Tag Archives: Kroenke

Arsenal vs. Swansea: Kolasinac & Ramsey save the day in 2-1 win

Kolasinac’s attacking verve and Ramsey’s dynamism fired Arsenal to a 2-1 win over Swansea on Saturday as the Gunners pulled within a point of third-place Tottenham in the Premier League. Wenger made no change to the side that routed Everton 5-2 a week ago. The big difference is that Swansea didn’t give as much space as the Toffees. In a 3-5-2 formation, Clement somehow managed to contain the threat from Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette.

Arsenal vs. Swansea

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The visitors could have come away with three points but Naughton proved a weak link at the back. The Swansea wingback left Kolasinac unmarked for both goals. Lacazette set up Ozil with a backheel flick in the 51st minute. Van der Hoorn blocked Ozil’s shot but the ball fell into the path of Kolasinac, who fired past Fabianski to level the game. As you can see in the screen capture below, Naughton didn’t want to leave Van der Hoorn in a 1v1 situation with Sanchez.

Arsenal vs. Swansea M51 editedKolasinac, circled, is unmarked while Naughton and Van der Hoorn are double-teaming Sanchez. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

In a fluid 3-5-2 system, Fer should have dropped back to cover Naughton on that play. Quite a few English clubs have adopted a back three since Conte’s success with Chelsea last season. However, the tactical cogs are complex, especially for the wingback position and for the players who have to cover the wingbacks defensively and offensively.

Seven minutes later, Xhaka switched play from the right flank to the left with a long ball toward Kolasinac, who chested the ball down to feed an onrushing Ramsey. With a first-time effort, Ramsey guided the ball into the bottom corner for a 2-1 lead. As you can see in the screen capture below, Naughton made the mistake of following Sanchez in midfield and left Kolasinac unmarked. Then Fer failed to track Ramsey inside the area.

Arsenal vs. Swansea M58 editedNaughton gives Kolasinac plenty of time to control the ball. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

The slim lead made for a nervy finish. The Gunners simply don’t have that ruthless streak to finish off their opponents like Manchester City. Arsenal had 73% of ball possession and 17 shots to 4 for the Swans, who parked the bus and waited for counterattacking opportunities. Swansea made 25 interceptions compared to just 8 for the hosts, according to Squawka.

Defensive sloppiness

A week ago, Everton exposed Arsenal’s defensive sloppiness by taking advantage of blunders to score twice. The Gunners put themselves in trouble again with some poor defending. Koscielny slipped while missing an interception in the 22nd and gave Abraham plenty of time to play Clucas in. The Swansea wingback ghosted past Bellerin to beat Cech with a low strike. Clucas perfectly timed his run but Bellerin should have never lost that duel. Then Bellerin lost possession with a poor first touch in the 40th and Clucas pounced on the loose ball to miss the target from the edge of the Arsenal box. On the stroke of halftime, Mertesacker dallied on the ball and was robbed by Ayew, who was denied by Cech.

The Swans came close to doubling the lead in the 52nd as the Arsenal defense was all over the place. Mertesacker blocked Clucas’ shot and Abraham converted the rebound but the goal was disallowed for offside. The back three looked nervous a couple of times while playing a high defensive line. Last season, the Gunners defeated Chelsea in the FA Cup final with Mertesacker in the starting lineup but I wouldn’t feel so confident for the next league game against Manchester City.

Mertesacker proved dominant in the air by winning 5 of 5 aerial duels while Monreal was the most creative centerback with 3 key passes. The Spaniard also led all players with 114 passes, according to whoscored.com. Koscielny was the most proactive of the back three with 3 interceptions but his missed interception in the 22nd led to the opener.

Kolasinac’s hip injury

On the left wing, Kolasinac produced a Man of the Match performance with a goal and an assist. Kolasinac also won 2 of 3 tackles and 1 of 1 aerial duel, according to Squawka. He was replaced by Holding in the 78th because of a hip problem. I just hope that Kolasinac will be able to fully recover during the next international break. Bellerin had more defensive work than Kolasinac on the opposite flank. The Spaniard was guilty on the opener and also failed to stop a cross from Clucas in the 77th. Abraham connected with the cross for a spinning shot that sailed wide. Bellerin nearly redeemed himself in the 66th with a volley that hit the crossbar.

A lot of fans keep asking who’s the best partner for Xhaka in midfield. Maybe the more appropriate question is: who’s the best partner for Ramsey in midfield. Both players can’t protect the defense. However, Ramsey is a more valuable player than Xhaka because he’s more mobile and versatile. Ramsey produced a good all-around performance by making 2 key passes and 1 interception and winning 2 of 5 tackles and 0 of 3 aerial duels, while Xhaka made 0 key pass, 1 interception and 1 block and won 0 of 3 tackles and 1 of 2 aerial duels.

In a 10-minute span, Ramsey caused problems for the Swansea defense. First, Ozil cushioned a long ball into the path of Ramsey, whose goal attempt was blocked in the 56th. Two minutes later, Ramsey found the net from Kolasinac’s pass. The Wales midfielder proved a bit greedy in the 61st, firing over the bar with his left foot as he took the ball off Sanchez, who was about to pull the trigger with his right foot. Finally, Ramsey created a chance for Bellerin in the 66th.

One-dimensional attack

Xhaka showed his value last season with his accurate long balls that helped evade a high press. However, English teams are giving him less time on the ball this season. That explains the dip in his passing accuracy as well as the team’s difficulty to set a high tempo. Under pressure, Cazorla could dribble his way out of trouble. Xhaka doesn’t have Cazorla’s mobility or dribbling skills. Against Swansea, Ozil occasionally dropped back to help the team build up plays.

