Wenger hints at selling Mustafi, LOL WUT?

Strange goings on at Arsenal these days. Arsene Wenger urgently changed the system to a back three in April to address the team leaking goals. The change seemed to work*, breathing new found stability to the back line. The back three was such a seeming success that it even gave fresh legs to Per Mertesacker in the FA Cup final. Mertesacker, the Arsenal captain who hadn’t started any of Arsenal’s last 104 Premier League games.

So, going into this season, Wenger seemed to have just about the right number of center backs to play a back three. He has Koscielny, Mertesacker, Holding, Mustafi, Gabriel, and Chambers. Wenger even had Monreal who can deputize there and new signing Sead Kolasinac in case of emergency. But what seemed like a full house soon looked empty: Koscielny revealed a chronic tendonitis, Mertesacker is on his last season, Holding was removed half way through the second half of his season debut, Kolasinac and Monreal were publicly criticized by Arsene Wenger, Gabriel was sold, Chambers has been persona non-grata at Arsenal for years, and now Wenger is refusing to say that he won’t sell Mustafi.

It’s difficult for me to speak about any individual cases because we are now in the final seven days of the transfer market. It’s always very difficult to predict what will happen there. You have to make quick and sharp decisions, and you cannot plan that and come out in the press conference with how you will respond to any solicitation.

Mustafi was one of several players picked by StatDNA for their ability to make a specific type of dangerous pass: the ball which bypasses the midfield. Granit Xhaka is another.

Wenger gave an interview to Phillipe Auclair in which he saw a dystopian future for managers in football. He was oddly specific about analysts picking the team for the manager:

(The manager) will be surrounded by scientists, who will tell him which team to play on Saturday. The boss will be a specialist in management, because the football decisions will be taken by technology and analysis.

And more recently, he gave an interview to the official Arsenal Magazine in which he again highlighted this aspect of his job:

The debriefs after training are absolutely massive and I’m flooded with information: how many steps a player took, how many sprints they did, how many metres per second, how was a player’s heart rate, how many times did it go over 90 per cent of his maximum heart rate, how many times over 95 per cent – absolutely everything is analysed today. So I moved from a very intuitive moment of my career to a super-analytical way to manage today. (source: www.arsenal.com)


Wenger is certainly given all of the information he needs to make his decisions. The question is whether he is alone in making the decisions.

Wenger has also publicly stated that his wish is not to sell Alexis, Ox, and Ozil – three players who will probably leave on a free at the end of the season. He has stated that he wants to keep these players for football reasons and not financial reasons. To get back into the top four, he will certainly need the firepower all three give.

But what a strange thing for Arsenal to do: keep three players which will either not re-sign for Arsenal (losing the club potentially £100m in transfers) or will offer to re-sign only for massive signing-bonuses which other clubs will willingly pay. And to do this while selling Gabriel and, it looks like, Mustafi – both players under contract and first team starters in a crucial position is possibly the strangest financial decision I’ve ever seen from Arsenal.

It looks like Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are dismantling this team. And with Wenger saying that he has “too many players”, and that players prices are “not normal”, don’t expect him to sign anyone else this summer.


*Arsenal conceded fewer goals but as I have pointed out, statistically, they ended up looking like the same old Arsenal.


  1. I don’t get it. We’ve been saying it for years, but perhaps he really has lost the plot this time?

    It seems that he gets an overload of information, but doesn’t know what to do with it. I can understand this – he’s in his 60’s in an industry which has only recently undergone a data revolution. He’s had success without it, and doesn’t see it as necessary. But rather than bring in the people who can really create value and feed it to him in a way he can use, he seems to be fighting it.

    There’s only one outcome when it comes to man vs machine. The fight will go on for 2 years, and Wenger will lose. And Arsenal will lose as the fight drags on.

    Mustafi and Xhaka are good players, but neither are complete players. And I’m not sure they can ever play together in the same system. It seems to be Mustafi would do well in a back 3 with someone behind him. That lets him be aggressive, and release those passes.

    Xhaka, on the other hand, needs a midfield three. He’s not a dynamic Cazorla-esque player who can pass, dribble, and move the team forward through the middle. Nor is he a Kante, who can release others to do their thing. He needs both of those players to do what he does best – provide that killer option that bypasses the midfield.

    Getting both players – is this a fault of StatDNA, or Wenger? How do you fit both in, a 5-3-2? Where does Ozil fit in that formation?

    Maybe if we had a real tactician, like Pep, this conundrum could be solved. Wenger is not a tactician. He’s not a systems guy. He’s a free marketeer, who tells his players to go out and express themselves. But does that work anymore?

    We’ll see.

    The league is probably quite predictable, but the Europa League will be interesting. We’ll be heavy favorites to win it. Put the right players in the right places and we should go deep. Will we do that? Or will we see more of this, and struggle to beat smaller teams? I think it’ll be a real barometer of just how good the manager still is.

