Arsenal and Transfer Black Magic


There’s been a bit of transfer movement/speculation on the Arsenal front (which I believe I called to some degree in my last article, no big deal). The efforts to bring Vardy to the Emirates, along with the saga that will surely drag on, is just an Arsenal being Arsenal kind of thing. Though Vardy hasn’t been quite as popular as these moves usually are , this is basically the playbook, as if you haven’t seen it all before:

Step 1. Get linked with a player, often in a more advanced position of contract negotiations/bid process. Everyone massively over hypes the potential of the player and bash the current squad member of said position. Potential signing can then become quantified if they play for a worse squad, at which point they take said player’s numbers and, based on the fans, are projected with, what I call, an “Arsenal boost” to factor in that they are playing for us, a clearly better team, obviously.

DISCLAIMER: The “Arsenal boost” was basically the rationale and contents my last article so I blame Arsenal Football Club LLC, Arsene Wenger, and KSE, therefore foregoing any responsibility for the opinions of said article.

Step 2. Player/agent muddies the water, fans get skeptical. Then everyone starts using the classic Arsenal excuses for dipping out on a transfer just to look they won’t be THAT butt hurt when said player doesn’t sign. Keystone phrases include, but are not limited to: “He’s too old anyway”, “Well, I never really wanted him”, “He’d take first team opportunities away from [insert youth player who they’ve seen in one Cap One Cup match]”, “He doesn’t play Arsenal’s style” (shout out Paul Merson).

Step 3.

  1. Arsenal end up signing player, fandom rejoices in similar fashion to step 1; uses player to mold a title dream (again see disclaimer).


  1. Player springboards past Arsenal to another club, leaving fan base to mire in angst and begin an emotional war of attrition that erodes away at hopes and dreams, at least until the next bit of business. Also known as the Mendes Effect.

Step 4. Rinse and repeat until Sept 1st

In other words, just transfer business as usual on the fan side. Personally, I think we are still firmly in on Vardy. While every is absolutely ready to jump ship and go after someone else, realize that while this opens a window after the Euros for others to sign him, he could: A. not start/England go out early, and lose some bargaining position, B. get injured, at which point we haven’t signed another injured striker, or C. he does phenomenally and then maybe we don’t get him, maybe we do. It’s currently looking like the answer is A. and it’d be hard to convince competition to pay him more if Hodgson isn’t going to play him from the first whistle, but we’ll just have to see. At that rate though, anyone worth going after instead is probably at either Copa or the Euros anyway, so we’ll just have to wait or scrap for stories linking Arsenal to Coté d’Ivorie forwards. I know, painful.

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Mkihitarian vs Mahrez: Helper Hank vs Mad Man Mahrez

Onwards, to the rest of the attack that disappointed. Arsenal’s situation in attack is comparable to that of someone needing a kidney transplant; while a striker maybe that kidney that isn’t working, the right wing is the one that is.  And to be honest, it’s a position that is underappreciated and getting abused from excessive rotation. With Bellerin flourishing, but there’s a real potential to attack to more effective with a real partner for him. Plus, attacking left backs aren’t unpopular in the Premier League, particularly when you think about the green patches the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Luke Shaw, and Alberto Moreno could leave available. We need to do more to exploit that space. And by more, I mean more than shoving Theo out there and calling it a day.

So two candidates have seemingly arisen: Henrikh Mkihitaryan of Borussia Dortmund and PYA Riyad Mahrez of Leicester. Here are some simple possession numbers for the two-



Arsene’s choice, based on our data above, is pretty obvious. Who dribbles less? Mkihitaryan. Who creates more goal scoring opportunities? Mkihitaryan. Who coughs up possession less? Mkihitaryan. And on, and on, and on. Maybe this is a biased look because BVB plays a more possession based style of play, but I would think Wenger wants to play more like that as opposed to Leicester’s defense to off the tracks locomotive fast-break. Wenger has been used to buying the figurative Camry, but sees that everyone’s into Ferraris and Lambos. I’m sure he wants to be a little flashier, but he needs something more in his realm so, if flash doesn’t work, he can still revert back to more his style.  In that sense, Mkihitaryan is the Benz to Mahrez’s Maserati.

Which will bring us to another important distinction that makes Mkihitaryan the Wenger choice over Mahrez: price. With the economics degree in his locker, Wenger isn’t just going to skip by a player of Hank’s quality on the last year of his contract. Dortmund meanwhile is being raided like a liquor cabinet at a high school jamboree. It’s hard to think Mkihitaryan wants to be one of the few pieces left in a side that will be torn to shreds. He, Reus, and that Dembele kid might be the only ones left for Tuchel to play. Tough to play 3 v 11 in the Bundesliga nowadays. On the flip side, Leicester will necessarily fare much better this window either, but Mahrez also sign a mid-season bumper to his deal like Vardy and is also on until 2019 at least. Riyad is leaving for nothing less than 35mil while 27mil seems to be the number for Mkihitaryan. Classic Wenger-nomics right here.

The enlightened Wenga Out brigade, however, might not be so easily convinced. Dollars saved account for nothing to those whom money is of no object. Goals, however, are a real currency to this clan of wisemen, so perhaps this is how we get everyone on board. After all, these players have the ‘dope’ highlight videos all over Youtube, so they have contribute ‘dope’ goals right?

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To counteract the siren’s call of highlight reels, perhaps we use a little black magic. In case you haven’t watched Arsenal in the past ten years, the club has banned voodoo and, therefore, we run literally the exact opposite offensive principles. In his old age and dementia, Wenger seems set to dabble in black magic. However, there was some small club in England somewhere called Leicester that ran at defenses, building a team with the concept of xG on a pedestal.

Statisticians, or as we prefer to call them, witch doctors, basically created a number that says if you run directly to goal, you lose the ball less and score more. An xG total value predicts the number of goals someone could score either over a match or season, generally based on open play opportunities. I do not personally practice voodoo, so I might have skipped over an animal sacrifice somewhere in the middle of that, but I believe that nails about 80% of the process. So based on these ouiji board numbers, what can we learn about the three teams methods involved?

*Data from SBN Cartilage Free Captain articles Advanced Statistics for European Football Leagues & Advanced Statistics for Premier League, DZ=in box opportunities (danger zone), NPG=Non-penalty goals, TB%=shots from within 6 yrd of the end line in the box

Basically, looking at the Arsenal, Leicester, and Borussia’s numbers, Arsenal lives somewhere in the middle of the two. Leicester takes the least number of shots and allows the most, but they focus on xG and xG against. A total 39.2 xG offensively, but a 30 xGA means, though they take about 100 shots less than Arsenal, the quality is immensely higher. Does both hold high possession plus create great opportunities from similar positions as Arsenal. I think this is what we are looking for from Hank, to provide opportunities from in the box and provide us a right winger who can retain possession, shot, and distribute in, not only efficient, but effective manner.

So if you didn’t realize, I think I prefer Mkihitaryan, but Mahrez has benefits too. His connection to Vardy could be a factor if we do sign him. He also has some interesting numbers, especially as far as shooting ratios. But with how Bellerin attacks, Mahrez coughs up the ball too often for the kid to track back and forth every time. Mkihitaryn at least retains the ball, and he even has slightly more effective numbers on the defensive side than Riyad. For me, that would be worth 27mil as opposed to 40mil for the Mahrez brand. So no offense to Maserati, but I’m going

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