A look back at Arsenal’s 2011/2012 season continues with a look at the midfield trio we’ve deployed throughout the season and the changes in the front 3. Articles on the defence and mid-way point in the season are on the site as well.
There were plenty of changes in the midfield with the departure of Fabregas and Nasri along with Wilshere’s season ending injury, the return of Ramsey and the new-guy in the form of Mikel Arteta. We also saw Tomas Rosicky make a welcome return to form after years in the wilderness and the evolution of Alex Song from defensive midfielder to deep-lying playmaker to clueless egoist to deep-lying playmaker again. Wenger began the season with a 1-2 in midfield, Song as the anchorman, the 2 varied, which was aimed to fill the Cesc-shaped hole in our creative play. Much like the 3 strikers, this was soon dropped to a much more fluid trio, each with their own duties and zones. At the spine of the trio lay two of the seasons most talked about players; Song and Arteta.
As this article shows, Song’s defensive stats have decreased year on year and his attacking stats increasing, reaching his pinnacle this year with 35 chances created, 11 assists and 2 goals. He has become a deep-lying playmaker and a valuable one at that. As opposition defences sit deep against us, squeezing the space in their own third, it’s vital to have someone sitting back in free space who can sometimes pick out a world-class pass. More often than not though, it’s a speculative hollywood pass to no one with only 24 accurate through balls from 90 attempts. He has one of the highest through-balls/game ratio with 0.7 and the lowest final-third passing accuracy of our attacking players with 31%. A terrific asset to the squad but he must stop trying to live up to his ‘Songinho’ nick-name. His progression is the main reason that signing a true-defensive midfielder is a must. Coquelin has been very impressive and will have a great future ahead of him, but he is not ready yet. Frimpong’s injuries mean that he needs another year on-loan to gain the right experience required to play as a defensive-midfielder.
Arteta has been a revelation in the midfield. The fact we only managed to win one game without him this season is testament to how reliant our midfield has become upon him. His metronomic ability to control the tempo helped us maintain pressure on opposition and link up the defence and midfield when going forward. Defensively, considering this was his first season playing this far back in the midfield, he had a good return and I thought after yesterday’s fuss over Michael Carrick’s international retirement I would compare the two. They both have the same ability to control a game and make everyone around them better, while going entirely unnoticed themselves, although Carrick’s defensive ability is much better than Arteta’s.
[table id=68 /]
Even against Xabi Alonso, one of the world’s greatest in that position, Arteta holds his own. Alonso makes 1.8 key passes per game, Arteta 2.1. Alonso’s passing accuracy was 88% and Arteta’s was 90%. While Alonso trumps Arteta on assists with 9 to 2, Arteta has 6 goals and Alonso 1 (Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com). With his experience and cool-head, Arteta has become a vital part of the squad and was excellent at protecting the back-four as he rarely got dragged out of position or stayed up front like Song has at times.
In terms of our other deeper midfielders there’s little to look at. Diaby is the most notable name and unfortunately I feel this season was his last chance. Too many injuries culminating from the Smith and Essien challenges mean that we can’t afford to keep paying him whatever it is a week when we’re trying to compete with the likes of Juventus and Man City for our own captain.
In what has been referred to as ‘the Cesc role’ this season as his shadow continues to cast over it, we have seen two very different players. Aaron Ramsey started the season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. A 21 he was going to have to play his first full season after a broken leg, all while trying to replace one of the greatest midfielders to have worn the cannon on their chest. Throw in fatigue mid-way through the season, a dip in form and the death of his national manager who had made him captain, it was a season to forget for the young Welshman, but one that hopefully he can use to grow stronger. There are obvious things he needs to work on, his timing of runs into the box, his finishing with a chance conversion rate of 6% (his clear-cut chance conversion of 14% was the lowest on the team) and his tendency to dally on the ball, having been dispossessed 88 times, second-highest of the squad. There are promising signs though; he won the ball the most out of any Arsenal player in the attacking third and was often the furthest forward pressing the opposition defence, his passing accuracy in the final third was 79%, one of the highest of our attacking players, and he created 55 chances, second only to Van Persie. Hopefully a quiet summer away from the spotlight will do him the world of good and he can return next season to live up to his potential.
As Ramsey faded away, Tomas Rosicky made a welcome return. After years of mediocrity, we finally saw the ‘Little Mozart’ we had signed from Dortmund, zipping about the pitch and causing havoc for defences, picking out Van Persie with a mixture of deft passes and sweeping cross-field balls with the outside of his boot and encouraging all those around him.
[table id=69 /]
Rosicky himself stated he needs to make up for lost time so hopefully we can see him kick on next year and be a vital part of our midfield like he has been during the run-in this season.
I thought the midfield section would probably be the best to take a look at how our pressing has compared to the champions in attacking areas of the pitch. Our best performances often come when the team works as a unit, pressing together to win back possession and taking advantage of the opponents disadvantage by attacking quickly. This season we have won possession in the midfield third 850 times and City 958. In the attacking third it’s 99 for us and 126 for City. Interceptions were close with the Gunners making 639 and City 648, but what’s obvious is that more work needs to be done in this area. Pressing isn’t the odd few players running about after the ball like a schoolyard game, it requires the team to remain compact, squeeze the space and the opposition will be easier to pressure. Much like the fact we lead the way on goals from defensive errors with 13, this definitely needs to be worked on over the summer.
