I don’t think anyone who has seen Jack Wilshere play doubts his talent. Even anti-Arsenal hacks and pundits, and purveyors of ignorant, spiteful opinions in the Arsenalsphere rave about the youngster. From football legends like Wenger and Capello to common fans like this blogger, everyone has lavished undiluted praise on the next great English hope ever since he was a schoolboy.
It’s early days in Arteta’s Arsenal career but the Spaniard beats Wilshere on almost all stats. He makes more passes and with greater accuracy, creates a higher number of chances, losses possession less frequently, shoots more often and converts better, wins more duels, and has substantially superior tackling success.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t take anything away from young Jack. He’s earned every plaudit he’s received and more. With that in mind just ask yourself, how good a player Mikel Arteta really is? Was he really a panic buy?!
I made this comparison for two reasons. Firstly, I have observed, and noted in previous articles (here and here), that Arteta is compensating for the lack of technical contribution from the attacking players. His pass/min stat is outstanding and makes him the only Premier League player in the top 10 for most passes per game across the five major leagues in Europe. I’ll return to this while analyzing the wingers.
Secondly, I wanted to discuss the difference in common perception about the two midfielders. Arteta was discarded by many as a last-minute desperation-induced signing and has rarely received enough credit for the work he does. Add to it the baggage of expectations due to the similarities with Cesc and we have a player who isn’t seen as being good enough for Arsenal. Wilshere on the other hand is deemed the heir apparent to Fabregas and considered by many to be the best current English midfielder.
To an extent it could be a function of their individual playing styles. Jack has flair, flamboyance, and aggression. Arteta is more about experienced, understated efficiency. Wilshere has an “In your face”, ready to take on and beat the best attitude. Arteta is about dignified superiority.
Another factor is that the hype machine, probably based on highlights-worthy moments that stick in one’s memory, often blurs the difference between the current performances and potential. Wilshere could one day perform at a level that all the superlatives in the dictionary would fail to do justice to; but at present he lacks a vital ingredient, experience. Min/Loss of possession tells us the youngster tries an ill-advised dribble too many or often lacks that bit of control which gives the ball away (think back to his red card for that lunge against Zigic after a poor touch took the ball away). It’s a small detail but it affects the team’s performance, especially considering the position he plays.
Arteta also suffers from the fact that he can’t get into an outrageously gifted national side.
The point I am leading to is this – Popular opinion is off the mark more often than some would like to accept. There is a reason words like Good or Correct are not easily interchangeable with the word Popular. Of course, the depressing irony is that this little nugget is popularly ignored!
Arteta’s performances reinforce my ever-growing belief that there is an unmistakable method behind Wenger’s perceived madness, which, while not beyond scrutiny, certainly deserves greater respect.
Moving on, let’s explore what else the stats are telling us.
Surprisingly, Arteta tops the list for the frequency of chance creation. Since these players have rarely, if ever, figured in the front four of their respective sides, none of them is the main creator. In that context Arteta hasn’t been too bad, has he? Not quite Cesc, but still fab in his own way.
The former Everton man does lose possession a tad more regularly than the others. It could be related to the fact that he has relatively fewer options to pass due to the direct nature of the wide players at Arsenal. It’s also worth noting that Arteta had a 60.28 percent success rate in aerial duels for his former club last season. These are two areas where improvements can be expected.
Yaya Toure has been superb for City and has grown as a player with Premiership experience (has improved many of his own stats from last season). He’s on par with Arteta as far as passing and tackling success goes, and betters the Spaniard on the loss of possession figure. With 43 min/shot, Toure attempts a strike more often than the others so he can’t really be considered a defensive player either. Since City regularly play a technical player on the wings, it’s possible that the Ivorian benefits from having less of a passing burden and the availability of better angles.
Among the others, I am surprised there aren’t any stand out numbers for Modric given the general perception about his quality. Again, the point here is not to doubt the Croatian’s abilities but to put his counterparts in perspective.
Ramires has an astonishingly low pass/min figure. I double-checked the stats with another source because Chelsea pass the ball as often as Arsenal. It is possible their defensive players have a greater share of the possession. That’s another matter to be explored in the future. The Brazilian does have a pop at goal more often than most others. It’s quite possible that AVB has given him the task of getting on the end of chances created by their flair players. This might lead to a greater focus on making incisive runs instead of getting into positions to receive and make passes that keep the game ticking.
Charlie Adam’s passing accuracy is below the others but so was Liverpool’s when compared to the other top sides in the previous article. On the other hand, the former Blackpool man is winning an eye-popping 77 percent of his aerial battles. The experience of being in a relegation battle might be coming in handy.
Interestingly, Arteta and Adam show a noteworthy difference between the overall passing accuracy and that from open play. Both take a number of set-pieces for their sides whereas the other midfielders are closer on the two stats with fewer free-kick responsibilities. For Toure the two numbers are virtually identical.
Another oddity is that Wilshere, Yaya, and Modric – arguably the three most ‘gifted’ players in the lot – have noticeably lower chance conversion figures.
I will update this post with figures for through-balls, final third entries, and passes if I get the time tomorrow. As ever, there is more to be gleaned from these figures so am looking forward to your inputs.
I was able to compile these detailed passing stats to add to yesterday’s discussion. In the following image, FTE – Final Third Entries; FTP – Final Third Passes; DHP – Defensive Half Passes; AHP – Attacking Half Passes
As with the first table, it’s quite clear that Arteta has done very well across the board. He enters the final third more frequently than the others, makes more passes in that area and his passing accuracy in the attacking zone is exceptional.
More importantly, he isn’t playing in the attacking area alone as he is passing the ball in the defensive areas more frequently than all bar two others – Toure and Anderson.
He is also attempting a through-ball every 71 minutes which is faster than everyone except Wilshere. There is a bit of room in improving the accuracy as Arteta has only succeeded with 3 of his 10 attempts. But it must be noted that his success rate is better than Wilshere who, in fairness, is being measured over a longer period. Some others have better success rates with their through-balls but the percentages can be misleading as Anderson has only attempted two, while Ramires has managed 2 accurate ones out of five. Charlie Adam has been outstanding with 8 of his 11 balls finding a teammate. It is even more amazing if we consider that the Liverpool man is considerably behind the others in overall passing accuracy.
The FTE stat for Ramires is a curious one. As we’ve already seen, the Brazilian attempts a shot on goal more frequently than everyone else apart from Yaya Toure. But compared to the others he doesn’t enter the FT as often. Come to think of it, even the City midfielder doesn’t enter the attacking area that often. It is quite possible that both prefer to lurk just outside the final third in a defensive role and make a forward run only when a clear opportunity presents itself. It makes sense if we consider both these players would have significant defensive duties in their respective sides. It appears to be a fascinating example of excellent decision making that leads to a balance between attack and defence.
In conclusion, I just want to note that the idea was not to show that Arteta is better than Wilshere. I accept the various points made about the different roles of these players, effect of team tactics, impact of the number of games played, etc. And as I have clearly stated, there is no doubt in my mind Wilshere has the potential to be an all time great.
The point here was to highlight just how good Arteta has been for Arsenal. The other players serve as benchmarks of sorts. It’s obvious from the stats that the Spaniard is covering a lot of ground – he could not be leading the passing stats in the final third and attacking half, and doing well in the defensive half without racking up phenomenal yardage – and doing an excellent job of sustaining possession, creating chances, and tackling at the end of all that running. It wasn’t a meaningless platitude from a manager who’s lost the plot when Arsene called Arteta a complete footballer.