The front three couldn’t replicate the brilliance of their performance at Goodison Park. Arsenal’s attack looked one-dimensional: Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez were not involved in any aerial duel. That’s the problem when you don’t have a complete centerforward. Henry and Van Persie had pace and could win headers. Giroud has no pace while Lacazette is not dominant in the air.

The Gunners struggled to find Lacazette because of Swansea’s compact defense. Lacazette doesn’t have Giroud’s physicality but he still proved tidy in possession with 0 turnover. His only scoring chance came in the 64th when he took a pass from Bellerin for a spinning shot that Fabianski saved. Since the start of the season, I keep thinking that Lacazette would be more comfortable in the role of a second striker than as a centerforward, especially in the Premier League which is more physical than the French league where Lacazette used to play.

Ozil had a decent game with 5 key passes and 2 successful dribbles out of 2. The Germany playmaker also won 2 of 3 tackles. In the front three, Sanchez acts like an equalizer because he can both create and finish while Lacazette is mostly a finisher and Ozil mostly a passer. The Chile striker had 3 shots and 3 key passes. That kind of profile will be hard to find when Sanchez leaves the club.

The accuracy of Sanchez’s delivery nearly made a difference on set pieces. Mertesacker nodded a Sanchez free kick straight at Fabianski in the eighth minute while Koscielny missed the target with his header from a Sanchez free kick in the 55th. Fabianski caught a cross-shot from Sanchez in the sixth minute and parried his angled strike in the 41st. Sanchez didn’t score but the fear he instilled in defenders created gaps for his teammates.

Challenging the board

The Gunners next host Red Star Belgrade on Thursday before visiting Manchester City on Sunday. I expect the manager to rest his key players against the Serbian side because the game at the Etihad stadium is much more important. A defeat would leave Arsenal 12 points behind the Citizens. Such a gap would imply the end of any title bid for the Gunners.

Of course, I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the Annual General Meeting of the club. Thursday’s meeting showed the disconnect between the board and the supporters. Most small shareholders were against the re-election to the Arsenal board of Keswick and Josh Kroenke and forced a vote with a show of hands from the floor. Stan Kroenke saved their seats because he owns 67% of the shares and his vote had therefore more weight.

Gazidis tried to quell the supporters’ dissatisfaction with the governance of the club. Citing metrics comparing points with transfer expenditure, Gazidis claimed that the Gunners were overperforming. Rational supporters thought that it was a joke. Spurs spent less than Arsenal and still finished 11 points ahead of their North London rivals last season.

Over the past few years, Wenger has received the biggest share of the criticism. There’s no doubt that Wenger’s powers are waning. The Gunners finished outside the Top 4 last season for the first time under his tenure. But the owner is the one really holding back the club. Finishing fifth in the league and winning the FA Cup is seen as a success at Arsenal while it would be considered an average season at other big clubs.

Kroenke is only interested in the financial aspect of the club. He has no vision for Arsenal for the simple reason that his passion for sport is diluted in other U.S. teams. The club needs a completely focused owner who can provide some guidance and leadership. The best scenario for the supporters would be Usmanov selling his shares to an investor knowing the club and showing more ambition than Kroenke, someone who could challenge the American billionaire and the board.

 

Advertisements

Arsenal entering a dark era

The future of the club is more uncertain than ever after majority shareholder Kroenke recently made a £525 million offer to buy Usmanov’s shares. Most Arsenal fans have had doubts about the club’s ambitions in the past couple of years. Now they are skeptical about the direction taken by the club on and off the pitch.

Arsenal_agm2013a

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Despite what the Arsenal board says, the summer transfer window has been disastrous for the club: the squad is weaker at the end of the window than when it opened; the dead wood hasn’t been cleared; weaknesses in the team, especially at centerback and in central midfield, haven’t been addressed; and funds for the next summer transfers have been lost even if the Gunners sell Sanchez and Ozil at a discounted price in January. The worst part is that this transfer window is only a symptom of deeper problems inside the club.

Here’s below the Arsenal squad for this season. Premier League rules allow a maximum of 25 players per squad, excluding U21 players. Of those 25 players over 21, there can only be a maximum of 17 players not homegrown. My list looks a bit different from the Premier League squad submitted by the club because I’ve added some youngsters from the academy:

Goalkeepers: Cech, Ospina, Macey (HG); leftbacks: Kolasinac, Monreal; centerbacks: Koscielny, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Holding (HG), Chambers (HG); rightbacks: Bellerin (HG), Debuchy; defensive midfielders: Coquelin (HG), Elneny, Maitland-Niles (-21), Willock (-21); all-around midfielders: Xhaka, Ramsey (HG), Wilshere (HG); attacking midfielders: Ozil, Reine-Adelaide (-21), Zelalem (-21); left wingers: Sanchez, Iwobi (-21); strikers: Giroud, Lacazette, Welbeck (HG), Akpom (HG), Nketiah (-21); right wingers: Walcott (HG), Nelson (-21).

There are serious concerns at centerback since Mertesacker and Koscielny are past their prime, Holding and Chambers are inexperienced and error-prone while Mustafi’s motivation could be a question mark after being denied a move to Inter Milan. At rightback, Debuchy is a weak alternative if Bellerin gets injured.

In midfield, the team has no world-class ballwinner to shield the defense. It also lacks creativity with just Ozil and Wilshere as established playmakers. Cazorla might join the squad in the second half of the season but there’s no guarantee the Spaniard will rediscover his form. It’s no coincidence if Arsenal’s brand of football is less exciting to watch than a few years ago. During the 2010-11 season, the Gunners could rely on Nasri, Fabregas, Rosicky and Wilshere to create breathtaking moves. Up front, Walcott struggles against defenses sitting deep while Welbeck and Iwobi may lack end product.

