Sead Kolasinac: more on his plate than Nacho’s

Rumors indicate that Arsenal have signed Sead Kolasinac from Schalke 04 and if the stats show us anything, it’s that Arsenal might have an excellent replacement for Nacho Monreal lined up for next season. Those same numbers also show us exactly what the Arsenal supporters will complain about when he is eventually exposed by Arsene Wenger’s kamikaze defensive system.

Monreal has been a fan favorite at Arsenal but in recent seasons has started to look his age (31) as younger, more agile players have been able to beat him off the dribble, and teams have targeted him for balls over the top. Arsenal, meanwhile, haven’t been able to get the best out of his backup, Gibbs, who has made just 21 League appearances for Arsenal over the last two years, a decline from his average of 25 per season over the three years prior. Gibbs’ limited starts, at the time when Monreal’s talents are clearly waning, is evidence that Wenger decided Gibbs would never take over for Monreal. If Gibbs was going to take the starting mantle away from Monreal he would be getting more playing time rather than less.

The demands from an Arsenal fullback in the Wenger system are more like a wingback, except where a wingback would typically be in front of three center backs, the Arsenal system relies on just one or two center backs, pushed as high up the pitch as possible. Like a wingback, Arsenal’s fullbacks are auxiliary midfielders while also providing attacking width for when the Arsenal wide forwards (who are usually played “off-foot”) tuck inside in attack. Since their attacking partners are tucking inside, the Arsenal fullbacks also have to provide defensive cover for the forwards and wide in defense.

The full skillset for an Arsenal fullwingforwardback is: pass the ball exceptionally well (like a central midfielder), cross the ball (like a winger), intercept the opposition attacks (like a fullback), tackle perfectly (any missed tackles mean that Arsenal’s entire two center back system is exposed), work seamlessly with the forward in front of them in attack, be able to cover the opposition forwards and the opposition fullbacks, and have the ability to recover lightning quick when they are all the way forward and the opposition win the ball and pass it into the open space behind them. Needless to say there are few players in the world who can sustain this level of perfection for long and even right back Hector Bellerin, who was an Arsenal fan favorite last season, is quickly being burned out by the demands placed on him by Wenger’s system.

The good news is that Kolasinac ticks a lot of those boxes.

First, his “goals from counter attacks” number is small (just 2) but Opta counts counter attacking goals in a very narrowly defined way and so even getting one on your annual tally sheet is a big deal. For me, this is a sign that Kolasinac plays as a foot-forward fullback, who breaks with speed at opposition defenders.

Second, his long balls percentage is high as is his crossing percentage. This indicates that he’s a good passer, despite the fact that he has a low overall short passing percent of just 75%. Counter attacking teams often have low passing %’s because they value speed of ball movement over accuracy for possession’s sake.

Third, his key passing numbers are excellent for a wingback with the player finding teammates both long and with crosses, unlike Monreal who isn’t as well developed in the Arsenal attack. This is crucial. Wenger sends his fullbacks forward, thus exposing his defense. But if the fullbacks aren’t helping to develop Arsenal’s attacking play then sending them forward is pointless and even counter-productive.

Kolasinac’s attacking numbers (counter-attacking goals, good long ball %, and long ball key passes) indicate a player who is well versed in the offensive requirements of a counter-attacking system. So, what about defense?

Wenger’s main defensive style is train his defenders to intercept the ball and Kolasinac plays a similar defensive scheme for Schalke 04. Kolasinac is so good at interceptions that he ranks 5th in the Bundesliga overall and first among fullbacks with 3.6 per game. To put that in another context, Sead had as many interceptions as Nacho did in 708 fewer minutes.

Where Arsenal supporters will be particularly pleased is in his outstanding tackle percentage. Kolasinac was only dribbled 16 total times last season in 76 different 1-v-1 duels with attackers.  Nacho Monreal made a similar number of tackles but showed clearly that his is losing a step in the fact that he was dribbled an astonishing 43 times.

Monreal has also been dispossessed more times than Kolasinac, with 15, but has a much better first touch than the Schalke man with just 9 unforced turnovers, compared to Kolasinac’s awful 23. In fact, given the massive disparity in passes between to the two players (Monreal averages 10 passes more per game than Kolasinac) this is the one stat that I expect Arsenal supporters will be frustrated with, if (IF) he doesn’t show better touch in the Arsenal system, which was (until about 5 years ago) world renown for developing player’s touch.