Next Page: Analysis of the Front Three positions: van Persie, Gervinho, Walcott and Oxlade covered. Click here to read on…
Up top there have been many changes throughout the season. Starting with a 3 striker system that didn’t work out, Wenger soon reverted to the wingers and false 9, epitomised by Benayoun’s presence in the team in the final few games of the season. On the left we’ve saw Gervinho make his debut season, Chamberlain alert the hype police with some impressive performance, Ramsey make an interesting and successful cameo against Everton before a disaster against QPR and finally Benayoun prove that he has been much under-used this season.
Gervinho’s successful start to the season came before Wenger had fully changed the system. Playing as part of the front 3, he was great at beating a man, hitting the line and flashing it across goal, as we saw in some of his 6 assists. His 4 goals, as a figure alone, are not a bad return for a winger in his first Premier League season it’s when taken into account the amount of chances he has had, missing 11 clear-cut ones, second only to Robin Van Persie, the striker. However, his final third passing accuracy of 80% was the highest of any player in the front 3 and he does look a good player in flashes. Unfortunately, with the African Cup of Nations a constant disruption it’s hard to tell whether he will find this consistency and return to the player who outshone Hazard at Lille.
We’ve also seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left, but with only 556 minutes played his season can’t be measured in stats, rather the fact he has emerged as a future star for Arsenal. When he gets the ball there’s often only one thing on his mind and that’s get the ball forward. Capable of beating a man, out-sprinting and out-muscling many defenders and able to pick a pass, next season could be a massive one for yet another Southampton academy graduate.
Finally on the left we have Yossi Benayoun. I think it’s all but confirmed we won’t be signing him permanently which I feel is a shame. His professionalism is a cut above the rest, he didn’t need to care about us finishing 3rd on Sunday yet he chased a lost cause and scored the opening goal, and his ability hasn’t gone with age. With a shooting accuracy of 87% and 4 goals, one of them a risky header and another the one against West Brom, he is a good member of the squad to have. Wenger’s gamble of playing him in the big games against Tottenham and Man City in the latter half of the season paid off massively, with Benayoun putting in outstanding performances against both and helping the side retain possession. The team has been crying out for someone who can come from the bench and make a difference and Benayoun has been that player this season, he will be missed. Another likely departure from our left flank will be Andrei Arshavin. Having scored 3 goals in 8 appearances for Zenit it’s obvious he still has the talent. Unfortunately his application has all but disappeared and I would be surprised if we retained him this summer.
Over on the right flank we have Theo Walcott. With 8 goals and 8 assists you can’t argue that it’s been a productive season for him, it’s the fact he could have doubled both stats that make him so infuriating. For every dinked finish or ball flashed across goal to Van Persie there’s a ball trickling out for a goal-kick. He attempted the most dribbles on the team with 103, but only 34% were successful (Rosicky sits on 67% and Gervinho 45% for comparison). His attacking half passing accuracy was the second-worst with 67% yet he created 41 chances, higher than all our other wide-players. His season was affected by no recognised right-back behind him for weeks his form really hit the skids. At least he finally proved he does have character with his second-half performance against Tottenham in the 5-2 win and hopefully being part of England’s disastrous campaign at the Euro’s this season won’t affect him too much.
(Before I gush about el capitano I’d just like to say that Park played 6 minutes of Premier League football this season and Chamakh 169. I don’t even want to get into it)
Finally, Robin Van Persie. With 30 goals in the league he has won the Golden Boot, the Football Writer’s Award and Player of the Season. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer have scored more in a single season (31) if I’m correct. With 21 more shots than his closest rival Wayne Rooney, they both had the same shooting accuracy of 58% with Robin hitting 12 more on target. The fact Arsenal never won a penalty at home makes his goal tally even more outstanding. While hauling this goal tally, he also led the team in chances created with 92 (including set-pieces), 21 clear cut chances, 9 assists and he hit the woodwork 10 times so that 30 goals could have been even more. In the attacking half, his passing accuracy of 85% was the highest on the team, remarkable considering he was most often dealing with two defenders on him. If we are to stand any chance of sustaining a title-challenge next season we must hold on to him because he truly is one of the greatest in the world at the moment, unplayable when he is on form.
This season has been one to forget for Gooners. While there are some good memories; the 5-3 over Chelsea, 5-2 over Tottenham, return of Henry and the emergence of Chamberlain, the bad moments and infuriating form outweigh most. With Champions League qualification secured we should see transfer business conducted a lot quicker than last season, as we have seen so far with the signing of Podolski and the bid for Kagawa. Hopefully this continues and the players we have work their hardest on the training ground because, with a few world-class additions, we could well mount a title-challenge next year and give City and United a run for their money.
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.