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Ramalan itu Terealisasi! Mesut Özil, The Second Coming

Seri Model Finansial Arsenal Bagian Ketiga

Di dalam tulisan saya sebelumnya, Model Finansial Arsenal bagian pertama dan kedua, ada prediksi bahwa Arsenal akan belanja besar di awal musim 2014. Dalam dua tulisan tersebut dijelaskan mengapa Arsenal mesti “irit” sejak pembangunan stadion baru, Emirates Stadium, dan mengapa awal musim 2014 adalah masa berakhirnya paceklik pembelian pemain besar. Masa belanja besar itu ternyata dimulai satu tahun lebih awal dari skenario, dengan dibelinya Mesut Özil dari Real Madrid di deadline transfer window musim ini. Sebuah transfer yang tidak hanya memecahkan rekor Arsenal sebelumnya namun juga menjadi rekor pembelian pemain termahal kedua (£42.5M) di Premier League, setelah transfer Torres (£50M) dari Liverpool ke Chelsea.

Rahasia Sukses Arsenal Membeli Özil
Mengapa Arsenal bisa membeli Özil sedangkan klub kaya EPL lainnya tidak? Ada beberapa jawaban yang berkontribusi terhadap suksesnya pembelian terbaik transfer window ini, antara lain:
1. Punya cadangan dana cash yang melebihi seluruh klub EPL (hasil tabungan 8 tahun).
2. Kesabaran dalam menunggu timing transfer yang tepat.
Saat City sudah menghabiskan budgetnya untuk membeli pemain dari klub-klub kelas dua, dan Chelsea menutup pembelanjaannya dengan membajak Willian dari Sp*rs, Arsenal belum menyentuh pundi-pundinya. Hanya MU klub EPL yang masih mungkin membajak Özil di saat-saat terakhir namun gerak MU terlambat dan ada faktor lain yang membuat Arsenal akan selalu lebih unggul dari MU di kasus ini. Kesabaran dalam menanti pemain yang benar-benar top ini akhirnya berbuah manis. Özil adalah pemain yang lebih baik daripada semua nama pemain penyerang target Arsenal yang beredar di media. Mulai dari Higuain, Jovetic, Rooney, Suarez, Di Maria dan terakhir Draxler. Pepatah Save the best for last benar-benar dijalankan Arsenal. Sebuah keputusan yang beresiko tinggi namun bila sukses, seperti dalam kasus ini, akan sangat memuaskan.
3. Manager yang dihormati pemain top dunia dan bisa berbahasa Jerman.
Özil mengatakan cukup satu pembicaraan lewat telepon untuk meyakinkan dirinya bahwa Wenger adalah manager yang tepat untuk mengembangkan dirinya ke level yang lebih tinggi. Sebuah keputusan yang tidak mudah mengingat di usianya yang hampir 25 tahun ini, ia mengambil keputusan di klub mana ia akan mencapai puncak permainannya. Kepercayaannya pada Wenger tentunya berdasarkan pada reputasi Wenger sebagai pencipta bintang dan pembicaraan dalam bahasa ibunya sedikit banyak berpengaruh dalam menumbuhkan kepercayaan itu. Bayangkan kalau Özil harus berkomunikasi dengan Moyes (dengan aksen Scouser-nya) lewat translator di telepon. Mungkin ia akan lebih memilih bercakap-cakap dengan Siri daripada menghabiskan waktu berjam-jam hanya untuk mengerti rencana Moyes menduetkannya dengan pemain basket berambut jadul di lini tengah.
4. Blunder dari Sp*rs.
Penjualan Bale ke Madrid memungkinkan transfer ini terjadi. Hampir tidak pernah terjadi dalam sejarah klub sebesar Madrid, penjualan salah satu pemain terbaik di usia puncak. Hal ini hanya dimungkinkan karena mereka membeli superstar termahal dalam sejarah sepakbola modern. Untuk me-recoup sebagian dari pengeluaran itu, Madrid harus menjual pemainnya. Ancelotti memilih mempertahankan Di Maria daripada Özil dan Arsenal yang memiliki kontak yang dekat dengan Madrid, punya opsi untuk mendapatkan salah satu di antara dua. Upaya Sp*rs untuk menggagalkan transfer ini bernasib sama dengan upaya mereka mengalahkan Arsenal dengan pembelian £100 juta-nya. Bahkan panggilan telepon di saat-saat terakhir dari Levy untuk menggagalkan transfer Özil ke Arsenal diabaikan Perez. Strategic partnership antara Sp*rs dan Madrid ternyata hanya menguntungkan Arsenal. Alih-alih mimpi finish di atas Arsenal, penjualan Bale malah membantu Arsenal menjadi penantang serius juara liga musim ini. Ironis. Forever in our shadow.