Given his excellent attacking and defending numbers, if Kolasinac signs for Arsenal he could turn out to be the perfect replacement for Monreal. And if Wenger moves Monreal to center back and plays a three center back system with Bellerin wide right and Sead Kolasinac wide left, Arsenal may very well have a defensive scheme and counter attacking system which suits the Premier League’s rabid pace.



  1. Superb post, I think just what anyone needed to know about him, and looking at the stats he does seem impressive. Then again, so did Vermaelen.

    I’m just confused about the last paragraph, because in all these years I have been reading your posts, I had no idea you wanted to try yourself at fiction too.

    1. I got a laugh out of writing that. Because we all know Wenger isn’t going with a back three.

      1. hahah can you believe he did it? a back three – and it wasn’t cop out i think – it looked like they really played like a back three, taking turns pushing forward to get the ball forward.

        will it continue into the next game though against a very tough test against city.

    2. Vermaelen wasn’t a bad player before his stress fractures and disconnected plantaris tendons. His greatest fault was that he was prone to rashly over-pursuing his marks which left spaces behind him to exploit. After all those injuries his athleticism could no longer compensate for his comparatively small stature and his career dwindled. He was never superlative but he was far from awful.

  2. A month or so ago I was searching for LBs on whoscored and having never heard of him before, this guys numbers caught my eye. I didn’t know he was out of contract or a legitimate target for Arsenal, but he seemed a better option than Ricky Rodriguez who was much desired by many Arsenal fans. This would be a good signing (if confirmed. The Guardian says he’s signed)

    Also agree on the 3 CB thing. Not because Conte has made it fashionable, but because like you I think it could help solve some issues and would suit our personnel. We’ll even have 6 CBs next year if Chambers comes back. Apparently Kolasinac can play CB too, as can Monreal. We’ll still need to replace Cazorla, and maybe decide where Ozil fits. Of course that could be moot if he leaves. When Wenger first came to Arsenal, he told the players to play 352 (or 532) so it’s not like he’s opposed to it. With teams going back to 2 forwards maybe we will see a return to 3 at the back.

    Anyway, a bit of transfer news is always fun, and especially when it shifts the focus away from this season.

    Now for the NBA playoffs.

  3. Really well written article on the new man, some nice stats.
    The problem is, Wenger will do to him what he does to his other defenders. His lack of instruction, drilling, tactics will reduce him to a nervous wreck within weeks.
    Wenger doesn’t do defence… fact, not sure what he does do, except fail

  4. If we were going to play a back 3 next year, you’d think now, with season a write off would be a good time to start experimenting

  5. If his first touch doesn’t make him a liability, I think he’ll be a hit. One of my main reservations about playing a 3-5-2 is that we didn’t have an ideal left wingback, so this could sort that one out. One thing to add to your post is that he looks a right beast as well.

  6. Thanks for this. This guy looks like the real deal. But he’s coming to a team that regularly switches off on D. I’ve seen our backs running for no rhyme or reason. I mean literally running around with no idea what to do except ball watch.

  7. Related to the last post, not this one I have a question for the 7 am readership:

    Do you feel that after one bad season that you would begrudge the greatest manager in the history of our club another year or even two?

    I would. But I don’t feel good about it as I’ve already said.

    1. I didn’t begrudge him another year or two in 2013. But in 2017 we’re still talking about keeping him on until 2019?

      That’s like having a 36-year old Thierry Henry playing at Arsenal, being presented with the opportunity to sign 18 year-old Kylian Mbappe-Lottin and saying “no, let’s give Thierry another couple of seasons”. Absolute madness.

      The common refrain from four years ago – “but who’s gonna replace Wenger?” – just doesn’t work anymore.

      1. I agree he shouldn’t stay. But the common refrain absolutely does work, if by “work”, we mean it’s an extremely germane, not at all obvious question. The problem is our rivals have picked up most of the top coaching talent in the world, and it won’t necessarily be easy to poach one of the talented young coaches who’s left on the continent. For every Pochettino, there’s a Villas-Boas (not saying the latter is terrible; just that his stints in England did not end well for his clubs). Or worse: David Moyes.