Kick and rush?

To understand why the club will be in trouble next season, here’s a look at the Arsenal squad in the summer 2018 when the contracts of players like Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and Wilshere expire while some loanees return:

Goalkeepers: Cech, Ospina, Martinez; leftbacks: Kolasinac, Monreal, Bramall; centerbacks: Koscielny, Mustafi, Holding, Chambers; rightbacks: Bellerin, Jenkinson, Debuchy; defensive midfielders: Coquelin, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Willock; all-around midfielders: Xhaka, Ramsey; attacking midfielders: Reine-Adelaide; left wingers: Iwobi; strikers: Giroud, Lacazette, Perez, Welbeck, Akpom, Nketiah; right wingers: Walcott, Nelson.

Assuming the club does not sign any player next summer, the 2018-19 squad will have the same weaknesses as this season but will also lose the firepower of Sanchez and the creativity of Ozil, Cazorla and Wilshere. Can you imagine the Gunners play some ‘kick and rush’ football with Ramsey in the No. 10 role?

The picture becomes even more gloomy when you think of what will be left of the squad in the summer 2019 (see the list below). Optimistic fans will say that the board and the manager won’t let the club sink that low. But the last few transfer windows just tell us that Arsenal could pile up average players simply to make the numbers.

Goalkeepers: Martinez; leftbacks: Kolasinac, Bramall; centerbacks: Koscielny, Mustafi, Holding, Chambers; rightbacks: Bellerin, Jenkinson; defensive midfielders: Coquelin, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Willock; all-around midfielders: Xhaka; attacking midfielders: none; left wingers: Iwobi; strikers: Lacazette, Perez, Nketiah; right wingers: none.

Going into the 2019-20 season, the Arsenal squad would rely heavily on youngsters, with only Kolasinac, Mustafi, Bellerin, Xhaka, Coquelin, Elneny and Lacazette in their prime. There’s no way such a weak squad could contend for a Champions League spot or even qualify for the Europa League. That prospect has led the board to panic and mention contract extensions a few weeks ago. I definitely think this squad needs a massive overhaul. The club must be ruthless in clearing the dead wood and only keep players who can turn the Gunners into a competitive team. At this stage, Nelson is the only player that Arsenal should keep at any cost.

A punch-drunk boxer

Over the past few months, Wenger has been the catalyst for anger. He could have walked away this summer but in the end opted for a two-year extension. In my eyes, Wenger is like a punch-drunk boxer who believes he’ll win the next fight even though he just got knocked out. The French manager is destroying his legacy by refusing to accept the reality that his powers are waning.

I don’t think Wenger is so delusional that he hopes to end his Arsenal career on a Premier League title. But finishing outside the Top 4 last season was definitely a blemish on his record at the club. Therefore he must probably think that he needs a Top 4 finish to prove that he’s leaving a good squad to his successor.

Wenger hasn’t become a bad manager overnight. In fact, he’s still a good manager. The big difference is that the Premier League is much more competitive than 10 years ago. Money from the TV rights has attracted top managers and allowed average clubs to sign more internationals.

The arrival of Pochettino and Klopp at Tottenham and Liverpool respectively is the key factor that has accelerated Wenger’s decline. The Gunners haven’t beaten Pochettino’s Spurs and Klopp’s Reds in the Premier League yet. Since Pochettino’s appointment in August 2014, the Gunners have drawn 4 Premier League games and lost 2 against Tottenham. Their record against Liverpool is worse with 3 defeats and 1 draw since Klopp took over.

It’s no coincidence if several players have refused to extend their contracts or have even asked to leave Arsenal. They can clearly see that Wenger is not the best manager in the league and won’t turn the club into a contender. Unless the Gunners are stuck in a relegation fight, it doesn’t make sense to fire Wenger at this stage of the season because there is no decent option available now. And don’t start mentioning Ancelotti. The Italian manager may be more astute tactically than Wenger but he’s not a team builder.

Power struggle at the top

A lot of fans are upset with the manager, but the irony is that Wenger is not even the biggest problem at Arsenal. The club’s inefficiency in the transfer market this summer has exposed the power struggle between the manager and the board. Despite their poor knowledge of football, Josh Kroenke and Gazidis can feel that Wenger is doing something wrong, but they make the situation worse by interfering. The club sent contradictory signals this summer because Kroenke and Gazidis acted as de facto sporting directors, undermining Wenger and making Arsenal’s transfer policy unintelligible.

When the transfer window opened, Wenger mentioned expensive signings like Lemar and Mbappe. But a few days before the end of the window, the club said it would need to sell several players before maybe signing one. Basically, the club tried to show some sporting ambition in the beginning of the summer. But deadline day made clear it was all about financial results as Arsenal spent much less than Liverpool and Everton and even made a profit in the transfer market.

The antagonism between Wenger and the board was obvious in three cases. The manager doesn’t rate Chambers. It should have been a no-brainer when Leicester made a £20 million bid for him. But instead of making a profit on an unused player, the club turned down the offer. There can only be two possible conclusions: either the board hoped it could get more money from Leicester, or it thought that Chambers could still improve under another manager.

The second case was Mustafi’s aborted move to Inter Milan. The club sold Paulista to Valencia on Aug. 18. It didn’t make sense to also offload Mustafi without having a decent replacement at centerback, especially since the manager plays a back three. In the end, the transfer was called off on deadline day possibly because Arsenal couldn’t sign Evans from West Brom. Waiting until the last day to make a move for such a key position as centerback shows the dysfunctional relationship between the manager and the board.

