2019/2020 Mid Season Review: Which players Arsenal should retain, sell and recruit

With Arsenal’s 2019/2020 Premier League campaign at the half-way point, and the January transfer window now open, it’s an opportune time to examine the on-field production of each player in Arsenal’s senior squad, and the player market, in order to identify:

  • which players Arsenal should retain,
  • which players Arsenal should seek to move on, and
  • which players Arsenal should seek to recruit during the transfer window, based on their comparative on-field productivity.

Methodology

In assessing the on-field production and the comparative ranking of each player which comprise Arsenal’s senior squad, each player is allocated into eight positional categories (with some players allocated to multiple positional categories due to their perceived versatility).

Those positional categories consist of:

  • Goalkeeper,
  • Right fullback,
  • Centre back,
  • Left fullback,
  • Defensive midfield,
  • Centre midfield,
  • Attacking midfield, and
  • Striker.

Once categorised, each player’s output in defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for their respective positional category has then been considered, using data sourced from Whoscored.com.

To provide a realistic picture of each individual player’s on-field production, only data from those seasons, throughout the player’s professional career, where the player has started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive) was considered. Where a player has not, throughout their professional career, started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive), their productivity data was not assessed.

Different weightings were then assigned to the KPI data considered for each positional group based on the assumption that the cornerstones of Arsenal’s tactical approach is as follows:

  • Defensively: press the opponent when they are in their own half, and then when the ball transitions into Arsenal’s half, establish and maintain compactness by adopting a medium block, position focused pressing game, in which the forwards and midfielders prioritise retention of shape, and only press the ball when it goes out to an opposition fullback or when a centre back pushes forwards.
  • Offensively: transition the ball quickly forward on turnovers to create higher probability goal scoring opportunities, and create overloads on the flanks to generate cut back opportunities.
  • Arsenal’s goalkeeper’s primary aims is to stop shots and claim crosses.
  • Arsenal’s centre backs’ primary aims are to recover the ball from their opponent (tackles and interceptions), win aerial duels, clear the ball from danger and block shots.
  • Arsenal’s fullbacks’ primary aims are to recover the ball from their opponent (tackles and interceptions), execute multiple key passes during a match (with the intent of providing assists), and contribute to the team’s offensive transitional play through multiple forward dribbles per match.
  • Arsenal’s defensive midfielders’ primary aims are to recover the ball from their opponent (tackles and interceptions), and contribute to the team’s offensive transitional play through accurate passing, and multiple long range passes per match.
  • Arsenal’s central midfielders’ primary aims are to recover the ball from their opponent (tackles and interceptions), and contribute to the team’s offensive transitional play through accurate passing, and multiple forward dribbles per match.
  • Arsenal’s attacking midfielders’ primary aims are to provide assists, score goals, create goal scoring opportunities through multiple key passes, and multiple forward dribbles per match.
  • Arsenal’s strikers’ primary aims are to score goals, and record multiple shots and successful aerial duels per match.

Once the relative on field productivity of Arsenal’s current senior squad was assessed, the comparative KPI data (from Whoscored.com) of the players competing in the following leagues was then reviewed:

  • English Premier League,
  • Championship,
  • Serie A,
  • Ligue 1,
  • La Liga,
  • Bundesliga,
  • Bundesliga 2,
  • Liga NOS,
  • Eredivisie,
  • Russian Premier League,
  • Brasileirao,
  • Major League Soccer,
  • Super Lig,
  • Primera Division, and
  • Super League.

When considering players competing in the aforementioned leagues, certain clubs, who were subjectively deemed to be presently superior to Arsenal, were not considered. This included clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, and Atletico Madrid. This was designed to realistically account for Arsenal’s attractiveness as a prospective employer, based on the club’s current standing in European football (as a Europa League competitor) and as the 6th best Premier League side.

Also, only players from the aforementioned leagues who have, during their professional career, started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive) were considered. Where a player has not, throughout their professional career, started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive), their productivity data was not assessed. Again, this was designed to provide a realistic picture of each individual player’s on-field production.

The KPI data of the reviewed players was then contrasted against the KPI data of the players who currently comprise Arsenal’s senior squad, to identify prospective transfer targets.

Player rankings

Goalkeeper

Starting with the goalkeeping position, and while it’s unfair to judge Macey or Martinez’ suitability, as neither player has sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances, it is fair to say that last season’s recruit Bernd Leno, has delivered the sort of comparatively less impressive performances his career numbers indicated he was going to.

Given that, and there being a number of superior goalkeeping options which Arsenal could realistically pursue, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Leno, and recruit Esteban Andrada of Boca Juniors to serve as one of the club’s two senior goalkeepers.

In terms of the second of those two senior goalkeepers, with Martinez and Macey unproven but both considered ‘homegrown’ and there involvement likely to be limited, it would be logical for the club to retain either one of Martinez or Macey as the club’s second senior goalkeeper.