  2. It’s absurd. It’s non-comprehensible what we are doing this summer.

    1) Mustafi is perfect for a back three system; he’s played at RB, has good speed for a CB and is aggressive. He can cover wide areas very well because of his history as a RB. Similarly Gabriel had played both LB and RB. Monreal works in the back 3 because of this reason, and similarly Azpilicueta at Chelsea, Alderwield at Spurs… We have Chambers too who has done both roles. These types of CB’s are in HIGH DEMAND at the moment. Yet Wenger seems OK to sell them off?
    2) Imagine you’re Sead Kolasinac, in the Bundesliga team of the year as a marauding left back. Sure you’ve played CB in your past but you come to Arsenal convinced that you’ll be allowed to roam the left flank, creating havoc for other teams. What? I’m a LCB now because you’re selling off players?
    3) Mertesacker is retiring next year. Koscielny has maybe 3 or 4 more years at best. Chambers is off, Gabriel is gone and now perhaps even 24 year old (not even near the prime of his career) Mustafi? What’s our CB pairing of 2020? Holding and Bielik? FFS
    4) We are going to find ourselves next summer with no Sanchez, Ozil, Wilshere, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Perez, Campbell, Cazorla, Mertesacker… and with Ramsey, Welbeck and Cech entering the final years of their contracts… Is Wenger’s grand plan to leave a truly blank slate for the next manager i.e. a roster with only 6-7 players under contract? Wow.

    If Mustafi is sold then that’s all she wrote. And I’m sorry Virgil van Dijk is not the answer to our defensive problems.

    1. The answer to our defensive problems is Arsene Wenger, but either he hasn’t considered the question, or the answer continues to elude him.

      As for Virgil, I’ve only heard good things about him, and we were monitoring him a few years ago when he was at Celtic, so it wouldn’t surprise me if were interested in him as a replacement for an outgoing defender.

        1. The Aeneid is a wonderful repurposing of (Homeric) epic for nationalistic concerns. It’s a study in imitation, the purpose of literature, and the relationship between the past and present. It can also help you appreciate Shakespeare (whom I know you love). Yes, Ovid was more Shakespeare’s man (and Plautus and Terence), but Virgil has more of an influence than many have noticed. There’s a reason the primary victim in his first ever revenge tragedy was named Lavinia…

          1. I should also say, given the current climate, that I don’t mean to say that nationalistic concerns are wonderful, but rather that the Aeneid can be read is an example of cultural appropriation, and it provides us with a wonderful example with which to study, analyze, critique, etc. those concerns.

  3. I honestly feel like I’m able to give Wenger only seven more days to change things, and by this I mean to buy the players we need and also not sell the players we need.

    I can’t take this shit anymore, either he is more and more senile either he is being impossibly stubborn on purpose and in any case the outcome will be same, again and again and again.

    1. He has 7 days to convince me. To be honest it might be nice to take a year-long sabbatical from Arsenal. Stress-free, in a way.

    2. I was on this path 8 years ago. He will succeed only in leaving this club in a big mess and in need of huge rebuilding with less $$$ in the coffers.

      he will be remembered for the invincibles, but unfortunately, will also be remembered for someone who “played” past his prime and destroyed his legacy.

  4. Dismantling the team? Yes it does feel like it.

    There was an article where AW pointedly said that he wanted to go after Griezmann and the stats guys were not too convinced by him. So it does feel like there is an internal war too. Add to it Stan Kroenke’s earlier mentions about Moneyball – Now it looks like Josh Kroenke is Brad Pitt and AW is Hoffman but is more powerful than Pitt anyway.

  5. I wrote a comment, but probably due to the usage of the word s**t when describing the situation it’s probably in the spam filter.

    Main point, I give Wenger seven more days because I honestly can’t tolerate his senility or stubbornness any longer.

  6. Also, imagine being in a workplace where your manager hires employees which he then fires a short time after.
    If I were Alexis or Ozil and was considering resigning, why would I do that in such an unstable environment? Everything Wenger has done in the last 12 months has been unbelievably destructive and selfish and it makes me sad I’m starting to seriously dislike the old man.

  7. I think Arsene is challenging that StatsDNA are finding players that have a particular trait but maybe not players that are first great in their position.

    I suppose you gave to wonder the direction they have been given, sure.y Wenger asks them to find players for him or discusses with them the types of players he wants.

    If there is no strategic dialogue then things are more broken than I realised.

    Either way I wonder if SatsDNA really understand football or are just numbers people.

    What I see on this site is people who use stats intelligently to overlay or challenge their football knowledge. That should be the level they should work too.

    1. From what I’ve heard (from stats people on the interwebs) statsDNA are a really good setup.

      The failings of this team, and this coach, stretch back much earlier than StatsDNA.