Embarrassment in the transfer market

Yet, nothing could beat the amateurish attitude of the club in the botched Lemar and Sanchez deals. Last year, Arsenal made a £29 million bid for Lacazette but Lyon rejected the offer because it wanted £50 million. The Gunners finally accepted to spend £46 million on Lacazette in July. The club seemed to accept the reality that there is a price for English clubs and one for continental clubs. But guess what? Arsenal repeated the same mistake with Lemar this summer.

Manchester City and Chelsea understood how the market worked and met Monaco’s asking prices to sign Silva, Mendy and Bagayoko. On the other hand, Arsenal tried to get Lemar on the cheap with a £31 million bid in June, which was very far from Monaco’s valuation. The Gunners improved that offer to £40 million in July and finally £92 million on deadline day. Monaco accepted that bid but Lemar changed his mind and preferred to stay. If you’re in the player’s shoes, you’d rather move in June or July and have enough time to adapt to a new country and league. From the moment Lemar played in Monaco’s first game of the season on Aug. 4, it was very unlikely that he would switch clubs.

The Gunners not only wasted the whole summer to meet Monaco’s asking price for Lemar, they also sold Oxlade-Chamberlain to a rival and kept an unhappy player like Sanchez. Arsenal needed a massive overhaul this summer. In the end, the club only made two signings and was unable to offload average players like Debuchy, Chambers and Elneny.

Kroenke’s cash cow

While Wenger has definitely been the catalyst for anger, only a different owner could prove the real catalyst for change. Despite all his flaws, the manager is doing his best to win titles. The same can’t be said of Kroenke. A quick look at his mediocre U.S. teams shows that Kroenke is not interested in success on the pitch. For the American billionaire, financial results trump sporting results. Kroenke basically treats Arsenal as a cash cow, taking money out of the club. He has never injected money into the club like Abramovich at Chelsea or Mansour at Manchester City.

Optimists will point at Manchester United and the Glazer family, but the context is completely different. United’s huge commercial revenue means that the Red Devils still have a big transfer kitty despite paying dividends to the Glazers every season. Arsenal would need to win several Premier League titles before having a shot at enjoying a similar commercial revenue. Here’s the catch: it won’t happen unless the Gunners splash the cash to sign top players in the transfer market. The club does not have an academy that can produce a winning generation like Xavi’s Barcelona or Giggs’ United.

In that light, Kroenke’s offer to buy Usmanov’s shares does not bode well for Arsenal. Kroenke owns 67% of the club compared to 30% for Usmanov. Technically, a threshold of 75% is required to pass special resolutions without putting them to a vote. With about 97% of the shares, Kroenke could squeeze out minority shareholders and delist the club.

Leaving empty seats

By taking Arsenal into private ownership, Kroenke would basically throw accountability and transparency out the window. Kroenke could take out as many dividends as he wants. He could even load debt onto the club since there would be no requirement for an AGM or for the publication of accounts. A lot of fans fear that Kroenke will use Arsenal’s revenues to finance the new stadium in Los Angeles for the Rams. At a time when the top teams in the Premier League are massively spending to contend, that would be a deadly blow to the Gunners’ ambitions and reputation.

The divided fanbase reflects the existential crisis which is affecting the club. It’s so depressing to watch Arsenal fans fighting each other while they should be united to protect the club. I believe it’s important that the fans keep supporting the team when they attend games. Arsenal must still look attractive for potential recruits. Top players won’t join the club if the fans create a hostile atmosphere and boo the team every week.

The best way to bring about change would be to protest outside the stadium before kickoff and then leave empty seats during the game. It may not force Kroenke out of the club but it could pave the way for a new majority shareholder who would show more ambition and give a new direction to the club.

Transfer window shows Arsenal’s squad management is a disaster

Of the Premier League clubs that finished in the Top 7 last season, the Gunners are the only team that became weaker at the end of the transfer window than when it opened. You don’t expect Arsenal to match Manchester United and City in the transfer market. But when Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham spend more money than the Gunners, the situation really gets embarrassing. It’s even more ridiculous when you realize that out of those 7 clubs, only Arsenal and Tottenham made a profit from the summer transfers. At least Spurs have the excuse of a new stadium to finance but what is the Gunners’ excuse for such a frugal transfer policy?

2017 Transfer Window

Photo credit: Ramsey’s instagram account

Let’s go through those transfers. Arsenal released Sanogo, sold Oxlade-Chamberlain, Szczesny, Paulista, Gibbs, Toral, Malen and Hinds, and loaned out Perez, Campbell, Jenkinson, Martinez and Bramall. Only Lacazette and Kolasinac joined the club.

At the back, Kolasinac is an upgrade over Monreal and Gibbs for the leftback position. But the club lost Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could play in several positions. That means Debuchy or Maitland-Niles will have to deputize on the right flank if Bellerin gets injured. Paulista’s departure was a bit surprising. The Brazilian centerback was a second choice behind Koscielny and Mustafi, but had more pace than Mertesacker and was more experienced than Holding and Chambers. I still don’t understand why the Gunners turned down a £20 million offer from Leicester for Chambers, who is weaker in the air than Holding and struggles to turn quickly.

Keeping Sanchez

In midfield, the Gunners never seemed interested in signing a ballwinner, even though the first three games of the season showed the need for a top player in that key position. Instead, Arsenal made a £92 million bid for Lemar, an attacking midfielder at Monaco. The deal collapsed on Thursday because it had to be financed by Sanchez’s transfer to Manchester City for £60 million. For some reason, Arsenal rejected the deal with City at the last minute. That means the Gunners are taking the risk of keeping an unhappy player and will lose him on a free transfer next summer. Ozil and Wilshere will also leave for free next year.

Up front, Lacazette has a profile similar to Perez, who didn’t get a fair chance to compete with Walcott and Iwobi for a starting spot last season. Lacazette has a better scoring record than Perez but there are question marks about the France international’s ability to lead the line in a physical league.