Right Fullback

In terms of the club’s contracted right fullback options, there is no player who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record, both offensively and defensively, to warrant selection as one of the team’s two senior right fullbacks.  While it’s unfair to judge Maitland-Niles or Osei-Tutu’s suitability, as neither  player have sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances, the consistent lack of defensive production from Bellerin, and the lack of offensive production from Mustafi, means neither player can genuinely be considered a complete right fullback worthy of either senior right fullback role.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted right fullback options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Bellerin, and recruit Ricardo Pereira of Leicester City to serve as one of the club’s two senior right fullbacks. However, given the exorbitant prices of recruiting existing Premier League players, it may be more financially prudent for Arsenal to pursue Sidibe of Monaco, to fill one of the two senior right fullback spots.

In terms of the second of those senior right fullbacks, with the Premier League’s homegrown rule meaning Arsenal need to have at least 5 homegrown players within the club’s 22-man squad, Arsenal could potentially retain one of Maitland Niles or Osei-Tutu, both of whom are homegrown but unproven, to fill that role.

That said, given the critical nature of defence, as the last line of protection for Arsenal’s goalkeeper, there is an argument that Arsenal should instead aim to recruit the next most productive right fullback to fill that second senior right fullback role. That being the case, the Gunners should look to sell Osei-Tutu, and target recruiting Jorge Moreira of Portland Timbers to fill that second senior right fullback spot.

Centre back

As for the club’s contracted centre back options, Arsenal fortunately have two players in Mustafi and Sokratis, who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to warrant selection as two of the club’s four senior centre backs.

As for the club’s other centre back options, while its unfair to judge Mavropanos, Holding or Saliba, as all three players have insufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances, in contrast to the players reviewed:

  • Chambers’ propensity to win aerial duels is inferior,
  • Luiz’s tackles per game record is inferior, as is his propensity to win aerial duels, and
  • Kolasinac’s interceptions per game record is inferior, as is his propensity to win aerial duels, and his per match clearance and block rates.

Needless to say, Mustafi and Sokratis aside, Arsenal lack a sufficient number of adequately productive centre back options.

That being the case, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Luiz and Chambers, at a minimum, and recruit Kyriakos Papadopolous of Hamburg, to serve alongside Mustafi and Sokratis at three of the club’s four senior central defenders.

In terms of the fourth centre back, Arsenal could potentially retain Holding, who is homegrown but unproven, to fill that role. Alternatively, the club could retain the unproven, and not homegrown, Saliba or Mavropanos.

That said, given the aforementioned critical nature of defence, there is a strong argument that Arsenal should instead aim to recruit the next most productive centre back available to fill that fourth senior centre back role. That being the case, Arsenal should sell Holding, Mavropanos and Saliba and recruit one of the following players:

  • Willy Boly of Wolverhampton Wolves
  • Sol Bamba of Cardiff City
  • Salif Sane of Schalke
  • Bruno Ecuele Manga of Dijon
  • Victor Cuesta of Internacional.

Left Fullback

Regarding the club’s contracted left fullback options, like the club’s right fullback contingent, there is no player who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficient performance record, both offensively and defensively, to warrant selection as one of the team’s two senior left fullbacks.

While it’s unfair to judge Tierney’s suitability, as his lack of sufficient professional experience doesn’t allow his performances to date to be appropriately assessed, in contrast to the players reviewed, Kolasinac’s tackles and interceptions per match records are inferior, as his propensity to execute key passes and dribbles per game.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Kolasinac, the inexperience of Tierney, and the critical nature of defence, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Kolasinac and Tierney, and recruit Rene of Flamengo and either Douglas Santos of Zenit or Ronald Matarrita of New York City, to serve as Arsenal’s two senior left fullbacks.

Defensive Midfield

As for the club’s contracted defensive midfield options, Arsenal fortunately have a player in Mustafi, who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to warrant selection as one of the club’s two senior defensive midfielders.

However, with Mustafi occupying one of the club’s four centre back spots, he can’t also be considered as one of the club’s two senior defensive midfielders.

In terms of the club’s other contracted defensive midfield options, it’s unfair to judge Elneny, Willock, Maitland Niles and Guendouzi’s suitability, as none of those players have had sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances.

As for Arsenal’s other defensive midfield options, in contrast to the players reviewed:

  • Xhaka’s interceptions per game record is comparatively inferior,
  • Torreira’s interceptions per game record is comparatively underwhelming, as is his inclination to attempt and execute accurate long-range passes per match,
  • Chambers’ tackles per game records is underwhelming, while his interceptions per match record and tendency to make accurate long-range passes per game are inferior,
  • Luiz’s tackles and interceptions per game record is comparatively inferior, and
  • Kolasinac’s interceptions per match record, tendency to make accurate long-range passes per game, and per match passing accuracy are all inferior.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted central midfield options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Xhaka and Torreira, and at a minimum, recruit one of the following to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior defensive midfielders:

  • Maxime Gonalons of Roma,
  • Milan Badelj of Lazio,
  • Ivan Marcone of Boca Juniors,
  • Asier Illarramendi of Real Sociedad,
  • Grzegorz Krychowiak of Lokomotiv Moscow,
  • Etienne Capoue of Watford,
  • Ellyse Skhiri of FC Koln,
  • Josuha Guilavogui of Wolfsburg,
  • Diego Demme of RB Leipzig,
  • Florian Grillitsch of Hoffenheim,
  • Sam Hutchinson of Sheffield Wednesday,
  • Charles Kabore of FC Dynamo Moscow,
  • Gregore of Bahia, or
  • Felipe Gutierrez of Kansas City.

