When Andre Santos arrived from Fenerbahce on deadline day in August 2011, opinion was divided whether the left-back would prove to be a success or failure with Arsenal. The Brazilian has begun well, enduring himself to the Gunners faithful by scoring the equalizing second goal in the Gunners 5-3 beating of Chelsea in October.
However, a majority of fans are still unconvinced about the maverick’s defensive competence. Lack of match fitness, getting caught up the field, giving the ball away too much, not tracking back enough and not showing enough determination in duels are some of the allegations against the defender. He certainly does not inspire much confidence with his seemingly lethargic approach on the pitch.
So is Andre Santos as bad a defender as he’s made out to be?
Let’s go through some statistics from the EPL Index treasure trove (powered by OPTA) and see if they paint a picture. For the purpose of this analysis, I will be comparing Santos with his own team-mate Kieran Gibbs, as well as left-backs from the remaining three top-four teams.
Firstly, let’s look at the number of games and minutes played.
As you can see, the Brazilian has started the least number of games and played the least amount of time. As a rule, one would assume more game time is beneficial to a player’s form, so Santos is probably disadvantaged in this respect in comparison to the others. There’s another opinion you can form based on minutes played and I’ll address that later in the article.
The second table below looks at involvement and success rates in duels and interceptions made.
As we can see, Santos is just marginally behind his own team-mate in % of Ground Duels won but ahead of the other three left-backs. The Brazilian is well ahead of everyone in the Aerial Win %. The Brazilian’s minutes per Ground 50-50’s stat is way better than the others, his per minute Aerial 50-50s is behind Gibbs but comparable to two of the other three. And he makes interceptions with more regularity than any of the other four.
What this suggests is that Santos is heavily involved in the action, and compares very favorably with his peers in winning 50-50s and making interceptions.
Next Page: The comparison continues with passing and tackling stats for Dos Santos et al…
Table 3 below looks at how the players compare in the tackling stakes.
Santos is behind Evra and Assou-Ekotto but still better than Gibbs and Clichy. Once again, he makes tackles with much more regularity than any of the others. He has also made a successful last man tackle more than once.
As Santos is seen to be quite adventurous going forward, Table 4 compares possession stats to see whether he gives the ball away more.
Andre’s pass completion rate is better than any of the others. Crossing does not seem to be his forte though, with a low number of crossed balls and average crossing accuracy. This is visibly borne out by his constant desire to cut inside when running down the flank.
With the statistics above, we have established that in comparison to the other top-four left-backs, Andre Santos is more involved in defensive play, he wins a higher percentage of duels than most of his peers, is pretty decent at winning tackles and retains the ball much better. The numbers seem to not only dispel the theory that the Brazilian can’t defend, they actually suggests he’s quite good at it.
There is one other table that may give us some idea why he’s accumulated this negative reputation.
Santos has made a couple of defensive errors and seems to lose possession with more regularity than at least three of his peers. This last statistic is probably the one alluded to by fans who claim Andre loses the ball and then does not break his neck to get back.
There are three other factors I believe must be considered to put things in perspective. The first is the low number of games he’s started because a longer set of matches makes for a more consistent appraisal. The second is the quality of attacks faced by the Brazilian; only 3 of his 8 starts have been against top-half opposition with only 1 of those against a top-four side. It means the left-back has yet to be tested by a majority of the Premier League’s best wingers. Lastly, it’s his first season in England and oppositions haven’t worked out his weak spots yet.
If he can play consistently next season, a comparison of his performance in a year’s time will give us a better idea of just how good or otherwise he is.
In my opinion, I think he’s very solid when behind the ball. His anticipates well and knows just when to put a foot in. He keeps the ball with confidence but does invite occasional pressure by not passing it quickly enough. His problems begin when he allows players to get in behind him. His lack of pace means he’s reliant on a team-mate to bail him out. He is also prone to bundling people over when he can’t get to the ball, as seen in the City match last weekend when he fouled Balotelli as the Italian went past him.
More than anything else, I believe it’s his mannerisms that shape the viewers opinion about him. The lazy manner in which he jogs around, the heavy breathing from around the 5th minute, the getting-the-ball-while-falling-on-my-ass moves, the throwing of hands in the air at the edge of the opposition defense instead of tracking back when the ball is lost – these contribute to a persona that he’s a defensive liability.
At this point in time however, the statistics clearly indicate that Andre Santos is defensively one of the league’s best left-backs.
After all this analysis, there may yet be one very simple fact to explain his cool, nonchalant, laid-back manner – the nationality on his passport.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.