There is no denying that Robin van Persie experienced a career year this season. At age 28 he played his first injury free Premier League campaign, leading the league in goals and kept Arsenal in the top 4 with his impressive form. In the following pages we’ll take a look at the Dutch forward compared to the rest of the Arsenal squad, looking at the team’s total numbers as well as their numbers once van Persie is discounted. We’ll also examine the top goal scorer for the past three Premier League seasons, as we look at where Persie’s campaign rates in recent history.
At the start – there is no denying that this season is one for ages. Not only was he lethal finishing, he created a number of chances both from set pieces and open play. His 30 goals were the best in the Premier League, besting Rooney’s 27, as he played in a side where goals were at a premium. Those 30 accounted for 40% of the Gunner’s final tally of 74. Rooney managed his in fewer matches but also in a team that found the net 89 times, second only to Premier League champions City (93). That Rooney played fewer matches is a bit of a surprise itself as van Perise overcame his inability to stay on the pitch. Having recorded no more than 24 starts in any Premier League campaign, his 37 starts and 1 substitute appearance could be as much the root of his fine form as the sublime skill he displays. He clearly showed that he is capable of leading the line and providing a creative spark where necessary.
Thirty goals are no small feat. Over the past 5 seasons only two players have reached that plateau – van Persie and Christiano Ronaldo. This is a bit of an arbitrary qualification, though, as Rooney’s 27 this term, Drogba’s 29 of two seasons past and Rooney’s 26 in that same year are outstanding hauls which would have won the Golden Boot in many other years. What sets van Persie apart was the way the Arsenal attack was not only finished by him but, in large regard, ran through him. Looking at Arsenal’s total numbers for the season we can see that they were a top side in attack.
What is more remarkable is the level to which Arsenal was dependent on van Persie. In the below chart we can see RvP’s numbers for the 2011/12 season as well as the numbers for the rest of the Arsenal team. While his overall numbers are remarkable, more stark is the dearth of attacking prowess within the remainder of the squad. In the below chart the left column is van Persie, in the right column the total season numbers for the rest of the Arsenal squad.
Robin van Persie created 92 of Arsenal’s 504 chances on the season. He contributed 9 goal assists. Coupled with his 30 goals, he accounted for 39 of their 74 – 52.7%. The reliance on van Persie has to be worrying as Arsenal contemplate life without him. Even more worrying for Arsene Wenger will be his side’s poor shooting accuracy and chance conversion once van Persie’s statistics are discounted.
The 92 chances created by van Persie was far and away the most chances created by any member of the squad. Far behind RvP were Arteta (60), Ramsey (55) and Song (46). Similarly, his 30 goals are more than the next three players in the squad combined as Theo Walcott’s 8 were second best, while Arteta and Toman Vermaelen added 6 apiece. Van Persie, in fact, could have scored a few more with just a touch more luck as he hit the woodwork 10 times. With the PFA Player of the Year already won, the Golden Boot on the mantle and gallons of ink spilled in praise of his accomplishments, van Persie was without peer this season, but how does this season compare to the top goal scorers of the past three years?
RVP Compared to previous Top Scorers
It was just a season ago that Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez were instrumental players in their team’s success. Berba scored his 20 for a United side that won the league by 9 points and led all teams with 78 goals scored. In the Blue half of Manchester Tevez managed his haul in a side that scored just 60 times, remarkably only five goals more than 19th place Blackpool in a season that saw considerably parity in the scoring charts. Berbatov did not enjoy the best of seasons, despite the impressive tally, and his goals came in just 11 matches as he recorded hat tricks against Liverpool and Birmingham, a brace against Blackpool and scored five times against Blackburn in a 7-1 United victory. Just a season later Berbatov made 12 appearances (5 starts) and scored 7 goals.
If van Persie’s season does have a blemish it is that in 46 clear-cut chances he scored 21 goals but failed to score on 25 occasions. However, that is not unusual for a top scorer. In 2010-11 Berbatov had 25 clear-cut chances and scored 13. His teammate Chicharito saw 20 clear-cut chances, scoring with 8. That same year Carlos Tevez saw 25 clear-cut chances of his own, scoring 11 goals in those situations. Tevez, though, played closer to van Persie’s level as he created 53 chances himself. His tally was good for second best on the 2010-11 City side which had David Silva creating 73 chances to lead the way. That van Persie created 19 more chances this season than David Silva a year prior illustrates the level to which he played in building the Arsenal attack. The narrative remains the same regardless of Manchester club, as it was the same at United where Nani had the most chances created with 78.
