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What’s the difference between Arshavin and Samir Nasri? The Creator and the Assassin – Data Analysis

February 14, 2011

Statistics cannot inform every conclusion when it comes to football. They are merely descriptors for physical, tangible actions which take place on the pitch over ninety minute periods. However, data can tell the tale of the role of an individual within a team, and assess their contribution in basic form.

This season has seen the rising form of Samir Nasri capture the imagination of the footballing world, and his importance to Arsenal even prompted the placing of the Frenchman on a par with Cesc Fabregas where team selection is concerned.

By contrast another key player, who often inhabits the opposite flank, Andrey Arshavin, has been the subject of criticism over his performances in 2010/11. This season a perception has prevailed in sections of the public, which sees Arshavin as playing very poorly this season. There are valid points to this, his passing has at times been inaccurate, and there is the old criticism that he just doesn’t run enough. There is still room for debate on the topic though.

Both players have played almost exactly the same amount of minutes in the Premier League this season, Nasri on 1559 minutes, and Arshavin on 1597, playing 39 minutes extra, this makes the two attacking midfielders perfect for comparison.

The graphs below detail the contribution in goals and assists over the games played. The closer the lines to the cumulative minutes the more regularly the players are scoring and creating goals. The comparison is interesting.

Nasri is clearly not involved in the final part of moves creating goals, though that’s not to say he is not involved in engineering chances, but he is very likely to get on the end of a pass and finish calmly. This is based partly on his speed; he’s second fastest only to Theo Walcott in the squad, and partly on his skill and deft touch – there has been abundant evidence of that this season, such as those two wonderful goals against Fulham.

Arshavin’s data looks rather different. Here is a player who despite the criticism does create goals for the side. The eleven assists he’s made have come reasonably regularly and do belie a player who contributes something to the team. Indeed, he was involved in creating the first Nasri goal in that Fulham game, a wonderful example of the differing contribution of both players in one succinct move.

Andrey has always had the reputation for a player who can ‘go missing’, a flair player, who doesn’t have the bustling physicality so often placed on a pedestal in British footballing culture. Nevertheless Andrey has been a key tool in Wenger’s development of a new look attack using the 4-2-3-1 formation centred on the passing abilities of Cesc Fabregas.

The contrast in roles is very easy to see here, although Nasri is used in a similar position to Arshavin, out wide in the 4-2-3-1, both play the game in completely different ways. As Jonathon Wilson repeatedly says, formation is neutral – it is the individuals who make the team – and that fact is played out here.

The perception in public is that Arshavin has had a very average run of form over the mid part of the current season. This idea is only strengthened by the fact that Andrey was dropped for several games, and replaced by Theo Walcott, who is in real form providing assists and goals, most evident in the first half of the 4-4 game at St. James’ Park against Newcastle (more from footballscores.com), albeit the unflattering final result.

One statistical point of note is the fact that almost 50% of all Arshavin’s assists have come in games Arsenal have either drawn or lost, whereas two thirds of Nasri’s goals are scored in games Arsenal have won.

The passing form of Arshavin has been covered here before, but in general terms he is having a season of fluctuating form. He himself has admitted that much, but his contribution is still clear, and he does provide a different option to Walcott on the flanks.

Nasri meanwhile is in excellent form and Arsenal wait on news of his fitness ahead of the Barcelona game on Wednesday night. Wenger says he is ‘physically ready’, but whether he starts remains to be seen. In the longer term his contribution to the final third of the season will be crucial in Arsenal’s title push.

Simple comparisons of individual contributions might not always be the best estimation of a player’s worth. However, the data presented here clearly shows the development of two very separate roles within the Arsenal side.

Read more on statistics in Football Data or watch Nasri’s goals at Marseilles

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25 Comments
  1. critic permalink
    February 14, 2011 4:51 pm

    Your writing style is differently awesome. It’s like a poem about to end but audience want to hear more. Please forgive me if my observations are wrong but your writing makes me fall in love with arsenal over and over again.
    Smooth, poetic, romantic………just amazing.
    Keep it up man.

    • February 14, 2011 4:59 pm

      That reads like some sort of Valentine’s dedication – good timing. Thanks for the kind words, I’m attempting to post material at least once a week, though it takes time.