Dampak Transfer Özil
Bila Bergkamp yang pertama kali mengenalkan fans Arsenal pada mukjizat sehingga membuat kita yakin kalau Tuhan itu ada, maka Özil adalah kedatangan kedua, the second coming. Setelah menunggu dan menunggu sekian lama sejak mukjizat pertama, saat yang dinanti akhirnya tiba. Özil akan mengubah Walcott menjadi Henry lewat assist-assistnya. Ia juga akan mengangkat level permainan skuad Arsenal secara keseluruhan. Playmaker terbaik di generasinya akan menjadi solusi problem kreativitas Arsenal musim lalu. Bayangkan Cazorla, Özil dan Ramsey/Wilshere memporak-porandakan lini pertahanan lawan. Dan karena Özil sang top assister seluruh Eropa ini nyaman bermain di kotak penalti lawan, hal yang tidak dimiliki pemain tengah Arsenal musim lalu, jumlah gol Arsenal bisa bertambah 15-20 gol dari musim lalu. Salah satu prasyarat untuk menjadi juara liga.
Di luar lapangan bola, transfer Özil ini mengubah persepsi terhadap klub bola ini. Bila Arsenal sebelumnya dianggap tidak berambisi, hanya mencari untung, tidak berani membeli pemain mahal, maka sekarang persepsi ini berubah total. Walaupun sesungguhnya langkah ini sudah menjadi bagian dari strategi jangka panjang Arsenal (lihat artikel Model Finansial Arsenal), pembelian Özil mempermudah publik dan fans Arsenal untuk percaya kalau Arsenal memang punya strategi jangka panjang untuk menjadi klub sukses secara finansial dan prestasi lapangan. Wenger mengatakan ia hanya akan membeli top top quality player, dan hal itu ia buktikan. Tidak ada pemain yang lebih baik dari Özil di transfer window EPL musim ini. Pembelian Özil menjadi benchmark transfer Arsenal berikutnya. Pembelian pemain berikutnya dengan harga kisaran £30-40 juta sekarang tidak lagi menjadi hal yang tidak tercapai bagi Arsenal. Arsenal sekarang beroperasi di wilayah klub bola seperti Bayern Muenchen, government clubs (duo La Liga) dan sugar daddy clubs soal pembelian pemain. Siapa yang berikutnya kita harapkan bergabung? Reus, Gundogan, Draxler menjadi nama-nama yang realistis, bukan lagi mimpi di siang bolong. Pembelian Özil menjadi daya tarik pemain-pemain top di luar Arsenal untuk bergabung, sebagaimana Bergkamp dulu menarik pemain seperti Overmars, Vieira, Petit, Henry, dan lainnya untuk bergabung. Selain daya tarik Arsene Wenger tentunya.
Boleh disimpulkan, pembelian Özil meletakkan kembali Arsenal di jajaran klub elit dan kaya dunia. First tier club yang belanja dari klub first tier juga. Wenger tentu akan terus mencari pemain muda dan bargain buy seperti Sanogo, Flamini, Viviano, namun ia juga tidak akan ragu membayar super mahal untuk pemain luar biasa seperti Özil.

