“I expected Aaron Ramsey to be in there as well with 10 or 15. We need another player who gets 10 or 15 goals but we have a good mentality and good cohesion in the team. There is something happening. You can see that.”
That’s what Arsene Wenger said after we thrashed Liverpool at the Emirates this season. In the immediate aftermath people interpreted his words as if Arsene wants to bring another player from the outside. After the dust had settled, it dawned on a lot of fans the Frenchman didn’t say “I want to buy a 10-15 goal player”, rather he was quoted saying “We need another player who gets 10-15 goals”. As such, he could have meant an internal solution.
No, not promoting Akpom or Gnabry in the hopes they can score the amount of goals in question. Getting more out of the existing personnel, players like Oxlade or Welbeck, seems more likely. However, my colleague Andrea has explored this possibility in depth here, so I won’t stop on it any further.
Rather, I want to concentrate on another problem entirely, one which seemed pretty straightforward at first, but not so much after I gave it some thought. Namely: what is easier: scoring an extra 10-15 goals or conceding 10-15 less? What is more efficient, achievable? What is Arsene more likely to do, try to add extra firepower in the hopes that more goals will get us a better end result or stitch up our defense so that additional clean sheets help us grind out points?
I’ll start with this option, simply because it seems Wenger is more inclined to go this way. Why? Because we haven’t been linked with a lot of attacking-minded players, but look to be on the brink of signing Cech. Moreover, Howedes recently confirmed Arsenal made him an offer. It’s not crystal clear whether we made that offer in winter or very recently, but the important thing here is that Arsene seems keen on improving our defensive record.
This year we have conceded 36 league goals, but only 11 of these came after Ospina claimed the spot between the sticks as his own. In other words, we have conceded 11 goals in 18 games.
Now, I’m not saying it’s entirely down to Ospina: it’s not. He certainly chipped in with his calming presence, one which Szczesny is yet to learn how to exude (assuming he stays), however, Coquelin also blossomed around mid-January + we finally stabilised our back four.
Whichever way you put it, 11 goals in 18 games is impressive. Had we kept this rate up from the very beginning, we would have conceded roughly 23-24. Chelsea, with their famous double-decker, conceded 32. Southampton 33.
And yet Arsene is looking at our defense. He hinted Gabriel will feature more, Cech deal has been done to death already. For me, it’s hard to say exactly how much impact Cech can make on his own. Sure, he is a great goalkeeper, but how many goals can he prevent all by himself? How many points can he get us on a one-man mission?
My friend, a United fan, said De Gea was immense this season. That he bailed his team out of trouble time and again. That the Spaniard alone got United 12 points minimum. Let’s assume this is true: can Cech do the same? If he can win us 12 points on top of the ones we earned this season it will just about suffice to win the league.
However, we shouldn’t forget two things: United had a very leaky defense this year, which contributed to De Gea’s image of being a great goalkeeper. We, as I’ve demonstrated above, did grand in the 2nd half of the season with a goalie between the sticks who most consider mediocre. Moreover, let’s assume Cech wouldn’t have the mistakes our goalies made this season. Ospina made a grand total of one (against West Brom) and it didn’t matter anyway. Let’s say Cech would have kept out Gomis’ header. Alright, that’s one point in 18 games taken aboard.
Szczesny wasn’t at all impressive prior to him being benched, but how many clangers did he drop? He made 11 errors over the course of TWO last seasons, 5 led to goals. Even if all 5 happened in 2014-2015 and even if these 5 goals were the only difference between a draw and a win (which they weren’t), we get a maximum of extra 10 points.
So Cech could have (hypothetically) won us 13 points. These probably would have sufficed, but only just and only after a great push of imagination from me. (All goalie stats courtesy of @AFCStatReport. You can find his article here).
It’s going to be another push of imagination from me, though a considerably lesser one. In short, if I had to choose between buying a new goalie and purchasing a player who can get us extra 10-15 goals, I would have chosen the latter. Here’s why.
I can easily single out a number of games, where one goal would have been the difference between one point and all three. Here they are
- Leicester (a)
- Tottenham (h)
- Chelsea (h)
- United (a)
- Sunderland (h)
I haven’t counted in Everton, Hull and City, because in the first two instances we were chasing the game and got a point thanks to a last-gasp equaliser, while with City we have conceded late, surrendering our winning positions. All those games could have in fact been won with a better defensive effort. However, I think we can add Swansea at home to this list, because had we scored at some point prior to 85th minute, we would have probably won.
So, in these 6 games we managed to pick up 5 points only. Scoring mere 7 extra goals (2 against Swansea) could have seen us get 18 points out of 18. Only Chelsea presents a problem in this list, every other team is not that hard to score an extra goal against.
I have only used up 7 goals, I still have (hypothetically) 3-8 goals left and we would have won the league title even with these extra 7, finishing on 88 points with Chelsea on 86. I think even the existing personnel is capable of that final little push. We were highly unlucky to have Oxlade and Welbeck injured in the last month (when 4 games out of these 6 occurred), while Walcott and Wilshere were still regaining match sharpness. At the outset of the campaign we had other factors at play which prevented us from picking up more points: injuries to key players, instability at the back and post-World Cup syndrome. Alas.
When it comes right down to it, it’s all speculation on my part to while away the time, both mine and yours. However, I don’t think defenders and even goalkeepers should be our prime concern: as I’ve demonstrated with solid numbers, not just opinion-based blabber, we had an astoundingly good second half of the season. We don’t need extra defenders based on that. We don’t need a new keeper.
What we really need is a settled back four and an injury-free season. If we manage to accomplish that, I’m not so sure we need any fresh recruitments at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t want Arsene to bring anyone in, or won’t be excited when he does. I also don’t think all the players who can improve us are out of our reach. I am just of the opinion we have enough potential to challenge even without new faces.
Over and out