(This piece was originally posted on Chance Analytics).
The summer of 2016. Premier League clubs spent a colossal £1 billion on transfers. Established players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz, Ilkay Gundogan, and Henrikh Mkhitharyan moved to England. Young stars like Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, and Eric Bailly were also acquired by Premier League clubs. The most expensive transfer yet – Paul Pogba for €105 million – was made by Manchester United.
But how well did Premier League clubs fare in the transfer market? Which of these transfers were actually good last season? I went around looking at players who moved to any top 10 Premier League team. Here we go.
It’s Arsene Wenger’s 20th season in charge of Arsenal and he’s motivated. I have stats for three people Wenger signed this summer, so I’ll be looking at those three only.
- Granit Xhaka
Previous Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Price: €45 million
The first time I came across Granit Xhaka’s brilliance was when I was doing research for my post on Stefan Reinartz’s Packing metric. Xhaka took out 55 players per game in the European Championship of 2016.
Arsene Wenger snapped up Xhaka this summer. And then I saw how much he bought him for – 45 MILLION EUROS! How can Wenger do that? He rarely buys players for over €15 million, and now he blows up €45 million? I also looked at Xhaka’s stats. Not very good. At Borussia Mönchengladbach he generated only 0.8 key passes p90, his scoring contribution (non-penalty goals + assists) was only 0.1, and his successful dribbles p90 count was only 1.1.
But then I decided to do what Ted Knutson always does – use radars. I used Ted Knutson’s center-midfielder template, entered the data and voilá, Xhaka looks like a great deep-lying midfielder!
Take a look at the left-hand side of the radar. He produced many long balls, won the ball back many times, and was rarely dribbled past. In terms of attack, he was adept at creating through balls.
But there is one problem. Granit Xhaka received 5 yellow cards, 2 second yellows and 1 red card last year. Because of suspensions, Xhaka missed 6 games. Wenger has to keep an eye on Xhaka and teach him discipline. Apart from that, Xhaka never missed a match due to injuries.
Xhaka, if you set aside his rash tackles, was a good holding midfielder, and will grow because of his position on the aging curve. But his price is way too high. If Wenger had bought him for <€30 million, Xhaka would have been the signing of the summer.
- Shkodran Mustafi
Previous Club: Valencia CF
Price: €41 million
Okay, I don’t think Wenger is in charge of transfers at Arsenal anymore. Yet another transfer fee over €40 million. There aren’t too many ways to evaluate a center-back, so I’ll just look at what kind of center-back he is. Here too I’m using Ted Knutson’s parameters for the center-back radar.
Mustafi looks decent. He is great in the air and isn’t bad at winning the ball. However, he gets dribbled past a lot, which is undesirable for a center-back. Also, only 55% of long balls played by Mustafi reach the target, although that’s not the greatest problem.
Another cause for concern is his injury problems. Injuries are what bar Wenger from lifting the Premier League trophy every season. Mustafi missed four games last year due to a muscle injury. He was also dropped by the Valencia manager four times. But as Arsenal have a reliable back-up center-back in Gabriel Paulista, Mustafi’s absence won’t be an issue.
Wenger, or whoever made the transfer, should have paid way, way less for Mustafi. They should have known of Valencia’s huge debt problems. Valencia would have been happy to sell off a center-back for around €20 million, so that they can move towards paying off their debts. But the fee is a bargain if you look at Mustafi’s high release clause of €45 million.
- Lucas Perez
Previous Club: Deportivo La Coruña
Position: Attacking Midfielder or Striker
Price: €20 million
And who is Lucas Perez? Don’t worry, I didn’t know either till Arsenal bought him this summer. Lucas is a Spanish attacker who plays for Arsenal. He scored 17 goals last year, when he was with Deportivo. That’s excellent in a league like La Liga, where you play against great teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid. His radar tells a similar story.
To start off, that’s a high NPG90, though we already know that. The number of goals he’s scored becomes even more important when you look at the stat right next to it: shots. He has not taken a lot of shots. But his efficiency makes up for that. Look at his goal conversion rate and his shooting percentage. If he plays for a high-quality side, which enables him to generate more shots, he has potential to score 20+ goals a season. Lucas doesn’t just take opportunities, he also makes them. He created a lot of key passes and assists for his Deportivo teammates last year. Another thing that makes Lucas a first-rate player is that he rarely misses a game. Though he missed one game owing to muscular issues, he played 92% of the time whenever Deportivo played in La Liga. All of these points show us that Arsenal have bagged a bargain by bringing in Lucas for just €20 million.
I just have one complaint. Lucas Perez may be a good player, but what’s the point if he doesn’t get playing time? Lucas has played only 10% of the time in the Premier League for Arsenal. I don’t blame Wenger, though. He has great players in his squad. Arsenal didn’t buy him for the long term either. Lucas is a 27-year-old. What Lucas should have done was move to a decent Premier League club like Southampton or West Ham, where he could play for a fair amount of time.
Wenger has always been someone who looks at a player’s stats before scouting him. And he has done it well with his great team of analysts working on StatDNA data.
That was the case here. Wenger’s transfers were very good statistically. They weren’t too injury prone either. The new boys will also fit into Arsenal’s tactical system. Mustafi, Xhaka, and Lucas were good at passing and creating chances. Lucas’s efficiency will help too, as Arsenal shoot very often. Xhaka will be the artisan to the artist who is Mesut Özil, while Mustafi will provide the much-needed aerial threat.
But the amount of money that Wenger spent was too high. These three transfers combined cost Arsenal €106 million. That wouldn’t be a bad amount if the players were well-known and tested in England, but for three players who aren’t the most eminent, the amount is a gamble. But, if these players perform well, Wenger will be praised highly for the successful investment.
. . .
These radars couldn’t have been made without the help of Luke Griffin. On his blog, I was able to find the site that I used to create the radars. He also helped me with a lot of other things related to the creation of the radars.
Lucas Perez: By Football.ua, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17596557
Shkodran Mustafi: By Marcello Casal Jr/ Agência Brasil – http://fotospublicas.com/copa-mundo-fifa-2014/alemanha-vence-a-argentina-e-e-tetracampea-da-copa-do-mundo/, CC BY 3.0 br, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34069756
Granit Xhaka: By Borusse86 – Selbst fotografiert, Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20207385