Skuad Terkuat Arsenal
Ada pengamatan menarik dari Flamini di wawancara terbarunya di Arsenal.com soal skuad musim ini. Menurutnya banyak persamaan antara skuad musim ini dengan skuad musim 2007/2008, yaitu rasa kebersamaan yang kuat. Masih kita ingat di musim itu pertemanan antara Flamini-Fabregas-Rosicky-Hleb sangat erat di dalam dan luar lapangan. Musim itu Arsenal memimpin klasemen dengan meyakinkan sampai bulan Februari. Permainan terbaik Arsenal sejak pindah ke stadion baru diperagakan mereka. One touch football, lini tengah yang mendominasi dan saling memback-up satu sama lain adalah ciri khas skuad musim itu. Hanya patah kakinya Eduardo yang bisa menghentikan langkah Arsenal saat itu. Shock mendera seluruh pemain dan Wenger gagal mengembalikan fokus ditambah perilaku moody sang kapten Gallas menurunkan Arsenal ke posisi ketiga.
Musim ini, semangat kebersamaan sangat kuat dan terasa di pre-season tour. Pemain egois telah keluar dari tim. Sisanya adalah pekerja keras yang siap memback-up satu sama lain. Ada kemungkinan besar performa di musim 2007/2008 bisa terulang kembali minus shock di penghujung musim. Semenjak Eduardo, sudah ada tiga pemain Arsenal yang mengalami cedera parah, jadi ini sudah bukan hal baru lagi. Selain itu kematangan pemain Arsenal musim ini jauh lebih baik daripada 5 tahun lalu. Dengan tambahan Özil dan Flamini, skuad Arsenal musim ini bisa berpotensi menjadi yang terkuat semenjak pindah dari Highbury. Kebersamaan antar pemain (baca: Victoria Concordia Crescit) dan cedera pemain menjadi kunci keberhasilan. Apabila Arsenal mampu mengembalikan pemain yang cedera lebih cepat ke full training dan menjaga tidak ada lagi cedera parah lanjutan, musim ini akan ada banyak kejutan yang bagus untuk Gooners. Walaupun tentunya akan sangat sulit mengalahkan kejutan pembelian Özil ini. Belum ada yang namanya third coming di kitab suci manapun.

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Nice Guy Higuain or Monster Suarez? The New Badass Arsenal Know What They Want

In the wake of Arsenal audacious (or controversy) bid of £40,000,001 for Suarez, Gooners everywhere have been divided like the parting of the Red Sea. And we could assume that Liverpool fans felt insulted by that cheeky additional one pound coin. Apparently that weird amount of bid was designed based on advice from Suarez agent, in order to trigger one clause in his contract. Liverpool and the player camp have different interpretations of that clause and no doubt Arsenal decided to exploit it. Whatever the outcome, this bid will unsettle the player and provoke debates among fans, agents and lawyers for the coming days.

I won't discuss about Suarez controversy here. I'd rather recommend this excellent post, The Suarez Dilemma, for the debate on his moral and wrongdoings. Let's us focus on the Arsenal side. Did we really want him or Higuain? Napoli seem certain to sign Higuain within today or tomorrow, and for some Arsenal fans it was considered as a miss opportunity from the Gunners. We decided to drop out of a cheaper player and put all of our eggs inside one controversy basket. But let's check the facts again. Did we really lose Higuain or Suarez was our target from the very beginning?

Transfer Timeline

A lot of things happened in the month of June and July. I tried to gather data from several news outlet and made a compilation of transfer rumors of Higuain and Suarez in these two months.

June

01 – In the month of May, Juventus declared interest in Higuain. They're looking for a top striker. On first of June, Higuain came out with a statement: "I've decided to leave Real Madrid."

11 – Arsenal made Higuain enquiry. Report said we're ready to break our transfer record.

20 – Arsenal tabled a £21M bid for Higuain, Juventus couldn't match it, dropped their interest.

24 – Higuain father's comment on the bid said his son might be interested to play in the Premier League

July

03 – Arsenal increased bid to £23M. Report said Real Madrid asked for higher price, demanded £25.5M.

