18 July 2013

Would Suarez secure or scuttle Arsenal's Champions League run?

We all agree on one fact: Suarez is a gifted footballer. Beyond that, Gooners have a lot to sort out. Some point to his goal-scoring prowess as incontrovertible proof that we must sign him; others, like me, are more circumspect, questioning his value in light of the various controversies and suspensions that he has incurred. Put in another way, would he help or hurt us? We've been on the knife's edge of Champions League qualification for the last few seasons, relying just as much on the faltering form of others as on our own strong finishes in the final run-in. It took a last-gasp goal in the 52nd minute of the final game of the season to secure fourth place this year.

As we look at Suarez's 23 Prem League goals this year, it's tantalizingly easy to place those goals here and there and—presto!—a loss here becomes a draw, a loss there becomes a win, a draw over there becomes a win, and we're in first place. Of course, it's not that easy, but it's entertaining. On the subject of entertainment, let's entertain two rather large if's: one, if Suarez can repeat his form; and two, if Suarez can avoid suspensions. With those in place, we'd be virtually assured of a higher league finish, and perhaps further progress in league, FA, and Champions League competitions.

However, reality has a way of dashing these sorts of hopes. Securing the services of a prolific scorer can sometimes backfire as his presence can stunt the development of other players, cause the offense itself to stagnate, and sacrifice team success at the altar of individual glories. I'm not saying that Suarez is this kind of player by any means, but it's worth considering his impact on the squads for which he has played. To wit: the only time that a Suarez-led team has finished in first place is Ajax in the 2010-11 season—the season that saw Suarez leave in the January transfer-window after his first bite. In fact, before he left in January 2011, Ajax was in third place, six points behind PSV Eindhoven, having taken 41 of 63 points (65%). After Suarez left, Ajax surged to first place, taking 32 of their last 39 points (82%), despite not making any significant signings to replace him.  Taking 82% of the points over the course of a Prem season would net a team 94 points, just one below Chelsea's record of 95 in 2004-05. Moving on, Ajax has won the Eredivisie every year since Suarez left. This looks to be a little bit of addition by subtraction. Despite losing their most-prolific scorer, Ajax finished that season on a run of form that would be the envy of any team anywhere.

And what of his impact on Liverpool? When he joined Liverpool in January 2011, Liverpool was in 7th place, having taken 32 of 72 points (44%). Liverpool finished the season in 6th place with 58 points, having taken 26 of 42 points (62%) after his arrival, an improvement to be sure, but hardly a dramatic one. In the years that Suarez has played for Liverpool, they've finished 7th in 2011, 8th in 2012, and 7th in 2013. In other words, he's an exciting addition because he scores buckets of goals, but it doesn't seem as if he changes a club's prospects in any meaningful way. Of course, he is just one of eleven men on the pitch at any given time, so it's not entirely his responsibility to deliver salvation or shoulder condemnation. All the same, we'd be remiss to splash £40m, if not more, on a player who doesn't alter his club's aspirations for the better. Liverpool didn't suffer much from his suspension to end the 2012-13 campaign, finishing with three wins and a draw (against Everton) without him, which suggests that his presence or absence mattered little to the club's place in the table.

How then would Suarez fare under the brighter lights and more-intense scrutiny of playing for Arsenal, pressing for a top-four finish (if not higher) and progress in the Champions League? It's unlikely that he would respond with grace and dignity as each tumble on the pitch would draw howls of simulation from opposition fans if not referees, and every opposing player would look to get under his skin at every opportunity. I don't think we can afford—literally or figuratively—to sign this man. He's one instigation away from sabotaging our entire campaign. If it's true that Arsène has £70m or so to spend, why invest more than half of it on such an unpredictable commodity?

No, thank you. If we're serious about brightening our prospects and £35m is the going rate for a top-flight center-forward, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease sign Higuaín. I all but guarantee that he will score and score and score again. Real Madrid values him at £37m now? Fine. We can haggle down a few mil. The man's no mere poacher. He'll create his own shots and can score with the left or right, and he'll do so without forcing us to defend his character or morals. Each Suarez goal will be met with a well-timed "yeah, but doesn't he bite people every now and then?"

The last thing we need is a scorer who sees a tense run-in and decides he'd rather cut bait than stand and fight. If we sign Suarez and still somehow find ourselves scrabbling with Spurs, Chelsea, or Everton for a fourth-place finish, can we rely on him to keep his cool, or would we end up slapping our foreheads as he once again lets his club down through bites, dives, hand-balls, or racist effronts? I doubt it.

Please, Arsène, please tell me that this Suarez bid is just a diversionary tactic and that you'll announce Higuaín's signing in the coming days. Please?

Last but not least, go on over to the 2012-13 YAMA awards. I hope you'll consider voting for Woolwich 1886, nominated for a "Best New Arsenal Blog".  Thanks!