What Arsenal need from a wide player

  • Someone to create chances off corners
  • Someone to create chances from open play
  • Someone who can dribble in wide spaces
  • Someone who isn’t afraid of the ball
  • Someone who can win penalties

Players I looked at (and the prices Arsenal would have to pay): Zaha (£100m), Sancho (£100m), Pepe (£75m), Gnabry (£60m),
Ziyech (£35m), Fraser (£30m), and Flavien Tait (£20m).

“Fuck yeah that wide.” – Garry Flank, Publisher

Link to my worksheet

Someone to create chances off corners

Arsenal have a player who can create from corners and set plays, Mesut Ozil is one of the best in the world, but the coaches continue to allow Granit Xhaka to blunder through corner plays. Arsenal do this because Xhaka is a straight up liability in the counter-attacks that occur on corners, so it’s the lesser of two evils to have him take the corners.

That said, if Arsenal could buy a wide player who was really good at corners (and bench/sell Xhaka), then that player could take over the set piece deliveries.

All of the players I looked at create chances from open play, Ziyech is the best at open play chance creation, he averaged 2.5 key passes per game and created an incredible 27 big chances for his teammates. He also led the group with 1.5 key passes from set pieces.

Ziyech is an intriguing player: reports I’ve read suggest that ten Haug allows Ziyech to play in a more free role in his wide berth, instead of beating his man down the wings, Ziyech actually likes to drop onto the edge of the box, collect, and create for others. Data backs this observation: his throughball key passes per game were an astonishing 0.5. That’s virtually unheard of in the modern game and in case you think it was just against crap opponents in the Eredivisie, he also created 0.4 throughball key passes per game in the Champions League.

But all of this suggests that Ziyech is an Ozil-type with one site even going so far as to tag him as a “luxury player” and suggest that this type of player is fading out in football. I think Ziyech is definitely the kind of player Arsene Wenger would buy and I’m not surprised that Arsenal aren’t making a bid for him.

Though on the other hand, wouldn’t it be perfect for Arsenal to have Ziyech collecting and playing in Bellerin or Tierney? I don’t know. You pick.

For the others:

0 – Zaha had 0 key passes from set plays
0.1 – Gnabry had 1 from a throw in
0.2 – Pepe surprises with a very low number of key
0.5 – Jadon Sancho is already taking set pieces, this kid is going to be incredible
1 – Both Fraser and Tait created 1 key pass per game off set pieces, Fraser is particularly good at non-corners with 0.4 per game
1.5 – Ziyech topped the group

Someone to create chances from open play

When we say “create chances” we often mean “key passes” but I actually put a much bigger price on players who aren’t just rolling the ball to someone who has a crack from 30 yards but instead created big chances for their teammates.

Wilf Zaha is an enthusiastic dribbler but he only created 6 big chances for his teammates last season, that’s just 11% of his total 54 key passes last season.

On the other end of the scale, Fraser led the Premier League (and I believe all of Europe) with 28 big chances created. 30% of his 93 key passes were big chances. That’s indicative of a player with a great eye for finding a teammate.

Ziyech was similarly adept: 27/106 – 25% – of his key passes were big chances!

16 – Pepe (another incredible player) created 16 big chances
13 – Sancho and Gnabry created 13 – once again Sancho impresses for a 19 year old
12 – Tait created 12 big chances
6 – Zaha created 6 – which is incredibly bad. David Luiz created 11 big chances, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, and Kolasinac all created 10 big chances each, even Alexis Sanchez created 6 big chances last season.

Someone who can dribble

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time you know that I (probably) underrate dribblers. That said, Arsenal need some dribblers. Arsenal were 12th in the League in dribbles per game with 8, almost 4 fewer per game than League leaders Chelsea and Man City.

One good dribbler would fix that problem: Jadon Sancho completed 3.9 dribbles per game last season and Wilf Zaha completed 3.4.

All of the others made 2.7 dribbles per game, except Fraser who completed just 0.6 per game.

Arsenal have a problem that they don’t attack opponents off the dribble in the box. Our best dribbler is Iwobi and Emery mysteriously has him playing in wingbacks.

Fraser wouldn’t be the answer to the problem Arsenal have in attack but Sancho or Zaha would. Actually, any of those players listed above would do it.

Someone who isn’t afraid of the ball

This isn’t easy to quantify. Players can have big passing stats and still hide from the ball. I’ve seen Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson do it for England, all the time.

From what I can tell, all of the players I profiled here want the ball. But of them, I think I would rank their hunger for the ball in the following:

1 – Sancho
2 – Zaha
3 – Pepe
4 – Ziyech
5 – Gnabry
6 – Tait
7 – Fraser

Someone to win Arsenal pens

An alternate stat for figuring out if a player will attack the opponents head on is how many penalties they win their team.