In addition to creating 53 chances Tevez was the marquee goalscorer for City with Yaya Toure some way off, finishing second in the clubs scoring table with 8. Tevez also did not provide as large a percentage of his clubs total scoring that season, with his 6 assists a good return for the striker but not a significant enough achievement to put his season on par van Persie’s.
While Tevez did manage his return in a side that scored only 60. His 20 goals and 6 assists accounted for 43% of his teams goals that season. As a reminder, Robin van Persie played a part in nearly 53% of Arsenal’s 74 goals scored. Certainly Tevez contributions cannot be under-sold as he was instrumental in City securing third place and a Champions League spot that undoubtedly helped in propelling the club to their successes this season. However, on their individual merits both Tevez and Berbatov fall short of matching van Persie.
It may be that the best comparison from the past four seasons is Didier Drogba’s 29 goal campaign in 2009-10, providing a massive presence in a League winning Chelsea side that amassed 103 goals scored. Overall, the 2009-10 season saw a notable uptick in the twenty goal scorers. Following a season in which Chelsea’s Anelka led all scorers with 19, and Liverpool led the league with just 79, no fewer than 5 players broke the 20 goal plateau. Drogba’s 29 led, followed in quick succession by Rooney (26), Bent (24), Tevez (23) and Lampard (22). Chelsea boasted two other players with a double-digit return in Florent Malouda (12) and Anelka (11), winning the League, returning a +71 Goal Differential and besting 2nd highest scoring side Manchester United by 17. As a point of reference, and a guilty bit of trivia, those 103 goals were just seven fewer than the combined return of all three relegated sides that season.
Drogba played nearly 600′ fewer than van Persie, assisting on one more goal and scoring one fewer in that time. However, the other metrics by which we measuring involvement – or at least direct involvement – in the building of goals all favour the Dutchman. Taking nothing away from Drogba, his goal every 96′ is substantially superior to van Persie’s goal per 111′, however van Persie created 36 more chances than did Drogba. In many ways this is an apples to apples comparison, but in others it is not. Chelsea that season were an attacking force that did not need the direct involvement of Drogba to score. Discounting the Ivorian’s 29 goals, Chelsea would still have managed the same total as Arsenal achieved this season (74). However, part of this exercise is also to compare the players total involvement in building his side and van Persie’s passing was far superior, his open play passing found the target 79% of the time, significantly besting Drogba’s 60% completion. Drogba did make better inroads with his crosses, completing 30% to RvP’s 24%, however van Persie attempted 204 crosses, 134 more than Drogba, a 290% increase in volume.
The leasing scorer in the 2008-09 season, Nicolas Anelka recorded 19, was a low water mark for scoring in the recent past. It is noteworthy that Chelsea’s 68 goals were joint second with Manchester United and Arsenal, coming 9 short of Liverpool’s 77 as the Blues finished in 3rd, 3 points behind the second place Merseysiders and 7 off the champion Red Devils. Just one season later that Chelsea side would score an extra 36, quite obviously nearly a full goal per match better. Anelka’s season certainly doesn’t measure though it is worth discussing briefly because of what could have been. Anelka created 64 chances but recorded only 2 goal assists, a very low chance to assist ratio. Another oddity is that he played 2927′ and was the teams leading scorer yet did not take many shots on the season. He made the most of his 111 shots, with 57% accuracy and 21% chance conversion (both stats directly in line with van Persie’s ’11-’12) but he was not the leading shot taker (Lampard 175) and came just ahead of Malouda’s 88 shots. Had Anelka been the leading shot taker, and presuming similar results to the current statistical line, he would have managed to score between 29-30 goals. An interesting bit of manipulation, but one to think on. Had Lampard been more willing to link with Anelka, Chelsea’s season could well have turned out differently.
It turns out that you would have to go back to the 2007-2008 season to find a player who eclipsed 30 goals (Ronaldo’s 31 that season bested Torres’ and Adebayor’s joint 2nd haul of 24). That season Ronaldo was the unquestioned best player in the Premier League, and perhaps the world. Ronaldo’s season would likely be a good comparison for van Persie as he scored 31, assisted on a half-dozen more and was the focal point of the United offense. Unfortunately our statistics only go back to the 2008-09 season so an in-depth examination is not possible here but the ultimate legacy of his remarkable season was his move to Real Madrid a year later. For Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans across the globe, the question will be if this season was the last one in the Emirates sun for their mercurial Dutch playmaker.
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.