04- Higuain father said deal were close, Madrid allowed them for negotiation of personal term. Several media confirmed Higuain will fly to London in the next few days. On the same day report of betting suspension of Suarez to Arsenal. Apparently on 3rd July, there were lots of bets put for Suarez to Arsenal transfer.

07 – Arsenal bid £30M + £5M add-on for Suarez

08 – Perez came out saying Real Madrid never received a bid for Higuain.

15 – Liverpool came out in public saying there was an offer from Arsenal for Suarez and that they had rejected it.

16 – Napoli sold Cavani for £54.4M to PSG.

17 – Napoli declared interest in Higuain.

19 – Rumor of Arsenal preparing a second bid of £40M bid for Suarez

22 – Napoli bid for Higuain, bid accepted. Higuain asked time for considering future (probably waiting for Arsenal to come back with improved bid)

23 – Instead of coming back for Higuain, Arsenal submitted a second bid of £40M+£1 for Suarez.

Napoli agreed £31.8M Higuain fee.

24 – Higuain agreed personal term.

So what's your call on this issue after checking the timeline? Did Arsenal lose Higuain or reject Higuain for Suarez?

My "conclusion" of above interlinked events:

1. Arsenal have fund to bid in excess of £20M, £30M and even £40M.

2. Higuain was Arsenal first target considering the relative easiness to sign. The player wanted out, Madrid wanted to sell albeit at their own valuation. Suarez was listed but not considered yet due to the high price and probably eventual bidding war with Madrid.

3. Arsenal and Madrid have agreed on £25.5M but Madrid hiked the price to £34.5M (from €30m to €40m according to several sources) after Arsenal's talk with Higuain.

4. Arsenal were clearly disappointed with Madrid unprofessional manner (probably giving them the middle finger). Arsenal might rate Higuain as rotational player to compete with Giroud upfront, but not as the £30M main striker. Wenger said in pre-season tour that the problem with Giroud was not quality but quantity (we have only one striker capable of playing upfront – sorry Theo).

5. To piss off Madrid, Arsenal dropped Higuain interest and went totally for Madrid's target, Luis Suarez. "Why should we settle with your back up striker when we could afford your transfer target?" This might be what Ivan thought of at that heated moment.

6. Ivan consulted Wenger, and Wenger gave an approval. Probably he's more than happy since he rated Suarez very highly. A 30 goals a season striker, someone who can create his own goal, and who could play as LW. Suddenly, we would be provided with more variations of combinations. Wenger was salivating at the prospect of starting Suarez, Giroud and Walcott upfront.

7. Some ITKs heard Wenger and Ivan Gazidis conversation. Cheekily put lots of bets for Suarez to Arsenal. This happened on the 3rd of July. The same day Madrid informed us of the Higuain "new" price. Quick decision on transfer twist was made by Wenger and Gazidis.

8. Poor Higuain a victim of Madrid's greed. Arsenal then bid for Suarez with a opening bid of £30M+£5M add-on, matching what Madrid asked for Higuain. Madrid learned about this new development, got very angry and asked Marca to write about it (Headline translation: Why did this "crazy" Arsenal bid for Suarez rather than increase their bid for Higuain, at our price?). Perez also came out in public saying they never received bid from Arsenal. He was so pissed off that he lied in public for the hundredth time.

9. Liverpool rejected Arsenal first bid. The agents informed Arsenal of the £40M clause. Madrid at the end got what they wanted with around £3M less from cash-rich Napoli. Inflated price for sure, but we can expected that after a mega signing (cue: Liverpool after Torres sale).

10. Arsenal have moved on from Higuain and look confident to secure Suarez with that controversial clause. Helped by his agent, they designed a cheeky £40M+£1 bid. This bid certainly would upset Liverpool management. Probably this was designed for that purpose. To incite uproar in the Liverpool camp. Why? Because Arsenal are not the nice selling club anymore. We're the badass buying club now. Remember how the big boys used to unsettle or tap up our players? We're doing it now to Liverpool, unfortunately.