Zaha topped the group, winning 6 pens last season. He also won 4 pens the season before and under the new rules next season, I bet he wins 10 pens for whatever team he plays for.

Winning penalties doesn’t typically show up in “xG” or “xA” stats but it’s a hugely important stat. Winning a penalty gives a team a huge advantage in a game.

Pepe won his side 5 pens last season, Sancho and Tait won 2 each, Ziyech and Fraser won 1 each, and Gnabry won 0. With Ziyech and Fraser I think they have low numbers here because they aren’t the kinds of players who get into the box. Gnabry — I’m not sure why.


One last stat that I didn’t mention is scoring goals. Someone on twitter said of Zaha “A wide player who gets 15 goals a season? Yes please!” And that’s a damn decent shout, to be honest. Goals from wide can be hard to come by.

However, there are significantly better players available who also score goals. Nicolas Pepe, for example, scored 22 goals and had 11 assists.

Pepe is also a dribbler, big chance creator, and penalty winner. In fact, Pepe ticks all the boxes above and is what I consider to be the epitome of a modern wide forward: you like Sadio Mane? Pepe is very much a Mane-type – 19 of his 22 goals were big chances (9 pens) and he created 16 big chances for his teammates, plus won 5 pens. This is a player who loves to get into the box and wreak havoc on the opposition. and will immediately add goals to this Arsenal team.

As an aside, Pepe also has an excellent curling long shot with his left foot and also scored 6 of his goals on counters last season. 6 on counters. Arsenal scored 3 goals on counter attacks last season.

If price was no object, you could see Arsenal sticking £100m on Jadon Sancho. A player who is just 19 years old and is already playing like a 24 year old. His next four seasons are almost certainly going to be some of the best of his career.

But price is an object. As is Champions League football (lack of). To spend the money to get Sancho, Arsenal would have to sell Auba and get top dollar for him. The same goes for Wilf Zaha, with Crystal Palace suggesting that it would take £100m to pry him out of the club. However, Pepe is rumored to be available for £75m – which is also the price that Arsenal would probably get for Aubameyang.

If Arsenal can’t make that happen, the Ziyech would be my next pick and from there down it doesn’t really matter which player Arsenal buy, they all seem like 2nd to 3rd tier.

Factoring in costs, ability, and future potential, my preferences would be:

  1. Jadon Sancho (£100m+)
  2. Nicolas Pepe (£75m)
  3. Hakim Ziyech (£35m)
  4. Flavien Tait ( less than £20m)
  5. Gnabry (£60m)
  6. Zaha (£100m)
  7. Fraser (£30m)



  1. Really awesome post Tim. Excellent analysis. The one thing I would say if we sell Auba to fund the purchase of a wide player then we need someone else to score a lot of goals. Our second best scorer was Lacazette but it looks like he will be a low to mid teens scorer. Our next best scorer after Laca did not even scare double figures in our league games. We can buy a wide player who creates tons of chances but that does not help us a whole lot is we don’t have someone to turn those chances into goals

    1. That’s why I suggest either Pepe or Sancho. Zaha is an awful choice, especially if we have to sell Auba to fund it.

      1. I was wondering why we aren’t looking at Nabil Fekir. He has a good track record at the Lyon and would be available due to his contract situation. Would love to see him at Arsenal..

  2. One of my favourite things about your website Tim is that you can both think Ozil is being paid too much, is underperforming, and should leave the club, and also acknowledge that he should be taking the corners and not Xhaka.

  3. I would swap Pepe for Auba in a heartbeat. As much as we would miss Auba’s goals, his game overlaps so much with Laca’s that they aren’t truly synergistic – as much as they like playing together. CHelsea and others just sat a bunch of guys in the box and said good luck scoring.
    If we had a dribbler taking eople on wide, it would be harder for teams to do that. Having a real goal threat wide would open up more space for Laca, and create more chances for him. I see his goal total going up after a quality wide man joined him.
    Thanks for cutting through the bs once again – your analysis brings the winger situation into much clearer focus for me.

  4. Keep in mind Laca scored a silly number of goals before from to Arsenal. And I wouldn’t say his goal numbers dropped because of the difference in quality as much as its because he was asked to play a different role. Make him the main man and relieve him of creative duties a little and I’m confident we’d see his goals tick up.

  5. Honestly, we don’t even know how Emery is going to use a new wide player.

    But me thinks he wants someone more athletic and instinctive and less cerebral. So more Zaha than Ziyech.