  8. “The debriefs after training are absolutely massive and I’m flooded with information: how many steps a player took, how many sprints they did, how many metres per second, how was a player’s heart rate, how many times did it go over 90 per cent of his maximum heart rate, how many times over 95 per cent – absolutely everything is analysed today. So I moved from a very intuitive moment of my career to a super-analytical way to manage today.”

    It sounds like the availability of data has outstripped managers’ ability to make use of it. A data dump is seldom helpful. What would be helpful is if the data was turned into a scientific conclusion, i.e. player X’s heart rate reached above 95% over 10 times and based on prior examples, this correlates with a 20% decrease in the number of sprints for any games played within the next 4 days. This data can then be tabulated by player and presented to the manager at face value. That kind of thing would help Arsene make decisions. There must be some version of that already happening, hence the “red zone” we sometimes hear him remarking over.

    The broad point I’m making is that the analytics people haven’t seemed to churn concise and useful information from the vast amounts of data we are able to generate, in other words, the science is lacking to help us understand how to use all these numbers. If I’m Arsene, I look at it, I thank the people who do it, I don’t dismiss it, but I don’t let it govern how I think about matches.

    1. I am a engineering project manager for large scale projects. I have a job where I could be overwhelmed by data – if I micromanaged. Instead I have a team of well qualified individuals below me that digest the data and are empowered to respond as necessary. I only deal with problems they cannot resolve on their own. When I read Wenger complaining about being awash in statistics and data that tells me he doesn’t delegate the minutiae to his assistants. That tells me that if he had a Director of Football assisting him maybe he could let that person comb through the statistical breakdowns of players and he could just do a final sniff test based on whatever esoteric criteria he likes to judge players by.

      It’s yet more moaning from a guy who’s best before date was around 2012. We desperately need a new modern manager.

    2. I agree. Wenger sounds like an old thinker. I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s the type of brain that reads books, not web sites, who can concentrate on long articles and wants deep information. I wonder if he may be the one asking for all this information? He may want as much information as possible but yet skimming through all that data might not be his best skill. I don’t know, but i do get the sense that he feels overwhelmed and at odds with someone or something at Arsenal.

  9. on if he expects to sell Mustafi before the end of the window…
    It’s difficult for me to speak about any individual cases because we are now in the final seven days of the transfer market. It’s always very difficult to predict what will happen there. You have to make quick and sharp decisions, and you cannot plan that and come out in the press conference with how you will respond to any solicitation.

    How did this quote become: “I am selling Mustafi”? To me it sounds like he doesn’t want to get into specifics, so before he is asked about every player on the roster he is giving a blanker answer to preempt questions about every player. But yes, were we to sell Mustafi it would be puzzling indeed.

    1. Compare that to his answers to questions about Sanchez, then you see the difference between an unequivocal response and one that harbors serious doubt.

  10. He is intelligent enough to know that such a vague answer could only provoke additional reactions (which it obviously did), and the last thing the Arsenal PR department needs right now is another nightmare.

    He could’ve simply said that Mustafi is not for sale.

    1. He could’ve, but furor over “refusing to rule out” is not yet warranted IMO. I’m sure he will get a more specific question on this next time around (post game most likely) so we will know more soon. I’d be hugely surprised if he is even considering it.

      1. For all it’s worth, I think it would be ludicrous even for this Wenger to sell Mustafi and I honestly can’t see it happening. However I still believe he could’ve simply said “no” instead of giving us this philosophical answer about how transfer windows work.

  11. Everybody has been saying that this team simply isn’t good enough. Winning 3 FA cups in 4 years was an amazing achievement given that the defence is always an accident waiting to happen. So then maybe selling off these players is a good thing. We won’t replace them this season and we’ll likely finish somewhere in mid table, but they probably need to go. If someone is willing to pay decent money for Mustafi then let’s take it. Sell Ox, Sanchez and Ozil and play the kids this season. I think I’ll enjoy it better anyway that way, with no expectations. Do this for 2 years, with the main aim not to be relegated. Then rebuild with a new manager when/if Wenger goes. Because right now, even if we spend money in the next week there’s no guarantee of success. The contenders are too strong and our manager is still trying to play the beautiful game. I’ve got no ill feelings towards Wenger. I don’t know his life, what goes through his mind. I don’t think he is senile. But he’s gonna be there for the foreseeable future so best get with it and brace ones self. It’s going to be a rough ride, but I’m going to try and enjoy it!

  12. Arsene is not anti-science, even as a 60-something… never has been. I’ll give him that. But his latest utterances, taken with the quotes Tim supplies above, make the whole situation feel kind of weird. My reading of it is that there’s a power struggle going on at Arsenal, and there’s an attempt to wrest some of his overweening power from him. Xhaka doesn’t look and feel like his transfer given his extraordinary public criticism of the player (whom admittedly, he still plays in First XI).