It was a messy transfer window for Arsenal and that situation will likely repeat itself next summer because there are also many players whose contracts will expire in 2019: Cech, Monreal, Giroud, Debuchy, Ramsey, Ospina, Walcott, Welbeck, Campbell and Akpom. Players with big wages could be tempted to run down their contracts instead of taking a pay cut at another club.

Blame it on Kroenke

It has been a disappointing transfer window for Arsenal. According to stats from the Guardian, the Gunners made a profit of £21 million from the summer transfers. Spurs were also in the black with a profit of £5.7 million. Manchester United and City made net losses of £136.2 million and £128.2 million respectively, while Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool limited their net losses to £80.3 million, £46 million and £41.5 million respectively.

Those figures tell us that Everton and Liverpool could take a net loss of £40-50 million in the transfer market because of the lucrative TV rights for the Premier League. And keep in mind that the Toffees did not even qualify for the Champions League. Any analyst can come to the conclusion that the Gunners had plenty of financial maneuvering room. Therefore, the club did not need to be greedy with City over the transfer fee for Sanchez and could have accepted Monaco’s valuation of Lemar before deadline day.

Arsenal is no longer run like a football club but like a business. Kroenke must take the blame for such a poor approach and especially for the club’s lack of ambition. Although they missed out on a Top 4 finish for the first time under Wenger’s tenure, the Gunners paradoxically spent less than Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs this summer. It clearly shows that financial results have trumped sporting results under Kroenke’s ownership.

Divergent interests

If you look at the profit made in the transfer market, you would think that Wenger creates financial value for the club. But once you factor in the fact that Wilshere, Ozil and Sanchez will leave for free next summer and that Arsenal will therefore make a virtual loss of £50-90 million in transfer fees, Wenger can no longer be considered the poster boy for Moneyball.

Wenger has lost his magic touch in the transfer market but also in the development of youngsters. When the club was cash-strapped during the 2007-12 period, the French manager was doing a great job in increasing the market value of players like Hleb, Song, Adebayor, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, who were signed for peanuts and then sold for a good price.

If Kroenke really wanted a manager who could maximize the profitability of the club while making Arsenal more competitive, he should have hired Jardim instead of giving Wenger a new contract. The Monaco manager has become the new poster boy for Moneyball, selling rising stars at a premium price after winning the French league and reaching the semifinals of the Champions League.

This transfer window shows that Kroenke’s interests no longer match Arsenal’s interests. Optimists will point at Manchester United and the Glazer family, but the context is completely different. United’s huge commercial revenue means that the Red Devils still have a big transfer kitty despite paying dividends to the Glazers every season. Arsenal would need to win several Premier League titles before having a shot at enjoying a similar commercial revenue. It won’t happen unless the Gunners sign top players in the transfer market.

An erratic transfer policy

In the summer, Wenger complained about the size of his squad with as many as 33 players at some stage. Well, the only reason why Arsenal had such a large squad is because the club has kept signing mostly average players over the past few years.

When Mertesacker’s lack of pace became an obvious issue at centerback, Wenger tried to find a better partner for Koscielny. So the Gunners signed Chambers, then Paulista, Mustafi and Holding. In the end, none of those signings has been really convincing.

In midfield, Arteta’s decline led to a lack of balance in the team. Wenger found a quick fix with the Coquelin-Cazorla tandem but those midfield issues resurfaced with Cazorla’s nagging injuries. So Arsenal signed Elneny and Xhaka but none proved good enough in the holding midfielder role.

Up front, Giroud’s lack of pace meant the Arsenal offense often looked one-dimensional. Walcott was given a chance to shine as a lone striker while the club signed Sanogo, Welbeck and Perez. Yet, none of them has really convinced the manager as a centerforward.

The perception we get from this transfer window is that Klopp, Pochettino, Mourinho, Guardiola and Conte have a coherent plan to build their squads, identifying the weaknesses before finding the missing parts within a couple of years. By contrast, Wenger’s moves in the transfer market follow an erratic rationale with glaring weaknesses in the squad not even addressed. Any pundit would say that there’s no logic in the club’s transfer policy.

The need for a sporting director

This transfer window also shows the need for a sporting director. It’s not acceptable for a big club like Arsenal to end up with so many key players having only a year left on their contracts. The Gunners should have either sold Sanchez, Ozil and Wilshere or extended their contracts. I believe the situation would have been better handled with a sporting director. The botched Sanchez and Lemar deals really made Arsenal look like a bunch of amateurs while other clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham had no trouble to conclude several deals on deadline day.

The board is the main culprit for kowtowing to Wenger by refusing to name a sporting director. Big clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG and Manchester City have a sporting director helping the manager. So why can’t Arsenal accept that idea? Let’s take the case of Emenalo, who doesn’t have a great reputation as the Chelsea sporting director. Despite Conte’s frustration throughout the summer, the Italian manager still got several targets by the end of the transfer window.

There’s simply too much improvisation at Arsenal. The club needs to set up a process for players with only two years left on their contracts. A rational step would be to start searching for a replacement two years before the end of the contract. When there’s only one year left, the club should be in a strong bargaining position: either the player signs a new deal or the player refuses a new deal and the club signs his replacement.

Another exodus?

Arsenal’s image has been badly damaged by the transfer window. For years, the Gunners couldn’t keep their best players because they had to pay for the new stadium. From 2007 to 2012, they ended up selling Henry, Hleb, Adebayor, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and Song. It’s only when the club’s financial situation improved by 2013 that Arsenal could stop the talent drain and even show some ambition by signing Ozil.

Losing the Ox could be the sign that the Gunners have become a feeder club again. What is more upsetting is that the Gunners didn’t sell the Ox to a contender like Manchester City or United but to a club with fewer Top 4 finishes than Arsenal in the past decade.