    1. True. And this is why Emery should not be coach at Arsenal. Or at least, why we shouldn’t be buying players just for his benefit. Was the whole point of appointing a Head Coach rather than a manager.

  6. Well the latest rumour has us going for Brahimi (£0)

    I didn’t realise just how good Sancho already was statistically. Wow. We ought to be playing the talented youngsters in our ranks if we’re not going to compete at the top end of the market. Or we’ll end up losing them to clubs like Dortmund.

    I hope we get Ziyech. I really like him. He likes Arsenal (and Ozil). It’s a decent price. And if we can also trade Auba for Pepe that would be a massive win.

    It would need us to sell some guys like Mustafi and Elneny. Maybe even Chambers, to raise funds.

    Ziyech – Laca – Pepe front three would be tremendous, especially with (hopefully) Ozil behind them and overlapping fullbacks Tierney/Kola and Bellerin.

    But we’re Arsenal. Who am I kidding?

    PS. Marc Bartra might be on the move. I haven’t seen much of La Liga but might he be an option for us? Apparently 15m price. Physicality might be an issue with him, but he’ll offer ball playing abilities. Thoughts?

    1. brahimi is a player i really used to rate but, to be honest, i haven’t seen him play in a few years. is he still at porto? why is he free?

      marc batra is trash!

      1. In what way? Like his reading of the game or lack of physical attributes?(or both)

        1. sorry, i confused bartra with someone else; a swiss left back who used to play for liverpool. i don’t know how i did that. bartra is a baller.

  7. Great piece Tim.

    Very positive analysis on what we should be doing. I haven’t seen the stats on xgbuildup, but Ziyech should be our 1st choice rather than Zaha. Our buildup play would benefit more from having Ziyech than Zaha.

    Coming to terms with reality, I would like to see better wingplay from the Arsenal FC.

    I saw an infographic on Twitter which suggested though Reiss Nelson had reduced gametime compared to Zaha, he posted decent figures, we could do well to play him more. Adopt a 4-2-3-1 and play 1 young winger and 1 mature winger.

  8. And the answer is Yacine Brahimi (29 yo) on a free transfer from Porto where he scored 13g, 4a, 80% passer (Who Scored stats) in 48 games. He will be 30 yo in Feb., 2020. Not a bad move if we can get it done for a team with not a a lot to spend.

  9. Tim

    I think counter attacking sometime gets a bad reputation because many fans associate counter attacking with teams that park the bus and try to beat you on the counter. However, there is no doubt that using the counter attack when the situation makes it available is the easily the best way to create high percentage scoring opportunities. Creating effective counterattacks often depends on taking the ball away from you opponent and then quickly turning defense into attack. The fact that we only had 3 counter attack goals last season is another bit of evidence to support the subjective view that our creative midfielders and our midfield in general was underachieving and remarkably ineffective last season.

  10. The fact that Auba was able to tie for the golden boot and Laca had a good all around season when they received so little positive input from our creative players just shows how good they really played this season and how valuable they were to our team. If we had lost either Auba or Laca for any length of time we would have been in big trouble. I understand the argument for selling Auba now because his value will only go down as he moves further above age 30. However, giving up his goals could mean we end up finishing out of the Europa league spots next season.

    I think your statement that Pepe would instantly add 20 goals to the team may be a bit overly optimistic. Our experience with players from Ligue 1 has shown their productivity in goals and assists in the PL have never been nearly as prolific we had expected based on their numbers in France. Gervinho, Chamakh, Giroud and Lacazette have all seen their numbers drop significantly when they move to England and I suspect the same would happen with Pepe

  11. What are the guys on the list like when it comes to defensive duties and pressing? I’m thinking if the touted pressing game emerges / reappears.

    I know that on the font of all football scouting knowledge that is FIFA, Ziyech has high work rate for defence and attack and from what I saw in the CL that kind of measured up. Thats only the 2 games I saw though, not a whole season.

    1. Ziyech is the only one with any real defensive stats. Which is probably owing to the fact that he plays slightly deeper than the others.

  12. All of this talk of wingers, and somehow you missed an analysis of how the manager uses his wide areas and whether he uses dribbles.

    What I have noticed is that he doesn’t want dribbling in his side. He is a coach who Changes tactics a lot, and that makes him the type of coach who wants his players to play precisely according to his instructions. That is why we suffer when his plans fail, especially in the first half until he makes changes at half time.

    In looking at wingers, I understand why you think we must purchase there as the attributes you have mentioned are missing, but it’s not because we do not have that in the side. It is because the manager doesn’t know how to utilize that in his tactical setup. He has never had any wide d ribblers except at PGS, where they were basically imposed on him.

