My Favorite Thing Today: Arsenal and Tottenham are now better than Manchester United?

The Premier League transfer window has been open for a month now and Manchester United have yet to make a single signing. Is that frustrating? Yes.

Is it actually a big deal? As long as they sign players a week before the season and they can play in the team’s opening game, not at all.

Don’t get me wrong. United need to add some quality depth. But like I’ve been saying on repeat for weeks now, it really doesn’t matter if they don’t bring them in today.

United’s season doesn’t start until September 19th. Their players are currently on holiday until next week, where most of the squad will join up with their national teams, or still be in quarantine. United’s preseason doesn’t start until around September 10th. There is no difference if they sign someone on August 27th or September 5th etc.

We already knew this would happen. We knew that Borussia Dortmund were going to drag the Jadon Sancho affair into September no matter what. We know that he’s the first domino that needs to fall in order for everything else to happen.

For the good (and I say that with as much sarcasm as possible) folks on Twitter, that is way too difficult to understand. They believe that because United haven’t signed anyone on August 27th that means that not only will they not sign anyone at all, but that they are going to be terrible this year. (I say August 27th because that’s when I’m writing this, they thought this on August 17th too.)

Their biggest complaints are that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have been making signings and thus have already definitively left United in the dust.

That’s funny because last time I checked, you don’t get any extra points in the table for being the first team to sign players.

You would think that after years of evidence grown men, or even teenagers, would understand this. “Winning” the transfer window doesn’t necessarily mean winning in the table. Not all signings are good. Just because you’ve made them doesn’t mean you got them all right or are even better off (in fact, most of the time you’re not!)

No. To them it’s as simple as
Made signings = improved
Didn’t make signings = terrible! Definitely gotten worse even.

Not every signing lands. We’ve seen that with Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin. We even had signings that didn’t work in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Juan Sebastion Veron, Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan…

You think it’s only United? Look at Chelsea’s recent transfer record and try not to laugh.

We’ve gotten to the point that now there are fans telling me that Arsenal and Tottenham have already caught up to them because they’ve made signings.

Come again?

Arsenal and Tottenham?

I’m not going to apologize for laughing in your face because this absolutely deserves to be laughed in your face.

Let’s take a look at who Arsenal have signed this year.

That’s two players who they had signed on loan in January and made permanent, Good solid depth I guess. And hold up here, Gabriel apparently hasn’t even officially signed yet, I was told by everyone on Twitter that this was a done deal back on Monday. What the hell is taking so long??

And then Willian. WILLIAN. The 32 year old Willian??

Willian had a nice resurgent season last year but I’m supposed to be scared of a player who in his career in the Premier League has G+A/90 of 0.42? (Oh what’s that, his non-penalty G+A/90 is 0.38). His NPxG+xA/90 last year was 0.38, which I guess is ok but for context that was lower than Andreas Pereira’s.

Maybe – and I mean maybe – in his second year Nicolas Pepe will adapt to the Premier League and be good. It’s silly to write people off after only one year so I won’t write him off just yet but, he’d need to improve a lot.

32 year old Willian will link up with the 31 year old already in decline Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to spearhead Arsenal’s attack.

What?? Aubameyang had back to back 22 goal seasons. How can you say he’s declining?

I love how people hear the word declining and just assume that means “bad.”

It doesn’t. Let me help you out. Here’s the definition of decline.

(typically of something regarded as good) become smaller, fewer, or less; decrease.

Becoming smaller. Which is exactly what Aubameyang’s numbers have been doing for the past few years. Since moving to striker full time in 2015 (he was a winger for a long time at Borussia Dortmund – they had someone named Robert Lewandowski) Aubameyang has put up the following league goal tallies (age in parenthesis)

25 (26)
31 (27)
23 (28) BVB and Arsenal
22 (29)
22 (30)

Hm. That looks like a decline to me but he didn’t actually fall this past year.

Well let’s look deeper at the numbers. Let’s look at the goals per 90 aka how efficient you are over the same years.

0.91 (26)
1.00 (27)
0.84 (28) BVB and Arsenal
0.73 (29)
0.63 (30)

Whoa. It took him over 400 more minutes to get the same 22 goals this year. That’s definitely some decline. His non-penalty xG dropped by over two goals (16.8-14.2).

Well, he had a change of managers and that could have effected him. He may not have been getting as many opportunities. Sure, but Aubameyang actually increased his shot output this year. His xG/shot went down. He’s not getting as many great shots as he used to.

Aubameyang’s chart is normal. He peaks at 27 which is exactly when you’d expect him to (attacking players typically peak at 26). Then began to decline – gradually. The thing is, the data tells us that the decline becomes much steeper after the age of 30. We rarely see it coming too, one year you have it, the next year you don’t.

So these two 31+ year old forwards leading Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are supposed to strike fear in me? Pardon me for not buying into Mikel Arteta but why are we all of a sudden so sure he’s the real deal?

If people – the media especially but they’re helpless – aren’t sold on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer then the jury is DEFINITELY still out on Arteta.

