Amid City’s relatively quiet summer transfer window, rumors of Robin van Persie joining the club have been frequent. This post is not meant to discuss the likelihood of van Persie joining City or the validity of the rumors, although the most recent rumors suggest that van Persie will not be joining City. Instead I’d like to weigh the arguments for and against City signing van Persie in a statistical context.
The Lone Striker Role
City often plays with two strikers up top, one of which tends to play higher up the field and the other dropping in a little more. Although they do have a significant number of strikers now, there is a good chance that at least a few of them will leave the club before this upcoming season begins. While Balotelli (if he stays) often is the player shading higher up the field, I don’t think he does as good of a job as van Persie being able to play alone up top. As an example, I’ve compared the stats dashboard of Balotelli with van Persie from the game at the Emirates between Arsenal and City this past season.
As you can see, van Persie tends to stay in the attacking half of the field, holding the ball up and connecting in the attacking third, whereas Balotelli roams everywhere. My argument is that City needs a striker that is able to hold the ball up on his own, something that van Persie is unmatched at in my opinion.
Another forward that often plays the higher striker role for City is Edin Dzeko. Dzeko, if he stays, does tend to stay forward much more than Balotelli. However, I don’t think even the most biased City fan would argue he is as strong an overall player as van Persie. While Dzeko is a great goal scorer, he is not the greatest at holding the ball and connecting as City goes forward, something that van Persie would excel at.
Arsenal and City: Statistical Twins
My second argument in favor of City signing van Persie stems from the similarity of Arsenal and City in styles of play. Offensively, both clubs were very similar last season. Both were possession oriented teams, keeping the ball as much as possible and passing a lot. Below is a comparison of the passing numbers for the entire 2011/2012 season for each club. As you can see, the offensive styles of the teams are extremely similar.
This similarity suggests that van Persie would not have too much trouble fitting in to the City system. He has excelled in the Arsenal system, so it should theoretically be easier for him to fit in to the City system compared with a different club, like Manchester United. Whereas Arsenal and City are strong passing teams, United derives a lot of their offense from crosses. That is a bit of a generalization, but the numbers support the claim: Arsenal and City had 896 and 848 crosses respectively last season, while United had 1018.
High Price to Pay
Despite these arguments for the signing of van Persie, there are also some reasons for NOT signing him. The first and most significant in my opinion is the fact that van Persie is going to come at a high price. This is due to the fact that last season was likely the best season he will have throughout his entire career. Because of this, I do not think that it is prudent to sign a player that is likely peaking for a high premium. Of course, I could be wrong. But I don’t think it is likely that van Persie can repeat the incredible campaign he had last season, no matter what club he ends up playing for. This, and the fact that City is likely about to face problems with the Financial Fair Play rules, suggests that van Persie would be a poor signing.
Less Playing Time
While van Persie was a mainstay for Arsenal last season, starting 37 of 38 games and playing a whopping 3334 minutes, his playing time would be cut significantly short if he signed for City due to the rotation system employed by Mancini. To put this in to perspective, here is a list of the City strikers and their playing time from last season: Dzeko-1497 minutes, Aguero-2600 minutes, Balotelli-1321, Tevez-601 (albeit different reasons). These minutes are all much less than the 3334 that van Persie played. Just for hypothetical purposes, let’s imagine van Persie signed for City and played 2600 minutes, the high-end of the minutes for City’s strikers for last season. Over the past 4 years, van Persie’s minutes per goal have been 200, 140, 98 and 111. Also for hypothetical purposes, let’s say
he keeps up the incredible form from last season and continues his pace of 111 minutes per goal. At this pace and playing time, we would expect van Persie to score 23 goals, a very impressive number, but well short of last year’s total of 30. In my mind, it does not make sense for City to pay for 30 goals when they are likely going to get 23 goals at best.
If I had to decide to sign van Persie or not, I think that I would pass. Despite that there are some reasons in favor of City signing van Persie, including his ability to play the lone striker role and fit in to the City system well due to its statistical similarity with the Arsenal system, I don’t think it is the right move to pay so much money for a player who is unlikely to repeat the incredible season he had last year. Keep in mind that City must also cut its expenses to comply with the incoming financial rules. I should say, if City were to sign van Persie I wouldn’t say I was disappointed at all. Van Persie is an incredible player, and I would love to see him in a City uniform. I just don’t think he is a prudent purchase considering his large price tag.
All of the stats from this article (apart from the FourFourTwo StatsZone chalkboard) have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Read about new additions to the stats centre.