Already at this site we’ve taken a look at Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta in their first seasons at Arsenal. Now seems apt to analyse loan-signing Yossi Benayoun and his contribution to Arsenal’s surprise season. The Israeli arrived on deadline day, a loan signing from Chelsea, to a sea of mediocre approval, quite indicative of his career in the Premier League so far. Excellent at West Ham, he then moved to Liverpool where he became a rotation player and impressed enough for Chelsea to become interested. Unfortunately, Benayoun ruptured his achilles and missed the majority of his first season at Chelsea. With the arrival of Juan Mata, Villas-Boas obviously considered Benayoun surplus to requirements for the season and he has been farmed out to us.
This season he has epitomised the type of squad player we have missed in previous years. Professional, industrious and technically gifted, the Israeli is a far cry from the likes of Carlos Vela and Denilson who we used to have to call upon. In recent weeks, however, he has become an alternative tactic on our left flank to a great success and has started key games such as Tottenham and Manchester City at the Emirates. Many have begun to compare him to Park Ji-Sung at Man United, trusted in the bigger games to have an effect, but not in the smaller ones. His ball retention is significantly better than that of Gervinho and Chamberlain and essentially allows the ever-improving Walcott and Van Persie partnership to flourish further forward.
Relatively unused and unnoticed until Christmas, the turning point in Benayoun’s season came at Villa where he scored the winning goal with an excellent header. He then started the next game against Wolves which ended in a 1-1 draw and was rather unimpressive with a pass succes rate of 61% and attempting 0 shots, but he created 2 chances and grabbed an assist. He was often found cluttering the centre too often, with Gervinho and Rosicky also operating there and Van Persie dropping deep to try and break down the stubborn Wolves defense. He was kept on the bench again, only featuring for 16 minutes in the 2-1 defeat to Fulham, until the 3-2 defeat to Swansea. Wenger started him in the Arteta part of the midfield trio and he was a passenger for the majority of the game, failing to impose himself and completing only 76% of his passes, compared to the usual 87-91% Arteta usually completes. Benayoun only created 1 chance and was given the runaround by the Swansea triangles, making only 2 successful tackles and 2 interceptions. He was dropped again until an 18 minute cameo in the 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn, getting 1 shot on target and completing 91% of his passes with 5/6 successful passes in the final third of the pitch.
When Tottenham came to the Emirates, the news that Benayoun would start were met with many raised eyebrows. By the 88th minute of the game he was being substituted to a standing ovation. While he wasn’t particularly dangerous, his ability to sustain pressure by completing 13/13 passes in the final third allowed the likes of Walcott, Van Persie and Rosicky to punish Tottenham. With only 27% of attacks coming down the left, his discipline is vital and with him in the side it is the closest Walcott has so far got to his dream of being a striker in a 4-4-2 system as the WhoScored graphic shows.
Next Page: Benayoun’s impact on the Arsenal side…