When Solskjaer took over United there were tangible improvements. It wasn’t just goals started flowing in, the underlying numbers improved to. This season even when the goals weren’t flowing the performances were far better and the numbers backed that up.

Solskjaer took over a team that had a NPxG per game of 1.43. Their NPxG Against was 1.43 and their xPTS per game was 1.41 under Mourinho. Under Solskjaer they put up a NPxG 1.67, NPxGA of 1.12, and their xPTS per game rose to 1.81.

This season the attack struggled and the NPxG per game dropped to 1.46, but the defense continued to improve dropping the NPxGA to 0.94. That resulted in the XPTS improving slightly to 1.87. That’s far better than the team he inherited. (1.87 xPTS is level with Jose Mourinho’s best season at United).

Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season, which is a great accomplishment. Not trying to take anything away from that, but what else did he do?

He hasn’t tangibly improved Arsenal. The performances are still meh – but of course that’s a subjective judgement so let’s take a look at the numbers.

Under Unai Emery this season Arsenal had an NPxG per game of 1.31 and a NPxGA of 1.31. Their xPTS per game was 1.23.

Under Arteta their NPxG per game was 1.26 and NPxGA 1.36.

Wait they got worse?? At least their xPTS rose to 1.37. Their actual points per game rose from 1.38 to 1.52. What an improvement!

Expected points had United with 20 more points than Arsenal and 21 more points than Tottenham last year. That’s a lot that they’d need to improve on.

Tottenham have been active in the transfer market too. They’ve signed Pierre-Emile Hjoljberg and Joe Hart. Whoa! Looks like we’ve got title contenders over here!

Hjoljberg will give Tottenham some depth in the midfield – though Harry Winks may still leave. A much better addition for Tottenham would be if Jose Mourinho stopped hating Tanguay Ndombele and actually played him.

Playing your best players. What a wild concept.

What Tottenham didn’t do is address their alarming lack of depth. If/when Harry Kane gets hurt they don’t have a backup striker. They can shift Heung-Min Son over there but what happens if he gets hurt too? That’s not a crazy what if considering it’s exactly what happened last year.

Like yea, United are lacking in the depth department too people are acting like the only reason United finished in the top four is because of Bruno Fernandes. Don’t get me wrong he’s a big reason why but let’s not pretend that United were mid table and all of a sudden shot up.

They were 5th when Bruno arrived. They had played 24 games, seven of which – nearly 30% – came without two of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, or Paul Pogba. And yet they were fifth!

If United pick up two key injuries things will be difficult, but they could get by. If Tottenham pick up two key injuries, their screwed.

And that’s the thing about this season. We’re playing a 10 month season crammed into nine months. That’s going to be tough on all the players but it’s going to be especially tough on the older players.

Expecting anyone near the age of 30 to be able to replicate what he did last year with no rest is insanity. If anything, the condenced schedule will either speed up their declines or bring about some injuries that will ultimately do the same.

That’s bad news for Liverpool. They’re top players are getting up there in age. It’s also really bad news for Arsenal and Tottenham because, they’re best players are old!

You know who it’s not bad news for? Manchester United.

They have the youngest team in the league. Those players are still getting better. Maybe the condensed schedule will make it harder for them to take off as much as they would have in a normal season, but it’s still reasonable to expect them to replicate if not increase their production.

Yes, they get tired just like everyone else but they also got tired when they played the same XI game in game out. Next year we’ll see them rotate the squad a bit more.

That doesn’t mean resting Pogba, Bruno, Rashford, and Martial all together in one game. It means resting 1-2 of them at a time and letting the other two carry the load. On their own United’s backups are terrible, mixed in with the rest of the first teamers, they’ll be fine.

Remember, they were in 5th place this season without a number 10 and without a midfield capable of progressing the ball up the pitch! Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba only played 1/3 of the season! Mason Greenwood only scored four of his 10 goals before the lockdown.

United are going to add some signings this season. They’ll come in September and that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s completely unacceptable. They know that, which is why they will sign players.

But even if they didn’t. United are just as good if not better than they were last year. Other than Manchester City the rest of the teams around them aren’t.
(Chelsea have strengthened their strongest area. They haven’t addressed their biggest issue. Football is a weak link game, not addressing those issues is not a good thing and frankly the jury is still out on whether Frank Lampard is even capable of fixing their problems).  

Remember, it’s not always about you. It’s about the teams your competing with too. That’s why I predicted United to finish in the top four at the start of the season. It wasn’t about United being good, it was about everyone else being bad.

Yes, United have a lack of depth. But saying that just because they haven’t addressed that problem means that two other teams WHO HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM are suddenly better than them is so ridiculously idiotic I’m not going to stop myself if I end up laughing in your face.

One thought on “My Favorite Thing Today: Arsenal and Tottenham are now better than Manchester United?

  1. Pingback: Season Preview: Manchester United Will Be Alright – Part I – The Sweatpants Report

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