If ever there was going to be a match when the spotlight of the day would fall on Steven Fletcher it could well be the 27 December match at the Emirates. Moved from Boxing Day to accommodate fears over the pending strike, this match will feature a Wolves side that has recorded a dismal 1-1-6 away record in the Premier League this season. They will line-up opposite an Arsenal side that has posted an impressive 6-1-1 home record to date. Much has been written about the fine form and scoring exploits of the Gunners’ Dutch captain, but for Wolves supporters it will be all eyes on his counterpart, the Scottish International Fletcher. For Wolverhampton Wanderers salvation may rest squarely on his shoulders.
Last season was a remarkable one for Fletcher, he managed to score double figure goals in the Premier League without being a regular member of the starting XI, getting into 29 matches but 14 of those as a substitute. Further, his time in the first choice XI did not provide many long runs with the 29 appearances totaling just 1395′, 48′ per appearance on average. This season his pitch time has risen dramatically, having started 10 of Wolves 17 matches and earning 919′. He’s playing more full 90′ matches and averages 78′ per appearance.
While has pace last season was a torrid one, the increase in minutes has not corresponded with an inverse decrease in production as is often seen when part-time players take on a full EPL match load. From the chart at left we can see his defensive ratios are still very good while the rate of challenges has dipped. This may be partially attributed to his better passing numbers and increased chances created. He has been better with the ball at his feet, leading to fewer lost possessions and less need to challenge the opposition.
His passing in particular is a welcome improvement with 75% of his OPP finding their intended target. Against an Arsenal side that thrives on holding possession, Fletcher will need to be economical with the ball and a higher completion % is a good foundation from which to build.
The statistics [available in the Stats Centre] illustrate the importance of a higher pass % as Fletcher’s shooting accuracy and chance conversion have dropped considerably from last season. The former is of greater concern as shots off target are wasteful. The later is of less concern with Steven is creating his own chances more frequently, and contributing to other players scoring success, having lowered his minutes per chance created from 78′ to 61′. Over the course of an ‘average’ 2800′ season that equates to 10 more chances created (36:46).
Arsenal have conceded 191 chances this season, with 105 of those inside the box and a further 86 outside the box. From those 191 chances they have allowed 25 goals (of which 4 are own goals) with 19 coming from inside the box and 6 outside. This Arsenal side has kept 6 clean sheets with 4 of those coming at home. Further, they’re allowing a paltry 0.71 goals per game at home, 5 goals allowed in 7 home fixtures. With Arsenal also scoring 2 goals per home fixture (14 goals in 7 home matches) the onus will be on Wolves to create at least a goal if they hope to take home a point or more.
Wolves as a squad have created 167 chances, a full 138 from open play while the remaining 29 came from set pieces. However, they have just one assist from those set pieces compared to 8 from the 138 open play chances. Additionally, all of the goals Wolves have managed this season (19) have come from inside the box. With that as a barometer, we can see that their focus will need to be getting the ball to Fletcher in the box. This season he has 31 shots, with 22 of those from inside the box leading to his 6 goals. He is scoring on 27% of his shots in that situation and will look to get the ball at his feet inside the box to best challenge Szczesny on Tuesday.
The spotlight will also focus on Fletcher as the Wolves strike force has not been potent of late, with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s goal in the 2-2 draw with Norwich the first from the forward in his seven EPL appearances this season. Although there have been contributions from the rest of the squad of late – Zubar (v Norwich), Hunt (v. Stoke) – 9 of the clubs 19 goals were recorded by forwards with Fletcher (6) top scorer, Doyle (2) and Ebank-Blake(1).
There can be no question that this match will be a difficult one but Mick McCarthy will be hoping that his side capitalize on an Arsenal defense currently missing Sanga, Gibbs, Jenkinson, Djourou, and Santos to take at least a point back to Wolverhampton. With three goals in his last four matches, including the winning brace against Sunderland, it will Steven Fletcher to once more lead the line.