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January 16, 2012

Arsenal continues to stumble. Have they become too dependent on Van Persie? The stats don’t lie!

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Another weekend has passed by and another totally lackluster effort from my beloved Gunners.  I knew they were in deep, deep trouble when they scored so early in the game and of course it was Robin Van Persie with another classy finish.  This makes three games I can think of where Arsenal scored really early and couldn’t hold on.  Surely there were other occasions as well.

Miraculously someone other than RVP scored later in the game (Theo Walcott), but when the final whistle blew and there were few chances created, I began to ponder what could happen if RVP gets hurt (some might say when instead of if).  Arsenal’s dependency on RVP has been staggering this season.

I created the viz below based on club and squad stats from ESPN Soccernet for EPL games. 

Here’s how I designed it and what I’ve observed:

  1. Anything in red = Robin Van Persie
  2. The dotted lines represent the averages over the 11 seasons
  3. There’s no stat that measures effort, desire or heart.  Thankfully, I guess, or the Gunners would be at the bottom of that table.  They play so gutlessly at times!
  4. The primary team stats are shown on the upper left for the last 11 EPL campaigns.  This provides a nice little recipe for what you need to do to ensure you tumble right down the table and out of the Champions League qualification spots.

    Fewer Goals For + More Goals Against = Lower Goal Differential = Fewer Points per Game = More Losses = Tumble Down the Table = No Champions League!

    In other words, if you can’t score and you can’t defend, you won’t win.  Seems pretty simple to me.
  5. Arsenal is 21 games into the 2011-12 season and only one player has more than five goals.  All other years had at least four, with the exception of 2003-04, but Thierry Henry had an exceptional season, scoring 30 goals or 41.1% of the teams’ goals.

    Click on a year and you’ll be taken to another page that list the stats for they players that scored five or more goals that season. 
  6. I charted scoring rate (goals per game) vs. % of total team goals.  This give us a way to measure a player’s total scoring importance to the team.  Guess who the outlier is at the way upper-right.  Hover over any point for more details.
  7. The bottom three charts show the number of goals, % of team goals and scoring rate for the top scorer for each season. Again, hover over any bar for more details.

As I had thought, RVP is scoring a never before seen percentage of the team goals (45%). What more proof could Wenger need that he must bring in some reinforcements?

You might say that Arsenal depended heavily on TH14 during their glory years as well, but he had a much better supporting cast, as evidenced by the number of players with five or more goals.  Plus Henry was nearly always fit, while RVP has proven to be very brittle over his tenure.

You can also look at GAA during those same years.  Arsenal was truly a “team” back then, now…not so much!

What Arsenal needs to do to turn things around is pretty simple: score more goals and defend better.  Personally, I don’t think the backline is as bad as it appears.  I blame the outside midfielders for lack of effort and not tracking back to support the defense.  If they’re going to be that lazy, they better at least score some goals. 

What Arsenal needs is another consistent goal scoring threat.  While I love Henry, I don’t think he’s the answer, especially since he’s only on loan.  A long-term solution is needed.  I fear without another formidable striker, the Gunners could easily finish outside the, gulp, top 8!

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