On the back of a winged horse
Through the sky of pearly grey
Love is leaf-like…
You and me, baby
Blah, blah, blah
E! T! C!
– Minutemen, #1 Hit Song
My favorite poetry is anti-poetry. My favorite comedy is anti-comedy. My favorite heroes are anti-heroes. My favorite line from any move is “what do you got?” I’m so painfully Generation X that I think the song that epitomizes my outlook is the Queers, I hate everything. And so, whenever I hear the hipsters say “Arsenal need a winger”, my initial reaction is “no.”
I have learned that just hating everything is wrong and dumb. That doesn’t mean that my initial reaction has changed, just that I’ve learned to shut up before I say something stupid (usually).
About once a day I get asked if Arsenal need a winger and my initial reaction is “which podcast did you hear this on?” The phrase “winger” is so specific that it makes me bristle. We don’t want a Lennon, bursting down the wings, whipping in crosses to some oafish center forward, that’s a winger. But if we nuance this a bit and ask, does Arsenal need another creative player, the answer is yes.
Arsenal are stuck with a small problem. Teams perform best when they have multiples that they can use to beat you up. France won the world cup, not just because they had Mbappe but because they had Mbappe and Griezmann. They won the final not just because they had N’Golo Kante, but because they were able to bring in Steven N’zonzi as well, who gave them a different physical profile and much better passing.
Looking at the squad, Arsenal lost a lot of creative talent last season. Ozil is number one in terms of key passes (3.2 per game) but Alexis was #2 with 2.7 per game and his replacement, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while a fantastic all around worker only brings 1.5 key passes per game. Arsenal also lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, and Jack Wilshere all of whom were widely panned by Arsenal fans but who brought 1.7 key passes, 2 key passes (in EL) and 1.8 key passes (in EL) per game respectively.
This point about having multiple players doing the creative work is bets illustrated by Arsenal’s best recent season in terms of shot creation. Ozil was at his best when Cazorla was on the pitch. This is because teams couldn’t just mark Ozil, or Santi would open them up and vice-versa.
Arsene Wenger wanted Alex Iwobi to be that player but the Nigerian hasn’t made the step up. He was featured for one game in the World Cup but was pulled off at 62 minutes and then dropped for their final two matches. That’s as bad a World Cup as imaginable.
Iwobi is actually Arsenal’s second most creative player in the Europa League and third in the Premier League. So, if you say “does Arsenal need a winger” my answer is “no. But we need an upgrade on Iwobi.”
Harsh on the young man, perhaps. The thing is that it’s difficult to find young players who offer as much as Iwobi does going forward. That sounds contradictory to my previous statement but it’s not.
Anthony Martial is mooted and I think he’s an upgrade on Iwobi but I can’t see United selling him to Arsenal. Dembele is being packaged into some kind of deal with Chelsea to get Eden Hazard so I think he’s out.
There are some interesting players out there but as far as I can tell they would all be pretty big gambles. Emre Mor was a highly rated prospect at BvB but has since had numerous discipline problems at Celta Vigo and is looking for a new club this summer. He’s one of the most technically gifted young players in the world but clearly not easy to work with.
Another chancer is Allan Saint-Maximin. He’s described as “raw” but also as the player pushing Mbappe and Neymar for best player in Ligue Un. 1.5 key passes and 3.6 dribbles per game tells you why. Joaquin Correa played for Sevilla last season and had a decent year. His p90 stats are up there with the best but he’s not been able to play more than 1300 minutes a season.
Some names will inevitably pop up: Wilfried Zaha, is the one I think of. And his stats are quite impressive: 1.6 key passes p90 from open play, 7 dribbles attempted p90 (4.2 successful), and he did score 9 goals last season. But something about the way he plays is just.. I’m not a fan.
I don’t see anything in the reliable newspapers linking Arsenal to anyone at the moment. That could be because we are preparing for a sneak attack or because we are done (unless something falls in our laps). I think it’s the latter.
That means that this is yet another area which Unai Emery has his work cut out for him. Unless we buy some big star player, Emery is going to have to improve the ones we have and get them creating more: Iwobi, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Rene-Adelaide, Torreira, Xhaka, Ramsey, Guendouzi, Lacazette, Aubameyang, and maybe even Lucas Perez.
That’s what the club said they bought him to do, folks.