Now the danger for Arsenal is that the Ox’s departure could be the start of an exodus similar to what happened during the 2007-12 period. If players like the Ox, Sanchez, Ozil and Wilshere refuse to sign new contracts, it’s because they realize that Wenger won’t turn the club into a contender and therefore they don’t want to stay. Some players also think their careers will better develop under another manager.

Becoming a third-tier club

This transfer window could have a devastating impact on the Gunners. Manchester United, City and Chelsea are top-tier clubs which have won the league in the past few years and are legitimate contenders this season. Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are second-tier clubs which have finished in the Top 4 in the past few years but haven’t won the league in a long time.

If the Gunners finish again outside the Top 4 this season, there’s a strong possibility that they could be demoted to the status of a third-tier club. Everton, West Ham and Southampton haven’t finished in the Top 4 for years and don’t play in the Champions League. Such a status would not only hurt Arsenal’s finances but also diminish its pull for recruiting targets.

Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Do the Gunners really want to contend?

“Where do we go? Where do we go now?” would sing Guns N’ Roses after Arsenal’s 4-3 loss to Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. The Gunners also lost their opening games in 2013 and 2015, but that was mostly a matter of complacency against Aston Villa and West Ham, whereas they were focused and motivated against the Reds.

Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

A quick look at the starting lineups showed how both clubs fared in the transfer market this summer. Liverpool started the game with three new signings (Klavan, Wijnaldum and Mane) while Arsenal only had one (Holding) at kick-off. Wenger’s defensive options were limited by Koscielny’s lack of match fitness as well as long-term injuries to Mertesacker and Paulista. I think it was a wise move to leave Koscielny out of the squad since he had not played in any summer friendly.

The manager made more questionable choices in midfield. Wenger was obviously wary of the Reds’ attacking threat and tried to protect the back four by stuffing the midfield with a ballwinner (Coquelin) and two all-rounders (Elneny and Ramsey). That ploy worked in the first half but Klopp adjusted in the second half by attacking down the flanks. I think the manager could have shown more ambition at the Emirates stadium by starting Coquelin, Xhaka and Cazorla in midfield. That’s how the Gunners finished the match.

Losing Ramsey & Iwobi

Up front, Wenger had the choice between Sanchez, Walcott and Akpom. Walcott proved inefficient in the lone striker role last season as well as in the summer friendlies. Akpom is stronger in the air and more physical than Sanchez and Walcott, but lacks experience in the Premier League. In the end, the manager gave the nod to Sanchez, who felt as uncomfortable as Walcott while playing back to goal. The Chile striker’s work-rate could not make up for his weakness in the air and his inability to hold the ball up.

Arsenal lost three points on Sunday but also two players. Iwobi picked up a thigh injury and was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 59th minute before a hamstring injury forced Ramsey to let Cazorla take over the playmaking duties in the 62nd. Both Ramsey and Iwobi will be sidelined for three to four weeks.

Iwobi’s injury was unfortunate since he had a normal pre-season training. On the other hand, I think starting Ramsey was a big gamble. Some fans will say that Kante and Payet played for Chelsea and West Ham respectively last weekend despite reaching the Euro 2016 final with the France team. That’s true. But Kante and Payet don’t have Ramsey’s injury history. I believe Ramsey is like a diesel engine and therefore needs a lot of time to hit match fitness. In my eyes, the fact that Ramsey only played in the last summer friendly against Manchester City was a red flag.

Holding’s inexperience

Chambers’ limitations and Holding’s inexperience really hurt us at the back. If you add Monreal’s poor performance, Arsenal had very little chance of containing Liverpool’s firepower. Holding only made small mistakes, but as you know, it’s all about small margins at the top level. He will need time to adjust to the pace of the Premier League where the game is faster than in the Championship. Holding has decent pace but he really needs to think more quickly. His passing accuracy of 74.1% was too low for a centerback, especially in a club traditionally building play from the back.

Holding only made one foul in Sunday’s game but it gave the Reds an opportunity to level in the closing seconds of the first half. He shoved Coutinho from behind although the Brazil midfielder was back to goal. It was a soft foul, but Holding gave the referee an excuse to blow the whistle by putting his hand on Coutinho’s shoulder. Coutinho curled the subsequent free kick into the top corner to tie the game.

Coutinho created a lot of problems for the Arsenal defense by often drifting inside from our right flank. He pulled Holding out of position in the 49th and played Wijnaldum in with a clever flick. Wijnaldum ghosted past Bellerin and made a cross for Lallana, who chested the ball down to fire through Cech’s legs for a 2-1 lead. All the defenders made a mistake on that play. Bellerin was on the wrong side of Wijnaldum, Holding should have let a midfielder press Coutinho, Chambers was not tight enough to Mane, and Monreal left too much space for Lallana by attempting to compensate for Chambers’ lax marking.

Too slow to turn

Liverpool took a 3-1 lead in the 56th when Coutinho connected with a cross from Clyne for a close-range volley. Monreal failed to stop the cross while Holding was beaten to the ball by Coutinho. Again, football is about winning duels. Monreal only won 54.5% of his duels according to the club’s official website, which is less than Holding (66.7%), Bellerin (75%) and Chambers (80%). Monreal performed well last season but what happened on Sunday is a reminder that he’s already 30 and that the staff will soon have to find an alternative.

Monreal lost possession on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 23rd, forcing Bellerin to take the ball away from Firminho with a last-ditch tackle. Two minutes later, Firminho ghosted past Monreal to take a pass from Lallana but had his shot blocked by Chambers. On paper, Gibbs is the logical replacement at leftback. He’s younger and faster than Monreal. Unfortunately, Gibbs often performed poorly when he was given a chance because of lapses of concentration.

