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Signing Ryan Fraser would be an indictment of Arsenal’s transfer policy

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Signing Ryan Fraser would be a bad idea, and an indictment of where Arsenal are going

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Arsenal have been linked with a move for Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser, and while there are reasons to be suspicious—it could just be agent talk—there does seem to be enough smoke to make it seem as if Arsenal are interested in parting with someone between 40 to 75% of their transfer budget on the Scottish winger. This would be a mistake. For one thing, Arsenal would be paying Premier League premium price for a player who does not count as homegrown talent, for Fraser played youth football in Scotland, not Wales and England. Furthermore, despite a good season, Fraser may not be all that good; at least for what Arsenal need.

Scott Willis wrote more on Fraser, and his summation is fairly precise:

For a forward, he doesn’t produce a ton of shots (another thing that Arsenal really need), he doesn’t do a lot of defensive actions, and produces below average xG per 90.

This season he has added 7 goals, but that was about 50% more than what his expected goals would suggest.

He looks to be a good, but not great player. He is entering his peak years so that is a positive but he probably isn’t the type of player that would take Arsenal from the 5th or 6th most talented team and turn them into the 3rd or 4th most talented team.

There is, furthermore, the question of Arsenal’s budget. But there’s also a philosophical question about what Arsenal wants to do with regards to transfers: spend a lot of money on good but not great players, a continuation of a process that has seen them spend over £70m on Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, hand £200k per week to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and then lose Aaron Ramsey on a free transer, or do Arsenal want to spend wisely, on players who are either young and promising, or older but overlooked?

What Arsenal miss in wide areas is creativity and an ability to carry the ball. The reason why Alex Iwobi has retained importance for Arsenal is because he is one of the few players who can carry the ball over long distances, which changes the point of attack and speeds up play. While Fraser’s goal-scoring exploits were good, he was above his expected goals, and furthermore, a feature of Unai Emery teams is players who aren’t strikers not scoring many goals. Fraser, though, wasn’t a dribbler, and much of his creativity came from crosses, not cutbacks—and Arsenal don’t have a large centre forward, either.

This is an example of where Arsenal can seek to pluck a young player for a low fee, who perhaps can add what Arsenal are missing. Or, Arsenal can use their own young player, such as Reiss Nelson. Nelson had a promising start on loan at Hoffenheim, and while there were issues during the second half of the season, he showed enough talent to get a chance at Arsenal. Nelson had a higher xG/90 than Fraser, and was also more involved in buildup play, as represented by having a higher xG chain and buildup. This is important: Emery’s wide players do a lot of work playing in the channels and setting up the overlapping fullback or wingback for the cutback, and thus there is a demand for higher passing involvement. In terms of dribbling, Fraser attempted 1.5 per 90 minutes, and was successful less than 50 per cent of the time; 24 successful dribbles to 29 unsuccessful the whole season. Nelson, on the other hand, averaged 2.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, and 2.9 including the Champions League. While Nelson’s role as a substitute may inflate those numbers, he completed as many dribbles—24—as Fraser, in fewer minutes.

If Arsenal are looking to add a wide player, the profile that Reiss Nelson has fits the demands better than Ryan Fraser. Beyond that, Nelson is home grown, cheap, and has re-sale value. If it doesn’t work out for Nelson at Arsenal, they can move him on. Liverpool have been able to spend a lot of money over the last few seasons in part because they made a lot of money selling players. Liverpool not only sold Coutinho, but also sold Danny Ings and Jordan Ibe for about £40m. This is the model Arsenal must seek to emulate, and thus, they have to avoid the possibility of expensive mistakes.