      • critic permalink
        February 15, 2011 5:39 pm

        oh! didn’t realize that. But i can’t point it out, there’s something very romantic/poetic about ur writing style. May be because i read about wenger’s early years as my first article on this blog. But htis is something different from all the other arsenal blogs.

        I will be a regular reader from now on.

      • February 15, 2011 6:05 pm

        Always happy to hear from regular readers, good stuff mate.

  2. Chris permalink
    February 14, 2011 4:54 pm

    Really interesting – it does make Arshavin look more productive then Nasri, but your note that 50% of Arshavins goals/assists have come in games that Arsenal have drawn or loast, and this to me suggests that we concede more goals when he is playing (than when Nasri is).

    • February 14, 2011 5:09 pm

      Yes, Nasri’s contribution is still important. He is generally involved in build-up play, just not the final ball. It’s the team dynamic which defines the results, so I think there is more to the contributions than simply goals and assists. It just seemed a useful way to pull apart the differences in style between the two. When both playing the result is generally good.

      • samir nasri permalink
        February 14, 2011 5:24 pm

        completely james, i’d also say nasri is more effective this year, because he’ll keep it everywhere, play his teammates around and then pop up with the most direct run and finish it with deft touches and then whatever the situation calls for. and if that’s passing to the player who will then make the assist, he could not care less. that’s why i love watching arsenal, very selfless play from everyone on most occasions.

    • samir nasri permalink
      February 14, 2011 5:21 pm

      to me it doesn’t suggest arshavin is more productive, it suggests to me nasri is.

      in general i’ve found nasri creating more and scoring more this season, don’t get me wrong, i’m not bias, nasri may be my favourite player, but arshavin is quite close. a great player.

      but what i’ve found quite stunning is how many times nasri’s put the ball into good positions and no-one has finished, had the team’s finish been on say.. chelsea’s level of the last couple years. then yes, maybe we would see a very, very distinctive difference.

      that comparison is not perfect, we aren’t chelsea, and finish is tougher in small congested areas. of course i don’t compare arsenal to chelsea, more often than not, we will work through the tight spaces, where chelsea is that direct, boring but effective brand of football.

    • Mikhail permalink
      February 14, 2011 5:24 pm

      alternatively it can also suggest that games we could have lost were salvaged by his efforts. :P

  3. metalhead permalink
    February 14, 2011 5:32 pm

    Excellent post! I’m not a big fan of stats but like you said they do tell how a player is contributing. A sign of a great player is when he contributes to the team even when he is not in form. Unfortunately for Arshavin he has come to that stage of his career where he can no longer skip past defenders with score goals like he used to. But that is not a bad thing for Arsenal. You don’t want sameness in all your players. Variety is also important to get that balance right. I think Arshavin and Nasri playing together bring balance, based on those stats.

  4. ArsenalForever2004 permalink
    February 14, 2011 6:04 pm

    One thing I will say is that Arshavin is a replacement for Nasri NOT Walcott. Walcott hardly plays on the left side of the front three. This is an area Arsenal is lacking in if you exclude Miyachi and Wellington who both might not get work permits – for me Rosicky is a liability, Bendtner should only be used on the right as an emergency and I am not sure if Vela is good enough (and plays on the left anyway).

    We need more cover for the wing forwards and more specifically the right wing especially as Miyachi looks like another left wing forward – probably means Hazard coming in. This along with 1 or 2 centre backs, a backup MAIN (ie. Song) defensive midfielder (depending on the development of Frimpong and Coquelin and Denilson’s form) and a backup MAIN striker. Please let me know if you agree.

    • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna permalink
      February 14, 2011 6:52 pm

      Arsenal forever 2004 makes some good points about our difficulties finding someone to play on the left side as a striker. Walcott is most definitely a right wing forward but if i remember correctly Miyachi can play on either wing and in midfield as well.
      I don’t agree that Rosicky is a liability since he, like Arshavin, has had a bad patch but I rmember him with Hleb and Flamoney making teams like AC Milan look amateurish. He is definitely NOT a starting 11 player but he still has skill and can add a great deal to the midfield now that wilshere and Cesc are having such a formidable season.
      Bendtner is by far the central striker like Chamakh and RVP but he is still 2nd or 3rd choice so unless Wenger can teach him to become a CB (he’d be good at 6ft.5) then he’ll have to remain a squad player for awhile yet.
      As far as other backup positions, we do need a 5th CB but with Frimpong and Coquelin starting to show great promise and with the ability of Diaby and Song to interchange, we are in pretty good shape.