    Iwobi, Mkhi, Nelson, Saka, Maitland Niles and Nkhetia can dribble, but we didn’t see them even use that to help us transition or open up spaces. Any dribbling last season wasn’t a tactical decision. It’s the same as Kolasinac, who is not a ball dominant player or technically good enough for his teammates to trust him with the ball a lot, but he was involved considerably because they were instructed to do so.

    So I appreciate the work you have done, and maybe the stats guys at the club are doing the same, but if it’s for an Emery team, it’s all for nought.

    1. Ha! Well, this is fair. I’m mostly just responding to the transfer guff out there. Plus, I really like Pepe.

      1. I never watched him this past season and from what I heard, he was very good on the ball and also physically ready for the premier league. So when I saw him playing in the Afcon, I was surprised at how thin and short he looked. I am saying this from my interactions with the South African players, who are not the biggest of guys on the African continent, but they seemed to either tower above him or just seemed his size.

        Maybe players in France made him look bigger than he is, but that really surprised me. He is literally my size body-wise.

        In terms of playing, he is definitely a more intelligent player than Zaha. He is very tactically astute and wants to be involved in play as part of the team, as opposed to Zaha who wants to get the ball out wide and then try to do something by himself. Peep is also good at free-kicks and playing through balls. He isn’t as fast as I thought he was, but if he gets behind, then he won’t be caught. He does a lot of work defensively where he covers out wide and tries to push play out wide, to the point where he has won the ball a lot in the half spaces.

        That is what I observed from the Afcon from a player you like, as a thank you for your statistical breakdown.

  13. In the light of the excellent but depressing Swiss Ramble piece, a simple question:

    What player of reputation and quality at ANY position is thinking, I can’t wait to go play for money-losing, Europa League bound Arsenal to play matches in Kazakhstan in sub-freezing January weather?

    In all my years of following this club, I’ve never felt so downbeat about our future. Looking to send out some inspiration and positivity? Please, by all means and I’m all ears.

      1. Very true but would it satisfy good quality footballers who are also fashionistas like Bellerin?

        1. You just know Bellerin likes the ‘squashed banana’ dude.

          As a fashionista himself, he’ll recognise one of the best kits of all time 🙂

      2. Heh. I read some years ago how kits are a factor in high school kids picking their college in the US.

        Kroenke’s ahead of the game in football!

      3. Am I the only one who doesn’t like it? I’m not a “hater” or anything and I get that the Puma kits were gross but I guess I just really like plain red shirts and white sleeves and no little stripes and accents. The Nike kits from 06/07 were really simple and nice.

        1. My first arsenal top was the 88/89 red one (gloryhunter!) so I love the tribute to that kit.

          And the ‘squashed banana’ is clearly one of the best kits of all time. (I had it with a sweet number 10)

          Saying that, I don’t like the sleeve sponsorship, and I wouldn’t mind if next year adidas did what it does with some national teams where the stripes are just a slightly different shade of the kit colour. Something like off white stripes on the white sleeves where the stripes are only noticeable in close up.

    1. I read that piece and I’m not sure I’m nearly as glum as he is.

      1) the “losses” weren’t really losses because we sold players. But let’s say that we don’t sell players. OK, we are £42m in the hole. That is already offset by £35m this season in salary savings when we jettisoned Cech, Ramsey, Welbeast, Lichtsteiner, and Wenger’s enormous package (Bunburyist!).
      2) Mkhitaryan makes £10.4m a year, Özil makes £18.2m a year, Elneny makes £2.6m, Jenkinson makes £2.4m – any of these players would be prime targets for further savings.
      3) I can’t stress this enough: ARSENAL HAVE £231m LYING AROUND DOING FUCK ALL
      4) The depressing part about the Swiss Ramble’s piece isn’t that we are going to go bankrupt any time soon, it’s that Ivan’s mismanagement left a shit-ton of money on the table through paying taxes on profits, by failing to invest money (money we have) before transfer prices went crazy, and by failing to grow the commercial side as well as he probably should have.
      5) Arsenal aren’t broke, not even remotely broke. They do love to sell us that line, however, because it allows them to continue to act like we are paupers which seems to improve the bottom line. Also, I think they are just fucking weird hoarders because I can’t figure out what all that cash is for.

      1. Your extraordinary analytical insight is always appreciated as it has so many times brought much needed balance to discussion and debate.
        It’s great to have real extra cash lying around only if, as you say you “figure out what all that is cash is for”!
        What the Swiss Ramble piece most disturbingly exposes whether we make a loss or a profit, is the rank incompetence of management.
        Cash lying around can only make a positive difference if 1) the owner and functional management give a f%$k about our club and 2) when and while giving a f$%k, they can spend wisely and in our best interests.
        Sadly, there is rampant failure on both counts.