So what's next? Liverpool certainly were not entertained with our cheeky bid.

@John_W_Henry: What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?

For this transfer to happen, Suarez needs to agitate for a move. And we wouldn't bid for him if there was no interest from his side. I think he will pull a "RVP" on Liverpool and Liverpool eventually will succumb. They should learn from our mistake. It's better to let the player leave early and go for his replacements (they could buy more than one player with that money) than doing it at the deadline. We know it's not nice, but that's the thing of we have to get used to for becoming a "buying club".

How about Madrid? IMHO they will go for Bale and they can't afford both. They haven't signed a galacticos while their rival have signed Neymar. But let's wait and see. Arsenal are prepared to finish this war they started until the end of the transfer window. Suarez or none. It's a gamble worth taking just like when United signed Van Pursestring. They waited and waited until the public statement, the agitation, and finally got the only striker they wanted near the end of transfer window (middle of August). And basically we're doing the same thing now. So be patient.

I personally think Suarez will join us in August but he certainly will not do it based on the voice of "little boy" inside of him. He is a monster, rite? He suits this new badass "buying club" Arsenal.

Let me know of your version in the comment sections. Feel free to do it as you wish but let's keep the discussion of racism and morality out of this blog. This post is about guessing Arsenal intention not about talking of moral high ground on football players. We can discuss about it another time.

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Why Walcott Upfront is The Inevitable Move by Wenger

Walcott played on Monday at Reading and Arsenal won with a convincing 5-2 score. Many people thought the move to play Walcott upfront was related to his contract extension. They thought it might be a move by Wenger to appease Walcott so he would sign the new contract offered. But Wenger rejected that suggestion by saying he took the decision based on what he saw and tried in training. He might not say the whole story behind it but analyzing Arsenal previous Premier League matches, we would understand why playing Walcott upfront is the inevitable move by Wenger.

This is not a comprehensive and in-depth post about football tactics since I’m not capable to do it. This is a simple common sense analysis based on a few graphics of player average positions from whoscored.com.

Let’s start from their 5-2 win of Sp*rs and end it with another 5-2 win of Reading. I excluded the last Champions League and Capital One Cup matches by intention. Check the Arsenal player average positions, especially the forwards on these seven graphics below.

1. Arsenal vs Tottenham

Arsenal 5 - 2 Tottenham

Arsenal 5 – 2 Tottenham

Giroud played as CF flanked by Podolski and Walcott. Look at Walcott average position (he’s so farther into the enemy territory compared to the rest) and compare it with Podolski who played more like a left midfielder. You can compare it again with Bale (11) who played closer to Defoe (18). Giroud average position was also closer to Wilshere and Cazorla than Walcott. Mind you that 43% of Sp*rs 7 shots came from their left flank though Walcott managed to keep Naughton (16) and Verthongen (5) busy at their left flank too. Arsenal finally won after the Adebayor sent off. Against 10 men, Arsenal have more space to exploit than the first twenty minutes when they struggled to create chances.

2. Arsenal vs Montpellier

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier

Giroud played upfront flanked by Podolski and Chamberlain. Walcott was injured. Again Giroud average position was not farther upfront than Cazorla. Giroud setup Wilshere (knocking down the ball from the air) and Podolski (beautiful one touch lob ball) for their goals and here are Wenger words after the game:

You always know with Olivier that you will get a guy who fights for the team. Technically it was not one of his best games, but after matches when you measure his performance it is [often] decisive.

He had two assists here. Defensively he is always very reliable.

Giroud is good when he plays completely on the offside line.

Sometimes when he doesn’t get the ball enough he wants to come deep. That is not his game.

When he is a target man and uses his link-up play, he is fantastic because he can win in the air, he can score with his feet and can be a complete striker.

He still has some work to do, but he is getting better.

Wenger’s advice of playing completely on the offside line might not be heard clearly by Giroud as proven in his next few games.