      • ArsenalForever2004 permalink
        February 15, 2011 5:07 am

        I said we lack numbers on the right wing Dom not the left wing – Nasri can play on the right but is usually on the left and Rosicky is not the same anymore and gives away too many fouls (ie. Tottenham, Newcastle). He is now 30 and seems to be declining. Miyachi plays mainly on the left wing which again doesn’t address the lack of a backup preferred right wing forward – from videos I have seen Hazard always attacks from the right so he would be a good purchase (depending on how much he costs).

        This way the left wing would have Arshavin, Nasri and Miyachi and the right wing will have Walcott, Hazard, Wellington and Rosicky (assuming the two (Wellington and Miyachi) get their work permits). Do not get me wrong I love Rosicky but he doesn’t offer a direct enough threat – he is a bit like Denilson on the wings – and he gives away too many fouls in dangerous positions for a player who is supposed to do a similar ‘calming down’ job to Giggs at Man Utd. I would keep him for the sake of experience though unless someone makes a crazy offer.

        For me, Diaby does not have the defensive instincts to be the main defensive midfielder and van Persie getting injured would leave only Chamakh and Bendtner who have been good but not at the level to win the title unless they step up.

  5. orlandogooner permalink
    February 14, 2011 10:53 pm

    the thing that is not being taken into account here is creativity, passion, and effort. Arshavin seems to just be luckily in the right place for the ball to bounce to him while Nasri most of the times creates his own space and makes defenders look inadequate to create his own goals.

  6. February 15, 2011 4:34 pm

    Following on from our brief discussion on twitter, another reason for the differences between the 2 is the natural conservatism of Nasri.

    Arshavin plays with almost a free role on the left, not afraid to try plenty of flicks, throughballs and first-time passes. Nasri on the other hand is always focussed on keeping possession. For instance, in the Premier League this season Arshavin has a pass completion of 74.2%. Nasri’s pass completion is 87.1%. Arshavin has 11 assists while Nasri has 1. It’s clear that Arshavin plays with the hand-brake off.

    I think the Nasri/Arshavin dilemma is a brilliant one to have, because they’re 2 players among the best in the league in their position, yet each offer different strengths going forward. Arshavin being the better counter-attacker/direct threat, while Nasri is the better pass-and-move/close control player. As such they can be rotated depending on the requirements of the game (a tough away game where the midfield needs to keep control, or a home game against a lowly team that’s susceptible to pace?).

    It’s great to have such an option, the squad would be much stronger if other positions had such contrasting competitors. For instance a midfield terrier to compete with Song’s more zonal approach to defending. Or an accurate crosser to provide an alternative to Walcott’s movement-based game.

    • February 15, 2011 6:00 pm

      Brilliant point about the handbrake. That may be part of the reason behind the criticism of Arshavin, often what he does doesn’t come off. I’ve always been accepting of that due to his creativity, and just see it as part of his play – the only problem there is that he is not a suitable player for every type of game.

      Wenger is now perfecting his squad, hand in hand with the maturation of young players who have been in the side for years. This blend is allowing Arsenal to make a stronger challenge for the title year by year, though now holding onto key assets like Fabregas could be the tricky part.

  7. pjw permalink
    February 17, 2011 3:58 am

    Cool article. Arshavin definitely has a great ability to set up goals when he gets a little time on the ball. However, against good teams he doesn’t always work hard enough to get that time, and Nasri has all the same ability. One thing that I’ve noticed too is that Nasri has had a bit of bad luck as far as assists go this year. He has set players up numerous times, and somehow a post, brilliant save, or poor shot has prevented the goal and his assist. I’d say we’re lucky to have be able to bring someone like Arshavin on as a sub, though.

    • February 18, 2011 9:49 pm

      Considering the way the Barcelona game finished I’d say both are vital attacking options, especially in the final third. Interestingly Nasri set Arshavin up for the winning goal. Fantastic stuff.

  8. Rock permalink
    February 24, 2011 2:43 am

    Jamesgillesp,

    you are a brilliant analyser. Bravo. Very enlightening read. Do write more often..

    • February 24, 2011 2:53 pm

      Hey thanks for the compliments, very good. I’m trying to keep things consistent, generally articles every Monday – once a week is what I can manage whilst maintaining quality.

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