Pre-season by the numbers*

When you run a website like this, you notice trends and patterns. People like certain things more than others. For example: after a match the busiest posts on Arseblog News are the ones in which people get really involved, like the player ratings.

The fact readers can provide their own ratings via our system, leave comments, and argue the toss with other fans is understandably something that engages people. Also, transfers. We all know that. The biggest ever posts on the site have been our transfer deadline live blogs. Even the really quiet one when the only signing we made was Nacho Monreal drew in hundreds of thousands of views.

But there’s one phenomenon I’ve never quite fully understood: shirt numbers. Honestly, there’s a lot of love out there for posts about player shirt number changes. Deadline days aside, one of the most popular posts on the site – of all time – was about Diaby and Sanogo being given new numbers. Yesterday, a story about Hector Bellerin changing from 39 to 24 (#ahbyediaby) ahead of the new season was the second busiest of the summer so far.

I liked it because it satisfied my need to try and find patterns in numbers everywhere I go. When I’m stuck in traffic sometimes I try and see if I can make a sequence of some kind from number plates and 39 to 24 is lovely because 9-3 = 6 and 2+4 = 6 and this pleases me greatly. I don’t really know why. I’m not even terribly mathematically minded, I just like it when I can find things like that.

I suspect that reader interest in the story wasn’t based on that however. The biggest story of the summer so far was not the signing of Petr Cech, or any of the associated stories about his medical, his permission to come here or anything like that. It wasn’t the high-profile, big-money signing of Vlad Dragomir, or any other transfer tittle-tattle.

It was the picture of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in what’s purportedly the new away kit. The Ox has a small lead now, but could still be overtaken by Bellerin’s new number. Imagine if we could post something about a player changing numbers and wearing a new kit. The Internet would explode into a thousand tiny pieces (hopefully in a sequence, or shards, that I could put together and find joy in).

There’s not much to tell from the first day of pre-season other than some of the chaps look like they’ve had a good haircut before coming back to work, which is important. A fellow should look smart on his return to work after holidays. Take your hat off entering the building, pick it up on the way out, ready to throw it into the air should anything exciting or joyous happen on the way home.

There are also players involved now who, most likely, will be part of the game in Singapore on July 15th (just a week away!), but not at all when it comes to the meat and drink of our season. For example, Wellington Silva is there but it would a remarkable thing if he wasn’t loaned out again, or sold, despite the fact he’s got a Spanish passport now.

The Brazilian is now 22 and yet to play a first team game for the club, and his current age makes him 6 years older than Jack Wilshere when he made his debut, for example. Passportian issues could be used to explain that but loan spells at Alcoyano, Ponferradina, Murcia and Almería are not the usual pathway to the Arsenal first team. It’s all a bit Samuel Galindo or something.

Similarly, young players like Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom will train with the group but really should be eyeing loan moves for the season ahead. Both of them have fantastic quality and have probably outgrown the youth/under21 level for it to be in any beneficial for them. It was interesting that during last season plenty were calling for Akpom to be given more first team football with us, but a loan spell at Nottingham Forest showed he’s still got plenty to learn about how to play when there’s pressure and expectation

For both of them a move away on loan, either short-term or for the duration of the season, seems to be the most likely outcome. And what of someone like Serge Gnabry? He’s very highly regarded and was beginning to make inroads into the first team before injury stopped him in his tracks. Will the manager hope he can pick up where he left off, or will he reason that after so long out the need to play regularly somewhere is the best thing for him to get his career back on track?

It’s why pre-season is about more than getting fit, hard running and ensuring you have the stamina for the campaign ahead. The manager will be looking at all his players – from young to old – and looking to build a solid, balanced squad. With only minimal disruption this summer (Ospina and Alexis at the Copa America, Joel Campbell at the Gold Cup), he’s got a better chance of doing that.

As pointed out on Reddit, this will be Mesut Ozil’s first proper pre-season with us. He joined late in August 2013, and last summer was at the World Cup, arrived back late, tired and eventually picked up an injury which kept him out for three months. To have him, and others, fully prepared – even if the season starts early – should be a positive thing for us.

Anyway, more from the pre-season as and when we have it. If you missed yesterday’s Arsecast Extra you can find it here or listen below. James and I discuss the departure of Podolski, Arteta’s new deal, what that might mean for transfers, and speculate on what the manager might do between now and the close of the transfer window.

Right, that’s your lot. Till tomorrow.

* with apologies to @7amkickoff 😉


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