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Arsenal | Midfield Analysis

I initially started out looking at some stats for Aaron Ramsey as he is a player I admire and have high hopes for. The Welshman’s current form has been a bit of a concern and I was wondering if the stats show something. The numbers were a bit surprising so I looked at Arteta and Song for a comparison.

The following table shows some passing statistics for the three Gunners who are Wenger’s first choice players at the moment.

Most of the stats are self-explanatory. The untitled column on the right with decimal numbers just provides the minutes per attribute value of the figure on the left. So 1.27 next to 497 total passes means that Ramsey is making a pass every 1.27 minutes (629/427). Similarly he makes a final third entry every 8.74 min and touches the ball every 0.97 min. This has been done to facilitate comparison as each player has been on the pitch for a different number of minutes.

Some observations are straightforward. All players have a fairly high passing accuracy. They also get on the ball often enough, roughly every minute. This does go a long way in explaining Arsenal’s possession dominance but most serious fans would have guessed these numbers so there isn’t much of an insight here.

Attempted and successful through-balls are interesting. Song’s numbers are off the charts, at least as far as the attempts go. Even the success rate 4/11 isn’t too bad. Ramsey hasn’t succeeded with any of his 6 attempts. This correlates with the general impression a fan might have formed after watching the youngster this season. He hasn’t offered enough creatively. His three assists are more happenstance than penetrative passing. Rambo has also lost possession in an uncharacteristic manner, which has, on occasion, also given opponents a chance to attack the Arsenal goal (not covered in the stats, just my observation).

Arteta has attempted a similar number of through balls (considering the minutes gap) with a lot more success. The Spaniard has also created significantly more chances given the time he has been on the pitch. But he is yet to get off the mark as far as assists go. It probably reflects on the quality of chances created. One would expect a lot more if Arsenal are to get out of the mire they are in.

The real surprise is in some of the other numbers.

Ramsey starts as the player closest to Van Persie down the middle but it is Arteta who is making final third entries more often (every 5.68 minutes compared to 8.74). For a defensive midfielder Song is not too far behind at 9.61.

It’s backed up by the passes in the final third. Arteta is making one roughly every three minutes while Ramsey is taking a minute more. Song is a bit behind in this segment, understandably so.

Song is clearly more involved in the defensive half making a pass every 3.6 minutes but his partner in the so-called double pivot, Arteta, with 4.63 min for a pass is behind Ramsey who makes one every 4.19.

I think this explains Arsenal’s rotating triangle in midfield and corroborates the observation that Ramsey is often the deepest of the three midfielders.

Out of curiosity, I then looked at similar numbers for Manchester United’s midfield.

Rooney seems to play more like an attacking midfielder with a license to roam. This is based on the number of passes he makes which shows greater involvement. The United No. 10 makes a pass every 1.73 minutes. This is much higher than Van Persie or Javier Hernandez who average more than three minutes for a pass.

There are some interesting observations to be made here and they offer some food for thought. Arteta and Ramsey are making passes more frequently than Anderson or Cleverly, although Fletcher (not captured in the stats above) matches Arteta on this stat.

Even the numbers of chances created or through balls are not very different from the Arsenal midfield. This is a bit of a surprise considering the difference in goals scored – 24 for United, 10 for the Gunners.

When one notes that Rooney has attempted 7 through balls and hasn’t succeed with any of those, it puts Ramsey’s figures into perspective. Since football is an intricately linked sport with various events reliant on other actions for their success, it’s very hard to interpret individual statistics. Have Ramsey and Rooney done poorly with their through balls? Have the runners not read the passes? Were the passes over hit? It’s hard to be conclusive but it presents an opportunity to analyze future games with this background.

The truly eyebrow raising stat is that, on an average, Rooney makes an entry into the final third every ten minutes. This number is higher than the corresponding figure for all three of Arsenal’s midfielders and only beats Cleverly’s time. It is a highly counterintuitive figure as one would expect an attacking player like Rooney to enter the final third more often than all the others.

Rooney is the most frequent passer in the final third for United with a pass every three minutes or so. Surprisingly, Arteta betters this number.

The explanation could be that once he enters the final third, Rooney spends a lot more time in the attacking areas and doesn’t move back and forth that often, and very rarely gets into his own half as his average for defensive half passes, once every 8.57 min, beats everyone else by quite a margin. His movement in the final third would lead to better angles, passing opportunities, and penetration.

Furthermore, Rooney has been on the end of 9 clear cut chances. No other player in this list has received more than one clear cut chance. This highlights his movement and effectiveness in the attacking areas which seem to be qualities that Arsenal are sorely lacking.

The Gunners’ midfield is getting on the ball more frequently and making a higher number of passes but those aren’t as penetrative. Nor is their movement putting them in positions where they can get gilt-edged opportunities. It is quite possible that the collective defensive frailties force them to adopt an inhibited attacking style.

Part of the reason could also be the relative lack of technical qualities on the wing. Theo Walcott makes a pass every 3.63 minutes while the figure for Gervinho is 2.76. In contrast, with 1.97 and 2.07 min per pass respectively, Nani and Young are offering a lot more in terms of involvement.

I believe a higher passing frequency implies better movement, which in turn leads to enhanced passing angles thereby stretching the defences and improving the odds for creating chances.

Lower contribution from the wide players in the passing game would force the midfielders to pass amongst themselves and on the flanks with the full-backs. Not surprisingly, Arteta and Ramsey top the charts in terms of passes on the wings. This seems to confirm many fans’ observation that Arsenal pass the ball sideways and in wide areas way too often.

To be completely honest, it is impossible to form definitive opinions based on these stats alone. The performances of the wide players, strikers, and defenders – especially full-backs, would have to be analyzed in conjunction with these numbers to get an accurate picture. One would also have to look at defensive statistics of these players to assess their contribution in full.

However, these stats are very suggestive and offer a lot to munch on during the international break. They also offer observation points, so to speak, for future games.

Featured image from @CitizenGunner

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