        We absolutely could be in a worse position in 12 months time if we let Wenger go and hire the wrong guy to replace him. Of course, we could be in a worse position in 12 months time even if he stays, but firing him is a big risk if we don’t already have someone really good lined up, and every indication is that we don’t.

      2. We don’t seem to have ANYONE lined up, let alone someone good. But you know, neither you nor I can know that for sure. Change is a risk, so is inertia. The point is the club SHOULD act on a replacement, not accept the fact that we haven’t, and on that basis, keep the devil we know.

        I agree with you partly on the hoovering up of the top coaching talent, but you’re talking about obvious candidates, which isn’t the same as the full list of potential candidates. A number of recently linked coaches, Allegri and Tuchel for example, would both be an improvement over the ossified Wenger in my opinion. They’d likely get more out of a squad wich isn’t as bad as its current standing or recent results suggest.

        This team isn’t playing for Arsene, that is generally a position from which a manager cannot recover. United were technically excellent today in nullifying Hazard, and managing out the game. It’s not the sort of game management you see from Arsene.

        1. I don’t think either Allegri or Tuchel would come to us this summer if asked (that might change if Allegri wins the CL). Not saying “keep the devil we know”; just saying I think finding a replacement of the requisite quality this summer might end up being much, much harder than many people seem to think.

          1. Fair enough PFo, but the question isn’t about our capacity to lure a high quality manager. It’s whether we should at all. Most of the people saying “Who could possibly replace Wenger?” weren’t exactly giving an informed appraisal of the best managerial talent from around the world.

            This forum is in a different class thankfully, but in a neat parallel with the club’s regression on the pitch, general fanbase or pundit class discussions about new managers were as parochial and inward-looking as much of British football was before Wenger arrived. “Arsene who?” was the refrain back then.

            So no, the question “who could possibly replace Wenger” is not germane now, and it wasn’t four years ago. Arsene Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight guys. Let’s not pretend the average fan’s global knowledge index of managers reaches outside the Champions League plus a few hip German or French clubs.

          2. Sorry, I was taking your question to be germane, because I was taking it as decidedly non-rhetorical. As in, “Really guys, who should it be??? Let’s figure it out.” (Not that the board listen to us any way!) I was suggesting this was a pressing question, precisely because I think Wenger should bow out, because I think finding the right guy is going to be really, really hard, and because I worry about dropping Wenger before the right guy is lined up.

      1. Not necessarily. There are reports that his father says that he’s signed to one of the Milan clubs.

    1. ACL surgeries are not the death sentence they used to be for an athlete’s career; in fact, for younger players it hardly makes any difference at all as long as there are no complications.

  8. I’ve watched a few clips of Kolasinac and against the typical Arsenal player there is an obvious shift towards power and pace, a little away from tiki-taka. Is the cycle of the Fabrigas inspired football coming to a close? Pity it never had a crown on its head though it served well for the lean years.

  9. Kolasinac looks just the player we need. Balkan players have that toughness, like one of my favourite non-Arsenal players of the recent past, Nemanja Vidic.

    Word of this getting out now and slightly changing the conversation is convenient and interesting, but I don’t blame Arsene. It came out in the press in the player’s home country.

  10. Thanks for the post Tim. I knew nothing about him until I read your article. Good to see that we are not in total limbo. It’s just very hard to get excited about anything at the moment and Arsenal’s problems are too systematic to be solved easily. A new left back wont do much to solve any of the questions you rightly raised in your previous article. It would be good to see Arsene try a new formation with 3 CBs but as someone else pointed out, maybe that’s something we should have already tried by now.

  11. Well, that result doesn’t do us any good; either from the standpoint of finishing in the Top 4 or S**** having a better chance of winning the league.

    1. Yeah, though I think Chelsea will still win it. They’re still 4 points ahead, and it was always likely that going away from home against a Mourinho-led Man United would be their toughest remaining game.

      The worse part is that United failed to drop the points. Our top 4 chances are hanging by a thread now. I think if we went on a run and won the rest of our games (or close to it) we’d still sneak 4th, as other teams will inevitably drop points. But who can see us going on a sustained run now? Yep, nobody.