    And now, with his enigmatic statement on Mustafi, it’s beginning to feel as if he wasn’t Arsene’s either. The best we can read into this is that there’s an absolutely big incoming at CB, like a Van Dyjk. One can hope. I wouldnt be surprised if there’s wrestling for power and control over transfers. Because if I’m the CEO or a member of the board, no way I’m approving three First XI players moving towards Bosmans, and as Tim says, a £100m+ income write-off. I’d be giving the manager serious pushback on that.

    Arsenal’s transfer decision-making has been poor, but it all feels stranger than normal.

      1. Who owes him? Has he been working for free all these past years? C’mon… he’s been very handsomely rewarded for his job and his loyalty thus far. He is owed nothing but respect. But he is not owed license to do as he pleases anymore.

      2. What they owe him is a party at the office, a card and a cake, wishing him well in his retirement.

      3. He’s is owed nothing beyond the credit or criticism for how the team performs. Unfortunately he seems to think he is beyond criticism from those of us who have never worked a day in football in our lives. He’s seems to have no idea of how he wants to set up the team or a longer term plan for squad building. I can see this being a very difficult season and then the contractual position of players and adjusting to the Europa League will be the reasons (in Wenger’s mind) and we’ll rinse and repeat for the same sh*tstorm again next season.

      4. Do ‘they’ also ‘owe’ him 10mil a year for doing a half decent job ?
        I thought the last two years were the last hurrah? How many last hurrahs is he ‘owed’ ?

          1. Thou shalt not ever suggest that Arsene Wenger is possibly owed anything apparently.

  13. On a side note, my home town team just beat Fenerbahce to qualify for the Europa League.
    I already saw Real and United play here two weeks ago, imagine if they drew Arsenal in their group, what a year that would be.

  14. I think my inner romantic would be very happy if football proved largely stats resistant.

    Chess and now Go have fallen to the mighty algorithim. It would be nice if there were something that we still did better.

  15. Wonder if statsDNA said if Kante was any good. Don’t know myself. But, many say he is too small, not strong enough, probably not the highest in the statsDNA matrix to be considered great.
    Well, he anchored 2 different teams to the EPL championship, and was voted player of the year. I do not feel the quant guys have this down to a “science” yet, and they just believe that the player should work no matter what. The human dynamic is not that simple.
    Players have to play, work, and suffer together- as a team!
    Hopefully, Arsenal can sort out the D, purchase a DM or super strong CB to replace Kos, in the long run, and let’s see where this goes.

    1. Kante has been a stats beast the past two seasons. Wenger doesn’t like fighters. It’s the reason Coq has been benched

    2. I wonder why Gooners are suddenly sceptical of stats? Is it because of Wenger’s recent statements?
      Stats are merely facts.It’s upto the people using them to interpret those facts correctly to make the right decisions.It’s what they are paid for.

      1. no one is skeptical of stats. however, most gooners respect the fact that stats don’t tell the whole story. i believe wenger finds the stats very intriguing and is thus trying his best to use that raw data to find a formula that will lead to success on the field. whatever he’s doing, it’s not working.

      2. StatsDNA is the trendy new scapegoat for purchases that haven’t worked out, like Gabriel.

  16. Maybe he’s trying to light a fire under Mustafi’s ass.

    Ageism is as ridiculous as blaming millennials for the raft of things they have allegedly killed.

  17. He’s clueless, he has been for years but people have been giving him the benefit of the doubt due to past successes, and assuming he has cryptic reasons for his increasingly bizarre decision-making. One day it will probably come out that he’s been making it up as he goes along since about 2011, and getting away with it due to the team being carried by a few star players (Cesc, RVP, Ozil, Alexis).

  18. Urgh, so it’s Cologne in our group, which is basically around the corner from where I live. But I’m not sure if I want to go, since I’m kind of bummed out.

  19. Wenger’s comments may not be in context or they may be just a part of a larger narrative that could be narrowly constrained to a web-based excerpt but taken at face value, they point to a basic failure at a club which I’ve long admired for being smart or at least smarter than that.

    Even grammar / grade school kids know these days that data or any information is almost 100% useless unless properly organized, analysed and presented. I think “curated” is current phrase in marketing business-speak.

    And Wenger has always been a curator of young men, of teams, of the club, its culture but seemingly not of data. Had we the Wenger of 20 years ago in his forties, I’m sure Arsenal would not be a museum of achievement but a current and vital member of Europe’s elite clubs.

    1. Well yes, I suppose. When he first came to the club, Wenger was on the cusp of innovation, bringing with him newfangled ideas on training methods including nutrition as well as knowledge of an obscure footballing nation known as France. And the world has evolved while he has seemingly stood still and he’s now the old man shouting at the clouds.

Comments are closed.

Related articles