In terms of the club’s second senior defensive midfielders, Arsenal could potentially retain Willock or Maitland Niles, both of whom are homegrown but unproven, to fill those roles. Alternatively, the club could retain the unproven, and not homegrown, Elneny or Guendouzi instead of either Willock or Maitland Niles.

That said, having highly productive and proven players in the defence midfield position is critical, given the position’s role as the last line of protection for Arsenal’s central defenders. That being the case, there is a strong argument that Arsenal should sell Elneny and Guendouzi and aim to recruit the next most productive defensive midfielder to fill that second senior defensive midfield role. As such, a second player from the aforementioned list, should be the Gunner’s key target to fill that second senior defensive midfield spot.

Centre Midfield

In terms of the club’s contracted central midfield options, it’s unfair to judge Smith-Rowe, Elneny, Willock, Maitland Niles and Guendouzi’s suitability, as none of those players have had sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other central midfield options, in contrast to the players reviewed:

  • Xhaka’s tackles and interceptions per game record and dribbles per match record are comparatively inferior, and
  • Torreira’s interceptions per game record is comparatively inferior, as is his inclination to attempt and execute dribbles per match.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted central midfield options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Xhaka and Torreira, and at a minimum, recruit two of:

  • Milan Badelj of Lazio,
  • Christoph Kamer of Borussia Moenchengladbach,
  • Ellyse Skhiri of FC Koln, and
  • Gregore of Bahia,

to serve as two of Arsenal’s four senior central midfielders.

In terms of the club’s third and fourth senior centre midfielders, Arsenal could potentially retain two of Willock, Smith-Rowe and Maitland Niles, all of whom are homegrown but unproven, to fill those roles. Alternatively, the club could retain the unproven, and not homegrown, Elneny and/or Guendouzi alongside or instead of Willock, Smith-Rowe or Maitland Niles.

While having highly productive and proven players in the defence and defensive midfield role is critical, given their function as the last line of protection for Arsenal’s goalkeeper, there is a strong argument that Arsenal have more flexibility to utilise unproven players to fulfil the third and fourth central midfield roles. That being the case, and given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Guendouzi and Elneny, and retain two of Willock, Smith Rowe and Maitland Niles, as the club’s third and fourth senior central midfielders.

Attacking Midfield

As for the club’s contracted attacking midfield options, it’s unfair to judge Smith-Rowe, Maitland Niles, Saka, Nelson or Martinelli’s suitability, as none of those players have had sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current attacking midfield options, in contrast to the players reviewed:

  • Pepe’s assist per season record, and key passes and shots per game record are all comparatively inferior,
  • Ozil’s goals per season record is inferior, as is his propensity to shoot and dribble per game,
  • Mkhitaryan’s assists and goals per season record is comparatively inferior, as is his key passes per game record, and his propensity to shoot per match, and
  • Lacazette’s assists per season record is inferior, as is his key passes, shots and dribbles per game record.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted attacking midfield options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Pepe, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, and Lacazette, at a minimum, and recruit Hakim Ziyech of Ajax to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior attacking midfielders.

In terms of the club’s second senior attacking midfielders, while having highly productive and proven players in the striking role is critical, given their primary function is to score the bulk of the side’s goals, there is a strong argument that Arsenal have more flexibility to utilise unproven players to fulfil the backup attacking midfield roles. That being the case, and given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Martinelli and retain one of Maitland Niles, Saka, Nelson, or Smith-Rowe, to serve as the club’s second senior attacking midfielders.

Striker

In terms of the club’s contracted striker options, there is no player who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record, in contrast to the players’ reviewed, to warrant selection as one of the team’s two senior strikers. 

While it’s unfair to judge Nkeitah, Nelson, Saka or Martinelli’s suitability, as none of those players have sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances, regarding the club’s other current striker options, in contrast to the players reviewed:

  • Pepe and Lacazette’s goals per season and shots and successful aerial duels per match records are comparatively inferior, and
  • Aubameyang’s goals per season and successful aerial duels per game record is comparatively inferior.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted striking options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Lacazette, Pepe and Aubameyang, at a minimum, and recruit Luuk de Jong of Sevilla to serve as one of Arsenal’s four senior strikers.

In terms of the second, third and fourth strikers, while having highly productive and proven players in the striking roles is critical, given their primary function is to score the bulk of the side’s goals, Arsenal need to balance this with the need to comply with the Premier League homegrown rule. That being the case, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Martinelli, recruit Simon Terrode of FC Koln and Bas Dost of Eintracht Frankfurt, and retain one of Nketiah, Saka or Nelson.

Summary of transfer activity

Summary of transfers

Freddie08

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