      I don’t care about dropping out of the top four for one year personally (we may even have a better chance in the league); the problem will be what effect that has on us getting/keeping players in the summer. It could get ugly, like summer of 2011 ugly…

    2. Agree. With all of that. But you know what the silver lining is? If we stop the potential bleeding this summer, I’d say that our chances of winning the Europa would be good. Trust me, gooners may grumble about dropping out of the CL, but winning Europa would lift everyone. All of that, though, is a long way away.

  12. Wouldn’t that just be the perfect icing on this cake? Arsenal finishing 7th and the Tiny Tots winning the league. They’re in the chase now with results like today’s.

  13. We need outside the box thinking. I suggested this before (also said we should try going in with a ridiculously huge bid for Kante…), mostly in jest, but here goes:

    We should go in strong with a big to lure Pochettino from Tottenham. He’s said he would never manage Arsenal or Barca, but the guy’s a complete mercenary (in a good way). We’re still way, way ahead of Spurs financially and in terms of global fan base. And we have a new stadium whereas they still have to build theirs. Offer to double or even triple his salary (I don’t know what he’s on, but I bet it’s way less than AW), and give him 150-200m to spend on the squad in the summer.
    Of course it won’t happen, but why not? Unlike Chelsea, United, or City, Spurs are actually a smaller club than us. They poached Poch from Southampton in the middle of a very promising “project” there. Spurs probably will never win the league, and even if they manage it this year or next, their star players will then get sold to Madrid or United or City (you watch). All I’m saying is it’s worth a try…

  14. Why would we have someone lined up? That would involve the board making a decision and growing a set.

    As for formation changes we can forget wt about it, never happening..We’ll trudge into next season with the same fuck it attitude to anything other than trying to score goals, even that is becoming more hassle these days with better players. I’m actually dreading next season right now. Feels wrong saying that but it’s the truth

  15. Who cares? We signed Alexis and Ozil and it wasn’t enough to change this team. There’s nobody we can sign this summer that can excite me, because Wenger will just Wengerize them.

  16. As far as good signings go, this has to go down as a really good one. We’re getting a player who is experienced enough to compete for a starting job right away, but young enough to potentially still improve. It’s an area of long term need, and the player is coming for free! Low risk and potentially high reward: Score this one as a win for the club’s negotiators. I only have two questions: How did Schalke let him run down his contract? And why was nobody else besides us and Everton in for this? I’m not terribly perturbed by either question though to be honest. I think we’re getting another good player.

    This would seem to be the end for Kieran Gibbs. Monreal is a better player, is more versatile, and is contracted through one additional year than Gibbs, and I can’t see the club keeping three left backs around. Gibbs is an OK player and I think he will have plenty of offers, maybe even in the premier league. Ultimately from an Arsenal perspective though, his failure to really flourish is a real shame. I still remember his big moment in the Champions’ League semifinals in 2008 vs Manchester United when he was trotted out as the next big thing from our youth production line and promptly took all the air out of the tie when his mistake gifted the Mancunians their opening goal in the second leg. I’m not sure his career ever recovered from that moment. He never seemed quite convinced that he could be a top drawer player.

    1. Yup, I think he’s leaving. He was first choice when Monreal signed, but Nacho worked his way ahead and Gibbs never looked like winning the place back.

      We also have the 20 year old we bought from a non league club. He’s apparently quite the athlete and is doing well in the U23s. Maybe not next year (except league cup) but the year after that he can become a part of the first team.

      1. Yeah, Gibbs is done. A bit sad, because I’ve always liked him, but for years he had niggling injury problems which prevented him from getting momentum, and just when it looked like he was going to kick on and become one of the best left backs in the league, he got injured again and Nacho overtook him, Gibbs seemed to lose all confidence for about 18 months when he did get his chances (though he finally looked decent again in a few performances at the beginning of this season–what a long time ago that seems now!), and in any event, I think he’s got one huge flaw in his game, which is he’s so left-footed, he’s completely incapable of moving inside onto his right and playing himself out of trouble in that situation. So if you don’t show him the line, he’s forced to play it back to Kos every time, which obviously hurts the team’s build up.

