Arsenal have enjoyed a pretty solid season so far: firmly in the Premier League title race, still in the FA Cup and still (just) in the Champions League. The Gunners have had a number of outstanding performers from Laurent Koscielny to Wojciech Szczęsny but three of the truly great performers have been Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil. Ramsey’s injury-troubled season has still seen him placed amongst the best Arsenal performers this season, whilst his German teammates have been fantastic too – Özil has his detractors but the stats back him up, as I hope to demonstrate.
First of all let’s look at Per Mertesacker. The big German centre back has played out his best season in the Premier League this term and his partnership with Laurent Koscielny has been an absolute revelation for Arsene Wenger’s side for about 12 months. His statistics have been pretty impressive this season and the first thing which stands out is his ability in the air. He does have the advantage of being a giant but still, he’s doing well. The German international has won 71% of his aerial duels this season, which is the highest percentage in the Arsenal squad for an outfield player. Mertesacker is also the leading Arsenal player when it comes to total headed clearances with 120, to emphasise his heading prowess you simply have to compare him to his centre back partner Koscielny, who has registered just 96 headed clearances.
But. This is a big but. You don’t just walk into Arsenal’s team by simply being a tall battering ram. Mertesacker is also doing the business on the ground. He’s won 65% of his ground duels and his percentage is only bettered by the Belgian centre back Thomas Vermaelen (86%) – who has played just a fraction of the minutes that the German has – in terms of total ground duels between those two players, Mertesacker has entered into 45 whereas Vermaelen has contested just 12. He’s also doing well in terms of overall clearances, he’s the second highest in the Arsenal squad when it comes to total clearances with 176 – just behind Koscielny on 179.
Mertesacker is also contributing in other areas too. His passing accuracy is an impressive 93% – although he plays in the easiest area of the field passing wise – and he’s bagged himself two goals too. He’s also completed 100% of his dribbles this season, which is good because you don’t want a centre back who will dribble five yards and give it away in a dangerous position, you need him to be dependable and steady and that’s what he has been.
So far, Mertesacker has been a completely dependable player for Wenger this season. The German must be in the running to be named in the Barclays Premier League Team of the Year and some Gooners will probably name him their player of the year. One thing is certain, Mertesacker will be pivotal as Arsenal continue to navigate this harsh part of the season.
Mesut Özil has been another great performer for the Arsenal this season but a combination of the high-end price tag and foolish punditry have led to the German playmaker being maligned by certain sections of the press and fan base. We all know why the former Real Madrid man was signed by Arsene Wenger, he was to be one of the main creative sparks in an already creative team and for some reason people fail to realise that he has actually done exactly that: he’s been creative. Firstly, Özil has made the most successful passes in the final third of the pitch for Arsenal this season with 651 successful passes from 780 attempts. Secondly, he’s basically been a wizard, how so many people have missed this creativity is beyond me – I’m slightly shocked by these figures myself to be perfectly honest. He’s created the most chances (63), the most open play chances (43), the most set piece chances (12), the most assists (8) and the most set piece assists (2) in the Arsenal squad.
He’s also been on the ball more than anyone in the Arsenal squad with 1405 passes attempted. Özil is also playing in the hardest area of the pitch to make a pass – the final third – so it’s good to see that he is still demonstrating a good passing accuracy with a figure around 88% registered so far this season. He’s also making the most penalty box entry passes, with 90 of his passes entering the opposition area compared to 77 from the Spaniard Cazorla. So, despite playing in the tightest areas of the pitch and pinging more passes into the box than any other Arsenal player, Özil is still putting down a very decent pass accuracy figure.
Adding more weight to the argument that Özil has had a good season is the number of assists he’s made. At the moment, assists are very popular with the general footballing fanbase so we’ll stick with it for now because it makes Özil look good but it’s better to rate a creative player on the number of clear-cut chances he’s created. However, because it makes the German look good I’m going to use assists as a worthwhile metric. The World Cup bound German playmaker has a very healthy 8 assists so far this season placing him near the top of the leaderboard alongside players such as Steven Gerrard, Luis Suárez and Wayne Rooney. In terms of actual clear-cut chances, Özil has created just three but that’s not a disaster. Most competitive creative talents have created around six by this point in the season.
All in all, Özil has been far better than most will suggest. He’s been Arsenal’s creator-in-chief and all this despite moving to a new league and a new team. It’s scary thinking about what he could do when he’s totally settled.
Many Arsenal fans believe Aaron Ramsey to be Arsenal’s best player and who can blame them? Before his troublesome thigh injury which has laid him off for the last two months, Aaron Ramsey was displaying the kind of ability that most people associate with his English counterpart: Jack Wilshere. After a couple of seasons in the performance wilderness, Ramsey has hit back with a bang and was taking the Premier League by storm before the thigh problem cropped up. Luckily for Arsenal fans, the Welshman is back in full training and should be back starting games soon.
Aaron Ramsey has enjoyed a great season in front of goal and his all action displays have made him one of the most exciting players in the Premier League. One of his main assets is his ability to score goals and create chances and this is reflected in the figures above. Ramsey is Arsenal’s chief when it comes to creating clear-cut chances (the best kind of chances when an attacker is odds on to score at that moment). The Welsh midfielder has created nine CCC’s for his teammates so far this season – three times more than teammate Mesut Özil. Ramsey is not an out and out creator so it can be expected that he’s a little lower in the chance creation stats, however, he still comes a respectable fifth when it comes to who makes the most Arsenal chances. Only Özil (63), Cazorla (42), Wilshere (32) and Giroud (28) have created more chances this season with Ramsey himself making a decent 26. As well as creating goals Ramsey can also score them. Despite his lengthy injury layoff he remains Arsenal’s second top goalscorer behind Giroud (12) having scored eight goals early on in the season when Arsenal looked like world beaters. As I said, Ramsey is not simply a creative midfielder and this is reflected in his shooting statistics. His shooting accuracy remains at a solid 71%, second only to Özil (80%) in the Arsenal squad. He also boasts a super impressive 67% when it comes to converting CCC’s into goals.
Ramsey is also a very dynamic midfielder, perhaps like Jordan Henderson but with more goals. As well as working hard, scoring goals and creating, Ramsey can defend. He’s won the most tackles for Arsenal this season with 56 out of 66 and, of the regular starters, he’s the third highest in Arsenal’s squad when it comes to tackles won percentage, which stands at 85% – behind only Podolski (100%) and Jack Wilshere (88%). His passing is also competitive, with 84% of his passes hitting the target despite playing at the sharp end of the pitch.
In truth, Arsenal have massively missed Ramsey since his injury. I think it will be a huge regret when Gooners look back on this season, and reflect that Ramsey wasn’t fit for the whole season like say Hazard or Suárez. He would have made a huge difference to Arsenal in all aspects of their game. As you’ve seen, he’s an excellent player in multiple areas of the game such as creating, scoring and defending – you can’t just replace these players unless you’re a Chelsea or a Manchester City. I’m sure Ramsey will be making up for lost time during the last two months of the season.
So, these are probably Arsenal’s three best players and I’ve hopefully demonstrated why they are such key players for the London club. I could have used numerous other players such as Koscielny, Szczęsny and Gibbs. Arsenal have had a good season so far but they need to pull it out of the proverbial bag in the next month to make this season a great one.