Chambers headed home Cazorla’s free kick in the 75th to cut the deficit to 4-3 but his inability to turn quickly was badly exposed against the Reds. Firminho toyed with Chambers in the 58th before making a low cross for Coutinho, whose first-time effort was saved by Cech. Coutinho lost Holding inside the box on that play. Then Mane outpaced Chambers down our left flank in the 63rd and cut inside Monreal to beat Cech with a curling shot into the top corner for a 4-1 lead. Chambers also had a couple of silly turnovers, sending a long ball to Bellerin straight into touch in the 27th and having a sloppy pass intercepted by Firminho in the 40th. Firminho’s interception led to a tame low strike from Wijnaldum that Cech easily saved.

Sanchez struggling up front

The Gunners pressed high up the pitch in the first half to dominate possession. Somehow, they lost their compact shape in the second half as Liverpool proved more aggressive in midfield and capitalized on the poor defensive contribution from Iwobi and Walcott to make the difference on the wings.

Wenger used Ramsey as a free-floating midfielder like Wales did in the Euros. Ramsey took a reverse pass from Sanchez in the seventh minute to poke the ball straight at Mignolet. He was about to pull the trigger in the 14th but was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Moreno. The Wales midfielder played a role in the opening goal by making a decoy run to create space for Walcott. Still, Ramsey’s activity in midfield couldn’t make up for the lack of a playmaker who could feed Sanchez. It’s quite telling that Cazorla had more key passes than any other Arsenal player despite playing just the last 30 minutes.

Up front, Sanchez struggled in an unfamiliar role, winning only 28.6% of his duels and getting caught offside 4 times. His weakness in the air prevented the Arsenal defense from relying on a target man to evade Liverpool’s pressing game. Lovren easily outjumped Sanchez whenever there was a long ball. In the end, a lack of service combined with a poor reading of the plays explain why Sanchez could only muster one shot off target. I just think that Sanchez’s qualities are better used when he plays on a wing.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s solo goal

The manager seemed to give up on his idea of turning Walcott into a centerforward as the England international started on the right flank. Walcott did his bit in the first half, winning a penalty in the 29th that he failed to convert before opening the scoring with a diagonal shot in the 31st. The trouble is that Walcott completely disappeared in the second half. In the closing minutes, Walcott took a pass from Bellerin but the ball stayed under his feet and the chance was gone.

Iwobi started on the left wing and didn’t do much besides his assist for Walcott. The challenge for the Nigeria international will be to be more consistent in his performances this season. The Ox came off the bench to replace Iwobi in the 59th and scored a solo goal by dribbling past Clyne, Lallana and Henderson to fire past Mignolet in the 64th. He just turned 23 this week and I believe it’s the perfect age for him to show more composure in the final third and have a breakthrough season like Ramsey did in 2013.

The defeat against Liverpool is not just three points dropped. It also reflects Arsenal’s poor performance in the transfer market this summer. There are four persons who can be blamed for that disaster: Kroenke, Gazidis, Law and Wenger.

Laughing stock in the transfer market

Kroenke and Gazidis are responsible for the transfer budget. Liverpool and Chelsea did not even qualify for any European competition, yet they’ve spent at least 20 million pounds more than Arsenal in the transfer market this summer. That’s a joke knowing that the Gunners topped the list for Premier League prize money last season with 100 million pounds and will get at least 20 million pounds for playing in the Champions League group stage this year. The club has more maneuvering room financially since Ozil’s signing but it looks like it only wants to spend 50 to 60 million pounds per year in average on transfers despite increasing revenues.

Law is another culprit. Arsenal shouldn’t be waiting for key signings at the end of August. That’s unprofessional. The two Manchesters acted quickly enough in the offseason to have their squads ready for opening day. It just shows that the Gunners are completely inefficient in the transfer market. As the club’s chief negotiator, Law is responsible for the transfer policy. He doesn’t have great ties with agents and is known for being difficult to deal with.

Starting from scratch again?

The club’s bid for Lyon striker Lacazette clearly hints at Law’s poor understanding of the market. The bid matched Lacazette’s official market value, which is about 29 million pounds. French clubs expect more money from English clubs than from other European clubs. Wenger is aware of that financial reality and would have never made such a low bid. Arsenal’s only chance to convince Lyon of releasing Lacazette would have been to offer at least 40 million pounds. That sounds like a crazy amount of money, but you have to remember that Manchester United paid a fee of 38.5 million pounds to sign Martial (with bonuses possibly inflating that fee to 61.6 million) and that Chelsea spent 33 million pounds this summer to get Batshuayi, who’s not as prolific as Lacazette.

Kroenke, Gazidis and Law are making Wenger’s job much harder. But the manager must also take responsibility for taking too long to realize that the scouting staff has done a poor job over the past few years. Arsenal signed Wrigglesworth, Leicester’s head of technical scouting, in February. However, it will take more than one scout to improve the detection of transfer targets. Which means that the club’s only option this summer is to spend if it wants to contend this season. Otherwise, it will lose its best players next summer and will have to start from scratch again with a project a la Dortmund.

Watford vs. Arsenal: Sanchez, Giroud, Ramsey score in 3-0 win

Arsenal routed Watford 3-0 on Saturday to stay second in the Premier League, two points behind Manchester City. In the race for Champions League spots, the Gunners have a nice cushion with a lead of six points over Liverpool and eight over Chelsea.

Watford vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The Hornets worked hard and pressed high up the pitch in the first half while the Gunners lacked the urgency they showed against Manchester United two weeks ago. Arsenal played at a faster pace in the second half and exploited gaps in a tiring Watford defense to put the game to bed in a 12-minute span.

