by Nia Griffiths
Is it possible to work out Arsenal’s most important player?
We all preach about teamwork in football, but is it possible to actually pick the most important player?
It is ultimately a team effort, no one’s disputing this. However, some are definitely more valuable than others and I don’t mean in terms of market value. I’ll put it this way: who would you rather get injured, going by our starting 11 last season, David Ospina or Mesut Ozil? Of course, we’d all rather neither and the thought of ‘picking‘ one to get injured seems a little dark but go with me here.
The two play in two completely different positions so it’s not really comparable, although I’m sure 90% of people would rather Dave picked up a knock than our midfield maestro. The quality of both players in general is obviously different too. However, even now, if we had a world class keeper, let’s say, Petr Cech, between the sticks, who would you rather miss a few games? I’m not sure that many people would change their mind between goalkeeper and playmaker.
When comparing players, it’s difficult because of their different jobs. It’s like apples and oranges when trying to weigh up the difference between a centre-back and a winger. For example, looking at the distance each player run during each match is a moot point. In fact, I’d be frankly worried if Ospina was racking up almost 12km a match, the same as Ozil. Similarly, comparing blocks the defenders put in to blocks strikers put in is fruitless because, obviously, Per Mertesacker is going to be in a far better position to make interceptions. If our strikers are putting in blocks, it’s usually because we’re on the back foot and they’re having to muck in at the back. This doesn’t make them any more useful overall.
The same goes for defenders scoring. Of course, any goal is good but if it’s not from a set piece and they’re up attacking, who on earth is at the back defending? Therefore, they could actually be making themselves a liability doing something that it ultimately, not their job.
Doing the maths
What can be useful when comparing players is to take their individual attributes, i.e. their ‘job’ on the pitch, and consider how good they are at that. This still isn’t a foolproof method, and I’ll discuss this later, but for the sake of my column, this is the way I’m going to look at it.
When you try breaking it down, it can get a little complicated. You can take into account their overall player rating, which combines their numbers of assists, tackles, goals scored, blocks, interceptions etc; everything they do on the pitch, whether it’s good or bad for the team. You can look at how many clean sheets our goalkeepers, and consequentially our defenders, keep. How often we win and who directly contributed to that.
Here are how the player ratings of our first team at the end of last season pan out.
David Ospina – 7.03
Per Mertesacker – 7.06
Laurent Koscielny – 7.39
Nacho Monreal – 7.28
Hector Bellerin – 7.17
Santi Cazorla – 7.6
Francis Coquelin – 7.39
Aaron Ramsey – 7.14
Alexis Sanchez – 7.75
Mesut Ozil – 7.45
Olivier Giroud 7.2
Too many variables
As you can see, the stats don’t tell the whole story. There are so many variables that aren’t taken into account when these are worked out. For example, Ospina has decent stats because our defence was incredible for most of the time he was in goal. He kept clean sheets with help, not because he was spectacular, which makes his rating of barely being behind the BFG deceiving.
Similarly, when a midfielder was having a particularly good game, for example Ozil, the forwards they were feeding were more likely to be receiving balls to slot into the back of the net and the whole team gelled better. The communication from each end of the pitch was better and our passing was more fluid.
Rambo having a pretty average rating is a prime example of a player who does everything and busts a gut for the team, while not appearing to do much on paper. However, numerous players have hailed his fitness and ability to drive the team on, which can be just as important as assists.
In addition, we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. Who rallies the troops? Who gives them a kick up the backside when they’re down? Are there any players who really make the difference when we have to go back out there and face the fans, a couple of goals down and needing to grab three vital points? Surely, they’re just as important as performances out on the pitch?
I guess my conclusion isn’t really a conclusion at all because we already knew the answer. Can you pick the most important player? Is it possible? I would say no. At least, not just one. However, then, I can’t even think of just a handful of players last season that were invaluable. Each member in that starting 11, and some even on the bench, were vital.
Even when you lean on some players more than others, there really is no such thing as a One Man Team.