Arsenal have been linked with a host of players since Wenger publicly threw open the transfer window and like Scrooge on Christmas morning yelled out to the rabble below:
“It’s transfer day! I haven’t missed it! The Champions League Ghosts have done it in one night.”
Then seeing a young man in the streets yelled down “Hallo boy, do you know Real Madrid and Chateauneuf du Tyne?”
“Why yes.” Replied the boy.
“I shall give you a Guinea to run and fetch me the fattest Benzema, a Cabaye, and have the butchers throw in a Flamini for free.”
“A Guinea? Wots that then? A fiver?” Yelled back the boy.
And thus Wenger’s transfer day splurge was kicked off with a lesson in decimalization which explains why the Benzema still hangs in the shop window waiting to be delivered to Tiny Tim.
While we wait for Arsene to learn about the Euro and the New Pound we have time to look into why he might be interested in both Benzema and Cabaye by looking at some of their individual stats.
Starting up front, Benzema is the kind of forward who thrives off service and is efficient once he gets the ball, much like Robin van Persie was for Arsenal and currently is for Man U. There is a meme going around that Arsenal “didn’t create enough” last year and that as a result we need more creative players — this is used to slate players like Benzema and Higuain.
The fact is that Arsenal created 36 more shots last season than Man U and yet scored 14 fewer goals. This has almost always been the case that United thrive on efficiency rather than putting shots down range. It’s also almost always been the case that just creating more doesn’t lead to winning titles but rather playing within your style to the best of your ability is the real key.
For example, Liverpool had the player that most of the “Arsenal didn’t create enough” folks want on the team (Suarez) and as a result the Scousers created 739 shots but only scored 71 goals — that’s 142 shots more than Arsenal created and 1 less goal than Arsenal scored. Clearly “creating more” isn’t the only answer. That’s not to say I’m opposed to Arsenal creating more, rather that there’s more than one way to skin a football.
Back to the player: Benzema’s efficiency comes into stark contrast once you see what he created over his three seasons with Madrid:
When we look at both Liga play and Champions League play, Benzema’s MPGA (minutes per goal or assist) numbers are very good: better than one per game. We also see a player who gets 100 shots per season (a good benchmark by itself), who gets over 50% of those shots on frame, and who needs just 5 shots per goal. Please note, Benzema’s goals all come from open play. Quite remarkable, really, when you consider that van Persie required about 6 shots per goal from open play with United last year.
The blot on Benzema’s copy book seems to be his record for France and especially his record over the last twelve months. But the problem with looking at his France international record is that we are talking about a small sample size, with matches spread out over several months.
So, for example, this 10 game French goal-scoring drought that everyone is concerned with. Taken out of context it looks bad, no striker wants to go 10 matches without scoring. But in context, it’s not terrible at all. Last spring, Benzema scored against Mallorca, goes off to play for France, doesn’t score for three games, comes back, scores against Galatasaray in the Champions League. Similarly in October of 2012: Benzema scores and assists against Ajax (bicycle kick “goalazo”) in the Champions League, assists against Barcelona 4 days later, goes off to play some internationals with France and doesn’t get on the scoresheet. Context, as you see, is everything here.
In fact, I think all this talk about Benzema being crap for France is just Arsenal fans feeding an almost pathological need to put a player down so that if (when, HA HA!) Arsenal don’t sign him for €50m we can say “well we didn’t want him anyway because his France record was crap.” Our psychology aside, Benzema is one of just a handful of forwards in world football who, if he can keep his form going from the last three years, could improve Arsenal’s efficiency in front of goal.
The other players Arsenal have been linked strongly to are Cabaye and Kondogbia — the all-rounder versus the destroyer. Again, this is an odd debate that Arsenal supporters seem to have and seem to, like the efficiency v. “shot creators” debate, talk over each other rather than see that there may be more than one way to look at a player’s usefulness.
Wenger very clearly will take either side of either debate. Arsenal nearly signed Higuain, Mr. Efficiency, before dropping the ball and going for Suarez, Mr. Createsacontroversy, and now we are supposedly back in for an efficient player in Benzema. Likewise in the midfield, Wenger’s first bid was for Bender who is a fantastic all round ball player, but when the Gunners were rebuked he turned to Luiz Gustavo, a known destroyer; and when Gustavo rejected Arsenal, Wenger reached out for Cabaye, an all-rounder, while keeping an eye on Sevilla’s Kondogbia, a destroyer*.
I’ve been tracking Cabaye since his France days and remember well when Newcastle announced his signature for a paltry £4m or so. At the time I said it was a steal and in fact his all round energy carried Newcastle in his first year there.
Cabaye gets a bad rap as a soft touch but the stats actually show a player who isn’t afraid to get stuck in to a tackle and he’s second on the tackles per 90 list on my graphic above. That said, he’s not a great tackler (he was around 50% successful last season) and has been pulled up by opposition fans for his tackles on Jay Spearing and Moussa Dembele. Huh… SIGN HIM UP!
Cabaye, though, is asked to do more at Newcastle because Newcastle are terrible. As a result we’ve got a look in to his offensive numbers and they don’t look too bad. His key passes per 90 (last season) is the highest among all the players I compared and shows that he can also lend a hand going forward (he also scores goals and has a handy foot from set plays).
Frankly, Cabaye is exactly the kind of signature you need if you’re a team like Arsenal and you’re looking for depth in midfield. He’s probably not good enough to displace Arteta permanently but he can cover for any of the three midfield positions (perhaps not as well in the Cazorla/Wilshere/Rosicky spot) that Arsenal need cover for. And like so many other players, needs to prove himself in this World Cup season.
For those who skimmed this article, shame. But the bottom line is that both Benzema and Cabaye make sense for Arsenal and will be solid additions to a team sorely lacking in depth.
*Some will take offense to these generalizations, they are meant as generalizations of those player’s play up to this point, not as some box which those players will always live in. Relax, people.