        It also makes a bit of a mockery of Wenger’s recent insistence that he wants to keep all the British core at the club. With Gibbs and Jenkinson definitely gone, one can only hope he’s contemplating getting rid of a few others as well…

        1. British players seem to come through the ranks with a focus on speed, athleticism, bravery and in the case of the wide players, crossing. Arsenal plays a very continental style by contrast which doesn’t mesh with the British tutelage. Gibbs is a prime example of a good player who never made it with us because of these limitations. What beggars my mind is why, if he came through the Arsenal ranks, he never learned that more continental style, or why if he’s been training and playing with the first team for 10 years he hasn’t learned it since then? Is he a player who is content to be average and to be a career backup? You have to add strings to your bow as a top player, and Keiran never really improved since breaking out.

          1. I agree with you regarding the British emphasis on athleticism over technique. On the other hand, Gibbs came through OUR academy, joining just before turning 15. If we want more cultured, technical players, why aren’t WE producing them?

    2. Gibbs also can’t defend. His shot-blocking is atrocious and cowardly. He’s not a scrapper, like Monreal can be sometimes. His forward play is actually pretty good. No surprise he’s a left winger who Wenger converted to a full-back.

  17. I had a little chuckle when I saw the starting lineup. All the comments saying Wenger will never go to a back three, and a few hours later, Wenger goes to a back 3.

    I didn’t think we played well though, including defensively. But maybe a new system will take time. I hope we stick with it for now.

    The players did put in a dogged, united performance though. They fought for each other and themselves. So that’s a positive.

    Anthony Taylor has one of those faces that makes me want to kick his ass. His refereeing is worse.

    1. Personally, I think he has one of those faces that makes me want to kick his face. But hey, to each his own.

  18. Meh, all this game showed is that Arsenal are as poor at executing a 3-4-3 as 4-2-3-1. This game was won because our budget is such that we can pretty much afford a better player at every position on the pitch. The highlight of this rather poorly played game was the look on the face of the kid who Alexis gave his jersey to.

  19. Wenger has tinkered with this team more than he has for a very long time throughout the season. He has played around with tactics and with players in various positions trying in vain to find a style that works and some form to get results. It has been ironic to watch all the changes Wenger has made this season and concomitantly see the growth of the ‘Wenger is rigid and doesn’t try different tactics and only plays his favourites’ narrative.
    Going to a back three was always next after all had been exhausted with changes made in personnel and tactics in the 4/3/3. We have played direct, we have played for the counter we have tried to play possession, we have employed a mobile front 3, we have played 2 up front, we have had Giroud as the 1 up top and tried Welbeck and Sanchez too and we have had every mix of midfield combination and nothing has looked good. Hopefully the answer will be found but it looks like this mix of players just don’t fit together without major pieces remaining missing. Recruiting the right players to create a team with an identity to me is the most important part of the off season. Wenger is responsible for it not working and he has a massive task in front of him if he stays. If he goes a new manager will inherit a squad that requires major surgery in my opinion.

  20. Hey Tim. Can your next article be about how Arsene would never sign a player like Messi please.

  21. i have mixed feelings regarding the game yesterday. first, i’m thrilled that wenger made a change. it was bold and exciting for the players, no doubt. it was also exciting for the fans to see something that looked almost brand new.

    however, the primary issue remains; arsenal still lack direction. those boys looked uncertain about virtually everything they did; so uncertain, they allowed a team like middlesborough to compete with them. changing the formation was not significant. it was like getting new tires for a car that needs an oil pump. at least arsene has recognized that there is a problem but did changing the formation address the major problem? who cares how good the tires are if you can’t start the car?

    it all goes back to what i’ve always believed. i’m not sure wenger has the strategic nous to prepare his team to be champions. i believe he has always relied senior players to provide direction on the pitch. now, he doesn’t have those key seniors and is forced to prove himself capable of providing direction if arsenal are going to find success. did arsenal really need to change formation?

    i watched part of the man united/chelsea match on sunday and said to myself, “that’s classic mourinho”. who can honestly say after watching yesterday’s performance that the performance was classic wenger? just like “wengerball”, there is no such thing as classic wenger except for his fights with the zipper and the way he pensively hangs on for the ride during games instead of driving the car or at least navigating.

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