      2. We were (sort of) told many years ago that the cash was for a rainy day when we were without Champions League football. That proved to be a lie. I’m not sure that is on Gazidis, as much as ownership though.

        Completely agree that Arsenal are not remotely broke. We’re loaded. We just don’t want to spend our money to ‘gamble’. on getting the prize (used to be Title, now it’s CL qualification)

        Personally, I’m not going to complain too much about it this season. I don’t trust Emery or Raul to spend it wisely. Maybe once we get someone competent to replace Sven I’d be more annoyed by it.

      3. That was such a great insight.

        I’m sure most of us recognise how the extent to which saving money just meant more expensive players next year, but the tax paying angle was something I never thought of at all.

      4. That was such a great insight.

        I’m sure most of us recognise how the extent to which saving money just meant more expensive players next year, but the tax paying angle was something I never thought of at all.

        33 million on taxes instead of players in 5 years is insane.

  14. Yeah, that piece was good, but horribly grim. It’s going to be a long road back even if we execute well. We can not afford to have the awful transfer decision-making process that has plagued us over the last couple years. January this year being an obvious example. We got only Suarez, who offered zero help. Get anyone in that helps even a little bit, and maybe we make up the 2 points that would have gotten us into the CL. Or take Giroud…he went to Chelsea for something like $18M. Not an awful amount of money. But we badly missed his aerial and penalty box threat. It’s highly likely he would have gotten us the couple of points needed. Not to mention he kept Chelsea in the EL and scored against us in the Final. So getting that $18M cost us how much potentially in terms of not being in the CL?

  15. Sky source reporting Arsenal have bid 40 mil for Zaha and this could get messy if He makes good on his threat to not train with CP after AFCON. TBD.

  16. Jeez Louise.. Rumours that we may be shipping out Lacazette. The guy is our best CF, asked to carry the burden of creating in Emery’s horrid system, and has emerged as a real leader. To sell him to fund a move for Zaha. If this is true, I can only weep.

  17. since the death of the 4-4-2 over the past decade or so, most teams don’t play with typical wide player in the sense of a winger. they tend to use full backs or wing backs to provide width to the formation. the old school wingers have been replaced with wide strikers. the most prolific of these wide strikers over the past decade have been messi and cristiano. the two players who won the golden boot with auba this past season, salah and mane, are wide strikers. even aubameyang, when partnered with lacazette, played as a wide striker. alexis lead the team in goals before before auba got here and he, too, was a wide striker.

    center forwards aren’t what they used to be. theo was foolish for saying he wanted to play through the middle on his own; so much so, he reneged on that idea and asked to play out wide again. giroud was much maligned for his lack of goals but the role of the current center forward is to facilitate the attack by winning and keeping the ball high up the pitch, allowing team mates to join in the attack; he won a world cup last summer because his manager understood how to best utilize him.

    that brings me to devlin’s point about management. it doesn’t matter who arsenal bring in if they have a manager who’s more bent on imposing a style of play rather than getting the best out of his available players.

  18. Signing Zaha would be such a waste of money! The Gunners already have that wide player with Nelson, much younger and with more potential than Zaha. Better keep the money to sign defenders and midfielders instead.

  19. I fear Zaha may get burned on this one.

    Not sure why, but with his brother coming out in public (when did that last happen with our transfers – doesn’t everyone usually get told to say nothing in the press?) I just get the sense Raul is happy to string Zaha along, even get him to agitate, but use our ‘interest’ to drive down the price for someone else (eg Tierney and whoever we are actually looking at getting in via Raul’s contacts).

    That would be bad for Zaha (burning bridges) and make us look like front-bottoms.

  20. I understand the idea that Giroud’s hold up play was helpful. However, Giroud’s scoring rate has been steadily decreasing and we desperately needed another goal scorer. Getting $18M for a player like Giroud who would not have been a regular starter was not a bad deal and selling Giroud and Ox raised the money to bring in Auba and that certainly improved our teams ability to get results.

  21. It works to play a facilitator who rarely scores such Giroud at CF if you have enough goal scoring firepower in the rest of the starting such as with France. They had plenty of firepower without Giroud scoring. However, the same is not true with Arsenal. Other then Auba and Laca there is not another player on this current squad who is even a threat to score double figures in our PL games. The ultimate objective of attacking football is to score goals and all of the brilliant hold up play in the penalty box and the big chances created by wide players come to nothing if you don’t have players who can turn the brilliant play into goals scored.

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