Cazorla sent Ozil clean through on goal in the 62nd minute. Ake tripped Ozil inside the area, but Sanchez pounced on the loose ball for a side-footed effort inside the near post. Sanchez notched his seventh goal in his last four Arsenal games and could have scored another in the 79th when Cazorla hit a ball over the top of the Hornets’ defense. Sanchez flicked the ball past Gomes while colliding with the Watford goalkeeper. The Chile striker quickly got back on his feet but could not prevent the ball from rolling out of bounds. This should have been a penalty but the referee did not seem to care as the Gunners already had a three-goal lead by then.

Walcott’s timing of his runs

Giroud, who replaced Walcott in the 64th, made it 2-0 by connecting with a cutback from Ozil to slam the ball into the roof of the net in the 68th. The Frenchman regained confidence during the international break by scoring twice with his national team in a 2-1 win over Denmark. Giroud is not Wenger’s first choice at the moment but at least he’s giving the manager some food for thought. He had another scoring chance from a Cazorla corner in the 83rd with a powerful header that Gomes palmed away.

Walcott started the game in the lone striker role and caught the attention of the Watford defense by the fourth minute. He met a cross from Ramsey for a downward header that Gomes saved. The England international then wasted three good situations by poorly timing his runs. He was clean through on goal in the fifth minute, the 13th and the 14th but was flagged offside each time. That’s one flaw I already mentioned in my analysis of the Chelsea game. Walcott has so much pace that he should never get caught offside. Instead of trying to be on the same line as the last defender, he just needs to start his run a yard behind to get the ball.

Ramsey’s smart runs

Ramsey sealed the win in the 74th by taking a pass from Bellerin to beat Gomes with a deflected shot. He netted his first goal for the club this season after also scoring in Wales’ 2-0 win over Andorra in a Euro 2016 qualifier last Tuesday. This should boost his confidence and increase the team’s scoring options. We shouldn’t expect Ramsey to be as prolific as in the 2013-14 season when he scored 10 goals in 23 league games, especially now that we have Sanchez, but a target of eight league goals would be reasonable. Ramsey made some smart runs in the first half but failed to catch the frame, sending a sliding effort over the bar after meeting a cross from Sanchez in the 29th and firing wide from a tight angle after taking a pass from Ozil on the stroke of halftime.

Ozil had another good game with an assist for Giroud’s goal and a penetrative run that led to Sanchez’s opener. Besides his passing skills, his movement in the final third is Ozil’s main asset. That’s why he should often be in good scoring positions. Then it’s all about composure in front of the net.

Cazorla’s defensive contribution

Cazorla pulled the strings in midfield with 100 passes, 27 more than any other player. Again, he sacrificed himself to preserve the balance of the team, winning 2 of 2 tackles, making 2 blocks and winning 66.7 percent of his duels (the best defensive stats among Arsenal midfielders). The Spaniard created the chance for the opener with a perfectly weighted pass for Ozil and could have also claimed two assists, first with a long ball for Sanchez in the 79th and then with a pinpoint corner kick for Giroud in the 83rd.

There was a time when Wenger injected a strong French flavor in his team with Henry, Vieira, Petit, Pires, Wiltord, Grimandi and Flamini. France is no longer a powerhouse of European football, which is now dominated by Spain and Germany. In Saturday’s starting lineup, there were three Spaniards, two Germans, two Frenchies, one Englishman, one Welsh, one Chilean and one Czech. Monreal and Bellerin proved reliable at fullback. Bellerin created two chances, first with a low cross for Monreal that was intercepted by Nyom in the 37th and then with a mazy run that led to Ramsey’s goal. A lot of youngsters at the academy must dream to walk in the steps of Bellerin, a regular starter at the age of 20.

£3 million a year

The Gunners had the match under control in the second half but were quite shaky in the first half defensively. Watford’s game plan was clearly to hit Arsenal on the fast break. Deeney stole the ball from Coquelin in the 11th to fire a long-range strike that Cech parried. Mertesacker was then caught out of position in the 19th and it took a sliding tackle from Koscielny to cut out Deeney’s pass for Ighalo. Koscielny put himself in trouble with a missed clearance in the 30th. Anya won the ball and fed Ighalo, whose low strike sailed wide under pressure from Monreal.

Cech also misread a play in the 43rd, straying outside his area while Mertesacker was in a good position for a clearance. The Gunners survived some poor communication as Mertesacker’s tame header bounced off Cech’s shoulder. From the moment the long ball for Deeney was hit with some backspin, Cech should have let Mertesacker make the play. The Hornets couldn’t capitalize on those half-chances, but you can bet those defensive frailties would be punished against a team like Bayern Munich.

I’d like to finish this post with last Thursday’s annual general meeting. I was disappointed that the shareholders couldn’t get any explanation about the three million pounds paid every year to Kroenke Sports and Entertainment. The chairman of the club said it was a fee for advisory services. Well, what kind of services? It can’t be services to sign players since Wenger and his network of scouts are more knowledgeable than KSE. Is it about our commercial revenues? Then KSE is doing a poor job since the club is way behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchesters in that area.

Defending the club’s interests?

Financially, it’s not as bad as when the Glazers created debt by taking over Manchester United through loans. But ethically, it doesn’t make sense to give away a dividend at a time when there are still some financial issues. The club is not done yet with interest and debt repayments for the construction of the Emirates stadium and it is also investing 13 million pounds in the redevelopment of the London Colney training ground and Hale End academy.

You’d think three million pounds is nothing for a club like Arsenal but over a 12-year period, it’s a total of 36 million pounds, the fee for signing a world-class player like Sanchez. Basically, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s no secret that the club no longer belongs to the fans. But does the board still defend the interests of the club?