3. Aston Villa vs Arsenal

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal

Giroud again played upfront with Chambo and Podolski. Wilshere didn’t start (replaced by Ramsey). The average positions are almost similar to the previous game and so are the attempts on goal. No change of Giroud average position despite of Wenger’s advice of playing on the offside line.

4. Everton vs Arsenal

Everton 1-1 Arsenal

Everton 1-1 Arsenal

Walcott played again in this game, surprisingly started as left winger (and scored his goal from that position) instead of his usual right winger position. Ramsey played as right winger but from the average position it’s clear that he tended to play inside. Giroud again started as CF but ended up as not the furthest upfront. The difference in average position of him and Jelavic (7) as CF from both teams is so obvious. From the above graphic it was as if Giroud played as second striker to Walcott. And the lack of width in Arsenal play in this game is so obvious. Ramsey kept going inside and Vermaelen was so comfortable at his own half as if Arsenal were playing with three center backs.

5. Arsenal vs Swansea

Arsenal 0-2 Swansea

Arsenal 0-2 Swansea

Giroud didn’t start this time (injured) and he was replaced by Gervinho. Gervinho supposed to play at the center but he ended up played more to the left flank, seizing Podolski territory. Walcott interestingly played not farther upfront than his previous two games (Tottenham and Everton). From this graphic it looks like no one wanted to play center upfront. Arsenal stretched the game but no one inside the box to convert the chances. Swansea attempted more shots than Arsenal and caught Arsenal twice in their three shots from counter attacks. Sucker punches hurt the flat Arsenal in this game.

6. Arsenal vs WBA

Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich

Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich

Giroud returned as CF in this game. His average position is so close to Cazorla that you barely could see his number in above graphic. Gervinho as left winger and Chambo as right winger. Although Arsenal played much much better in this match than previous matches (more attempts on goal), two of the goals came from penalties. And for the first time after a long long time Arsenal managed to shoot after a counterattack. From the average positions, except Giroud who still refused to play farther upfront, the distances between players are better. No coincidence Arsenal played their best football here since the 5-2 win over Tottenham.

7. Reading vs Arsenal

Reading 2-5 Arsenal

Reading 2-5 Arsenal

5 goals, 26 attempts on goal, 4 shots from counterattacks, Walcott played upfront. Looking at the the average position graphic, it’s clear why Arsenal played their best football at Reading. Walcott played so farther upfront than Giroud ever managed and it was followed by Chamberlain and Podolski. Arsenal stretched the game vertically and horizontally better than any of their previous games resulted in Cazorla (playing with free role) scoring a hat-trick.

Better width with four of Arsenal goals from left flank crosses. No longer Arsenal players packed in the middle of the pitch because Walcott movement pulled Reading defenders away, provided more space between the lines for Cazorla and Wilshere. Chamberlain said they have been working on this in the training and eventually it was implemented successfully in this game.

Conclusion

Arsenal play better with Walcott upfront, that’s a fact at least based on these seven games. It’s not because Walcott is a better striker than Giroud, but because he made the whole team playing better with more width and vertical space. Giroud should listen to Wenger’s advice: plays completely on the offside line. With the competition provided by Walcott, surely he will heed the advice of the wise and play like that sooner than later. He can hold up the ball better than Walcott, he has more options with his height and he has scored more goals than Walcott in a competition season. Of course Walcott has more pace than him, but Giroud has also proven that his diagonal run from the offside line could be intelligent like the one (where he missed the target) at Liverpool.

So based on the last few games and I’m sure Wenger also has read these average positions stats (and probably more stats and videos), Wenger might have it enough with Giroud and finally played Walcott upfront to show Giroud how stretching the game vertically will only benefit our game. We can only hope Walcott continues his good performance in the next match against Wigan and eventually signs his new contract (it’s never about the money, isn’t it?). And if he refuses to sign it, hopefully Giroud could perform what Walcott did and I believe he’s capable to. He just needs to restrain his urge to come deep to get the ball. It’s not his game, as Wenger said. Just listen to the boss and you’ll be fine. As proven by many stars made by Le Boss.

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