28 June 2013

Caveat emptor on Fellaini

How hard should Arsenal press for Marouane "better hair than Chamakh" Fellaini given how little David Moyes has worked to bring him in? He barely registers on trasnfermrkt's assessment of who's likely to go to Man U, and bwin rates such a move at 17/11 (bet £11, win £17) compared to 5/11 on moving to Arsenal. Moyes coached Fellaini during the big Belgian's entire time at Everton (from 2008 on) and surely knows his strengths and weaknesses. As he assesses Man U's current roster, he surely sees a geriatric (if still effective) cluster of Giggs (39), Scholes (38), and Fletcher (29), and a nursery school of Welbeck (22), Cleverley (23), Kagawa (24), and Powell (19).  I exaggerate a bit, of course, but between the two, Moyes must perceive the need for strengthening his midfield. Forwards like van Persie and Rooney (should he stay) will only get as many chances as their teammates can create for them. With a cadre of midfielders massing at the wrong ends of the experience bell-curve, why isn't there more activity or chatter around a move for Fellaini?

Perhaps it's just out of deference or respect to his former employers that he doesn't want to be seen raiding the coffers. Then again, if this were the case, Man U wouldn't be making a move for Leighton Baines. I couldn't find any evidence of friction between Moyes and Fellaini, and it's not like Man U is staying up nights trying to decide which bills to pay and which to put off.

It's enough to make me wonder. 

Just how much is Fellaini worth--financially, that is? I've suggested that getting Higuain at £22m might be a bit of a steal for a 25-year old player who is capable of scoring 20 league goals. Fellaini, also 25, rated at around £24, might be a bit overpriced. I'm not suggesting that Arsenal's mindset should be "if we can get Higuain at 22m, why should we pay 24m for another player?" Higuain addresses a high priority in a way that Fellaini may not. When certain players become available, you worry less about your own priorities and resources and take the plunge. I'm not sold on Fellaini as that kind of player. A quick look at what some Everton fans are saying here and there, sotto voce, is that selling Fellaini might be more important than keeping him because of whom they could sign on the proceeds. When a club's followers don't mind and might even favor selling a player, buyers should take note.

Nothing in what I've said so far is in itself a red-flag, but there is a certain "death by a thousand papercuts" element to what I'm saying. As much as Arsenal could use a tough, physical defensive midfielder, Fellaini strikes me more as burly and impulsive rather than tough in a tactical sense. According to whoscored.com's ratings, Fellaini does rate a 7.57 in the Prem. However, a deeper-dive might give rise to some concerns.

Check the graphic I've put together to compare his stats to those of the current Arsenal squad. Numbers in parentheses indicate how he'd compare to current Gunners. He'd instantly toughen up the defense, no doubt. However, at what cost? These numbers make the man look overly aggressive to the point of recklessness. His 2.6 fouls per game already outstrip Arteta's 2.2--but how many of Arteta's fouls might be tactically astute? Fellaini's eight yellow cards in 31 appearances may not have led to seeing red, but he did earn a three-match suspension for his head-butt on Shawcross. As much as that might warm the hearts of Gunners fans, taking Shawcross's bait shows a degree of hotheaded-ness that might pose too much of a risk.

To turn away from negatives and look for positives, we might find scant evidence to prove that Fellaini would be a wise signing. Yes, his 11 goals and five assists helped Everton, but they barely finished in 6th place, nine points behind Spurs and only two above Liverpool. Those 2.6 tackles per game would make him Arsenal's 3rd-best tackler (behind Arteta and Gibbs), but his pass-success rate is only 79%, which would make him one of the worst passers at Arsenal, ahead of only Giroud and the keepers. Putting him in the midfield, then, might dent Arsenal's possession-based approach--for as many tackles and interceptions that he might contribute, he might more turn the ball over many more times. Averaging 52.5 passes per game means that nearly a dozen passes per game go awry, and that's a degree of inaccuracy that suggests a lack of skill or attention on Fellaini's part.

He does strike me as a very good player, but not one worth £24m. Arsenal already have a very good roster of midfielders: Wilshere, Arteta, and Ramsey have done quite well for the club in the more-defensive roles they've each been asked to play, and Podolski and Walcott have spearheaded an attack good enough to score the 3rd-highest number of goals in the Prem.

At the end of this, then, what is Arsenal left to do? At first glance, Fellaini seems a hot commodity. However, a kick of the tires is almost enough to convince me to skip the test-drive.  Should Arsenal splash the cash?
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