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, 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.