’s close control is easily superior to Ramsey’s, so any stat that is purported to say otherwise obviously doesn’t measure the quality of a footballer’s close control.

    Stats don’t lie, but they can’t be trotted out like this to settle complex questions about a footballer’s ability or contributions on the pitch, because in order to decide what a particular stat does and doesn’t tell us, we have to be able to assess it relative to our own knowledgable, nuanced perceptual judgments about what transpires on the pitch as we watch the action.

    1. First off, let’s climb down from the stats high horse, everyone. Second, I think it’s funny that you are agreeing here with a guy who just said that Hleb was the reason Cesc had 22 assists and Adebayor scored 30 goals which he did without providing any data. This is the exact argument you just criticized!

      Look, Fabregas was a once-in-a-lifetime player. He went on to have a stonking career after Arsenal. Did Hleb make him better? Maybe… but from 8.4 to 8.5. I would argue that Fabregas made Hleb better that season, not the other way round. Which is evidenced by the career that Fabregas and Hleb had respectively.

      And let’s not forget that Wenger sold Hleb and bought Samir Nasri, who was a significantly superior player to Hleb.

  14. concerning lassana diarra, he left chelsea knowing his only competition to get into the arsenal side was an aging gilberto silva and mathieu flamini. he fancied his chances and rightfully so. the problem was flamini was playing very well and established an on-field continuity with cesc, hleb, and rosicky that made him undroppable. flamini was in the side on merit and diarra couldn’t move ahead of flamini so he blamed wenger and agitated for a permanent transfer, refusing a loan move.

    it’s easy, especially in retrospect, to say that wenger got that wrong but it was a tough situation. wenger had to sell diarra. he was a nightmare in the dressing room and had become increasingly disrespectful to wenger in the media. the problem was flamini only had 6 months to go on his contract. i remember saying before diarra was sold that flamini wouldn’t extend. it wasn’t here, as this forum wasn’t up yet, but on the arsenal america site when i declared that flamini would leave. everyone thought i was nuts but we’d just watched him leave marseille in ’04 under the same circumstances. pretty soon, everyone started to believe my theory.

    ferguson didn’t always get it right being bossy. he’s still responsible for one of the stupidest transfers in history when he sold jaap stam because of that book stam wrote. when i found out stam was really sold, i laughed so hard; fergie had actually lost his mind. the only transfer worse than that one was when real madrid sold claude makalele.

    1. This blog started in January 2008. I wrote about Flamini a lot back then. Those old posts are still up.

  15. concerning the arsenal center midfielders, wilshere is a #10, ramsey is a #8, and xhaka is a #6. that works but not in a 3-4-3. it’s a stupid formation considering the options arsenal has. everyone was talking about this mythical “elegant beast” in the summer but i never believed that would happened so i proposed the next best option, a formation change to a 3-5-2. even the manager that made it popular and knew how to run it best, conte, has gone away from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. arsenal will find success with the 3-4-3 against bad teams but not the better teams. in today’s game, you simply need 3 center mids or you’ll be outnumbered in midfield.

    the 3-5-2 puts puts ramsey, wilshere, and xhaka in their best position and actually gives them a good chance to succeed, whether ozil and alexis are there or not. i’d like to see that change, coupled with alexis and lacazette playing up top. actually, giroud can play with anyone. we’ll see.

  16. Seems to be gathering groundswell of support for Jack playing, but I agree with Robbie from AFTV that it’s too soon to be playing him every 3 or 4 days.

    What’d be our MF combo if he does, is the subject of debate upthread. Who will he partner? Where? Who would make way? PFo likes Xhaka and Jack. Some of us think that’s an unworkable combo.

    What do the stats say regarding our 2 main men in midfield this season, Xhaka and Ramsey?

    The stats listed below are — pass completion, average duels won, chances created, goals, shot accuracy — from Squawka.

    Ramsey 84% 60 3 1 50%
    Xhaka 83% 35 10 0 38%
    Elneny 92% 54 4 0 0%

    Wilshere hasn’t played in the prem (I dont think), and I dont see stats for him.

    Both Elneny and Ramsey are outpassing Xhaka, who is clearly mislaying more than he normally does. A surprise for Ramsey, given that he plays higher up where pass completion is generally worse, but not for Elneny who is a conservative, keep-it-tidy passer. Elneny also has far fewer minutes than either, and Xhaka has the most. In mitigation, Xhaka’s are high risk and high yield, as shown by his standout chances created number.

    The eye-catching stat for me is duels won, and Ramsey wins 60% of his, twice the rate of Xhaka. It suggests not only that he’s much better on the defensive side than he’s given credit for, but that he’d be the better partner for Jack, if we brought him back.

    Yet Xhaka, for all his so-so form so far this season and defensive limitations, is a pretty darned good picker of defensive locks, and those chances created will always count in his favour.

    Watching the Chelsea/CIty game today, I was struck by how hard it is to move the ball between tight defensive lines. In a well-drilled setup, patience in possession is the kay, and a lot of passes go sideways or backwards. In this scenario, the Xhakas, and Fabregases of this world are worth their weight in gold. Fabregas, despite being on the losing side, was combining pretty effectively with Morata till be was forced to limp off. His (and Xhaka’s) ability to break lines by quarterbacking are very valuable assets. Jack brings that somewhat, but I still feel that he’s a better front-of-the-midfield player than a back-midfield one. It’s why Cesc is playing more this season than he did the last.

    Fabregas has been sensational on chances created — 16 — but he wins only 41% of his duels (which is still higher than Xhaka). Again, high risk, high reward, and his pass completion, 84%, looks low for a player his class.

    Kante is an interesting case. He’s winning only 55% of his duels, but passing at 85%, and he’s created an eye-catching 10 chances!

    Even an elegant beast like Bakayoko is only winning 49% of his duels, while creating 3 chances and passing at 85%.

    Let’s look at Pogba, injured for the moment. Two goals, 9 chances created, 55% duels win, 84% pass accuracy… in 4 games.

    Debruyne. One goal, but a ridiculous 24 chances created, on 85% passing and 53% duels won. Their enforcer, Fernandinho? 89% pass accuracy, 50% of duels won.

    By the way, by two completely different measures, interceptions and tackles, Monreal leads the entire league in the former, and leads all Arsenal players in the latter. In tackles, among our midfielders, Ramsey is joint fourth with Bellerin (9 each), Xhaka 6th (8), and Elneny 4 with limited playing time.

    Certainly paints an interesting picture.

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