Some tweets showed up on my timeline yesterday comparing Benzema’s goals scored/matches played versus Giroud over the last few years. The premise for the tweet was apparently someone saying Benzema at €40m was steep and that the player wasn’t really better than Giroud.
The numbers shared actually gave that impression. If I have any regular readers of my posts, they will know how I feel about simple statistics. I was tempted to reply to those tweets but a discussion limited by 140-character statements can be such a hassle! However, it did give me some food for thought and now here I am writing this.
The first thought that came to my mind yesterday was “but Benzema has so much more to his game”. Of course, it was just a thought based on a few viewings of Real Madrid over the last couple of years. I headed over to Squawka.com to compare the two players in a bit more detail; the detail that gets lost when we just look at goals scored.
These details take up even more significance when it comes to Arsenal’s style of play – pass and move. The Gunners thrive one their attack
- • constantly moving
- • interchanging positions
- • overloading opposition zones
- • dragging players out of their position and
- • creating space for others
The modern day Arsenal forward is more than just goals. He is also about assists or being significantly involved in build-up play – whether that is through link-up play or even individual brilliance via nifty footwork to evade a defender or two and create space for others. Sometimes, as fans, we tend to forgive a lack of goals if our forward makes it up with other significant involvement.
Some may argue that a forward is there to score goals; and, that’s true. However, if a forward, for example, is expected to score 25 but ends up scoring 15 and assisting 10 while being significantly involved in 7 others, would you complain? Moreover, Arsenal tends to have more goal scorers than most other teams if not all teams in the Premiership – an indication of the effect of our pass and move.
Hence, the Arsenal forward is there to primarily score goals; but, if he can’t, he’s expected to contribute effectively in the final third.
So, what other stats should we look at apart from goals scored?
Before I continue, I’d like to state that I’m in no way inferring that we need a new striker or that Giroud is not good enough. The former has so many factors attached to it that it would require another post and still be inconclusive because I’m no expert. The latter is also very subjective and, again, requires so many other factors to be taken into account that it would require another post and probably not deliver a strong verdict favoring for or against!
Again, I’m here to provide some perspective when we try to assess, as fans, a striker for Arsenal.
Goals and Significant Involvement
Needless to say, any of the following can give us an indication of the potency of a striker:
- • Goals scored versus matches played
- • Goals scored as a ratio of total shots/total shots on target
However, even these can be misleading somewhat! For example, a player may have scored 8 goals in 10 games, almost a goal a game, not bad eh? What if the pattern of those goals was two consecutive hat tricks followed by a brace? This would mean the player is currently on a 7 game drought!
Furthermore, how many of those goals were winners? How many were the first goal of the game or an equalizer? How many goals were simply add-ons i.e. extra of the winner? These stats don’t tell you this sort of information unless you go through the trouble of extra research. I’ll admit I somewhat did that earlier this year when fans were clamoring for Theo to be given a chance and happily citing his prolific season from a couple of years ago; 14 league goals was it? Half of those were add-ons.
Yes, yes – it can be argued that it would help our goal difference. Anyway, Theo isn’t the debate right now; his stats from a couple of seasons ago were just an example.
Coming back to the modern day Arsenal forward, what other stats can help us form a stronger opinion on the sort of player that may help us? In my opinion, the following certainly help:
- • Assists
- • Chances created
- • Key passes
- • Successful take ons
- • Aerial duels
The other attribute that should be assessed but can’t be measured statistically is movement – I would like to credit a blog post from another site for this valid point of view but unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this!
Nevertheless, heat maps and the like help gauge that though; or, an in depth look at where the player created chances from can also give an indication of how mobile the player is.
Coming back to Benzema versus Giroud, is there a difference between these two players? Does Benzema have more to his game as I thought he does?
Benzema vs. Giroud
In the first two columns, the comparison is of the two from last season, in the third and fourth, the comparison is from ‘13/14.
The first stand out statistic is Benzema’s greater overall assist tally as compared to Giroud’s. The goals tally is comparable for the two but the assists, especially last season, favor Benzema. The Madrid man has also created considerably more chances for his teammates than Giroud has done for his fellow Gunners. The same goes for key passes.
Already, Benzema seems to be a lot busier in the final third of the pitch – getting in positions to create chances or give key passes. Defenders have more to worry about.
Successful take ons is an interesting one in this case, though Benzema unsurprisingly has more than Giroud last season, the season before that our Frenchman actually had more than Karim! However, if we look at the percentage then Benzema seems to have better judgement in the matter and probably greater ability hence the higher success rate.
Lastly, Giroud, unsurprisingly, edges Benzema in percentage of aerial duels won. However, also notable is Benzema’s improvement from ‘13/14; almost bringing his success rate on par to Giroud’s.
So, if these stats are anything to go by, Benzema does seem to have a lot more to his game than Giroud. Some of you may be thinking duh! I guess statistics helps validate some notions we hold.
This analysis of sorts also got me wondering if the statistics of our current crop of forwards support Arsenal’s style of play. Again, this should help provide perspective on how we assess our own forwards.
If we don’t count Chuba Akpom just yet, we have Alexis, Ox, Theo, Danny, and Giroud to fill our three forward positions. What do their stats tell us?
Let’s have a look:
Note: Walcott’s ‘12/13 stats have been taken as he’s barely played since then.
I’ll focus on Ox and Dat Guy for this one because Giroud has been written/spoken about enough and so has Theo.
Goals and assists would suggest that Welbz and Ox should be shipped off! However, I’ve always wondered what Wenger’s instructions for the Ox are; is it to stay wide as much as possible and create as much as possible rather than making central runs?
After Sanchez, the Ox created most chances and had the most successful number of take ons last season despite playing 12 fewer games than Alexis.
People say the Ox needs to score more, he doesn’t contribute enough goals. He only took 32 shots last season; personal decision or instructions from Wenger? We tend to forget that a manager can change his instructions for certain players based on their qualities.
The Ox’s ball control, pace, and ability to beat a man gives Wenger every reason to tell him to hug the line hence giving his team width and stretch the opposition. Staying wide most of the time will reduce the chances of the player getting into goal scoring positions; hence, reducing the number of shots he’ll take as well.
As far as Welbeck is concerned, the stats aren’t too kind to him either. Does it mean he should go? No. If there’s any encouragement from Welbz it’s his ability to take on a man, the coaching staff needs to work on his decision making; his numbers for chance creation and key passes aren’t too exciting. In other words, he gets into good positions but doesn’t quite know what to do after that. Of course, his finishing needs improving as well.
I’m optimistic that the lad will learn; he definitely has the hunger for it and the basic qualities are there. For me, it’s about game time in the right position for him and we just may see the best of him.
Wrapping it Up
It’s easy to take stats on the face of it and draw conclusions. I believe that not only are we doing injustice to players when we take stats on face value, but also an injustice to ourselves.
If we’re making a bit of an effort to know the numbers behind performance, we do it for a reason. That reason deserves more than conclusions based on face value statistical inference.
In the case of forwards, it’s important to take it all into context before using statistics to lend weight to an opinion. The context will help explain the statistic better. Furthermore, the context will help decide which other statistics need to be looked at.
Today I stuck to tactical implications of Arsenal’s requirement of a forward; there are so many other factors that can be looked at as well; perhaps for another time!
If you have any thoughts or comments then do share them, I always reply [hint: check the ‘notify me of follow-up comments by email’ box to be notified when I reply].
Or you can tweet me and we can attempt a discussion limited by 140-character statements!