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…
He opens up space for Walcott and his ball retention allows for use of this space. While Ramsey is arguably better at ball retention, he doesn’t have the winger mentality that Benayoun has of occupying the space between midfield and defense and this is why the Israeli has had more success since our slight change of system.
Benayoun started again against Liverpool and wasn’t just as effective, Liverpool’s midfield was packed with midfielders who prefer to sit deep and as such, he had very little space to exploit. He only received the ball 17 times in 74 minutes and was taken off for the more direct Gervinho who was more successful at stretching the defence. The next two away games saw the introduction of Ramsey to the left with great success in the first 20 minutes or so against Everton, and then practically no effect against Queens Park Rangers as they snuffed out the middle space for the young Welshman to exploit.
Benayoun’s season reached its highpoint against Manchester City last weekend. He was excellent at mantaining pressure and pressing Man City’s back four, making 3 successful tackle attempts out of 4 which, tied for the most of any Arsenal player with Vermaelen and Arteta. He also won 6/10 ground duels, not bad for such a slender player and 53% of his passes went to the right, often to the lively Rosicky as Benayoun looked to lay him off and create space. With 13/19 passes successful in the final third, he was key in the relentless pressure that resulted in Arsenal completing 153 of 211 final third passes compared to Man City’s 53/83. He continued in the starting line-up against Wolves and bucked his trend of being ineffective against the smaller teams this season, managing to bag an excellent goal as his wrong-footed Hennessey. Many people often talk of Benayoun’s industry as if he is a Dirk Kuyt, but his technical ability should not be overlooked and his goal against Wolves was a reminder of that. With 3 accurate long balls, 90% pass completion rate, 20/24 passes completed in the final third, 2 shots on target and 5/6 ground duels won, he was a star performer in the game and certainly deserves the praise he has received.
Benayoun’s journey this season has coincided with Wenger’s return to the creative winger after the experiment with two direct wingers and he has had great success with it so far. I would love to see Benayoun sign a permanent deal at Arsenal as his professionalism is a great example for the younger ones to follow and his focus in the big matches, that Wenger has praised, could see us finally begin to crack Man United’s tactical dominance over us in recent years. However, the continuing emergence of Chamberlain, Miyaichi and the possible signing of Podolski, who can all play on the left-wing, could mean that his chances would be even more limited at Arsenal. It has been a pleasure watching him this season and it is easy to see why he always leaves an impression at every club he played for, hopefully his form can continue and help the Gunners hold on to 3rd place.