Why Arsenal might be interested in Yann: by the numbers

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Between agents shopping their players around, players shopping themselves around, and clubs leaking information in order to cloud the trail of their true targets, there are always wild rumors regarding player transfers at this time of the year. Summer, it seems, brings green leaves, rain, unicorns, and phrases like “Seydou Doumbia is a transfer target for Arsenal.”

Sussing out which transfer targets are more likely to be real and which are more likely to be fantasy is nigh impossible. But you can look at the qualities that a player possesses (numerically) and see if they match up with current Arsenal players. I use this as a tool to gauge whether or not a player is even a realistic target for Arsenal.

Last summer, Arsenal were linked with a number of center-halfs like Gary Cahill, Neven Subotic, Phil Jagielka, Per Mertesacker (the reports on him coming to Arsenal were very subdued), and Scott Dann. Being the kind of guy that I am*, I simply compared these players’ numbers and quickly came to the conclusion that Arsenal’s most likely targets were Cahill and Mertesacker.

As you know, Arsenal bid on Cahill and eventually landed Mertesacker. All of which is to say that you should listen to the numbers some times, because they indicate players like Scott Dann and Christopher Samba were never Arsenal targets.

Which leads me to this summer and the spate of articles indicating that Arsene Wenger is finally in the market for a center mid and more specifically, that we are looking at Yann M’Vila and Nigel de Jong. I will admit that both of these players being linked to Arsenal took me by surprise: M’Vila for the price tag that was being bandied about and de Jong because he really hasn’t played at all this year.

(Click here for full size image)

As you can see in the chart above, I compared current Arsenal central midfielders Song and Arteta with a number of possible players who could come in and perform similar tasks: the 2010-2011 Wilshere and de Jong; and M’Vila, Gonalons, and Bruno (Villareal, not the movie) from this season.

It’s important to note that Gonalons and Bruno have not been linked to Arsenal this season. I just liked their numbers and they are both going to be available for very cheap this Summer. Gonalons was basically dumped back on Real Madrid and Bruno’s Villareal getting relegated. I also want to see if me mentioning Gonalons and Bruno here will create a story in the papers, because that would be hilarious if it happened.

There are players who have been linked to the club, like the Uzbek captain and Anzhi Makhachkala defensive mid Odil Ahmedov, but there are no numbers for me to dig up on them so I have left them out.

As I looked at M’Vila’s numbers it was clear that from a numerical standpoint M’Vila would fit right in to the Arsenal system and would add a great deal defensively to the Arsenal midfield.

M’Vila’s passing numbers are more than acceptable; he leads the French league in both passes per game and was second in long balls per game. I can’t make that long ball stat sound any better than to point out it’s usually goal keepers who top that list in all leagues and it’s just M’Vila and Andrea Pirlo who play in midfield and yet hit an astonishing number of accurate long balls.

He also shows good vision in the number of accurate through balls he’s played and in the number of key passes. Yes, he only managed 2 assists from all of that forward play but you have to remember that Rennes only scored 53 goals this season and their top scorer was Ekoko with just 10 goals. Song’s 11 assists stands out but most of those assists went to Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie.

His ball control is also exceptional. To have 2730 passes and only get dispossessed 28 times is incredible. Song had fewer passes and nearly double the number of times the opposition took the ball away from him. Bruno is tops in not giving away possession but look at Arteta, de Jong, and M’Vila and you see that all three of those players keep possession for their teams very well.

Meanwhile, M’Vila’s defensive numbers are mind-boggling. I mean that my mind actually boggled! What you want from a defensive midfielder is high numbers in tackles and interceptions and low numbers in fouls committed and number of times that the opposition dribbled around you. M’Vila nearly is peerless in that. Bruno’s interception and opp. dribbled numbers are tremendous but a lot of that is down to playing in La Liga where “interceptions are the new tackle” and all the dribblers are concentrated in one team. Still, props to him for only being dribbled on 17 times.

Of course there’s no way to tell how well a player would make the transition from one league to another. So, what you look for are players who have the tools to succeed in other leagues and based on what I see above, M’Vila would do well at Arsenal. I would go a step further and say that even at a reported £17m he’s a bit of a bargain in the current market.

Whether Arsenal will buy him (or anyone) or whether the club will rely on Wilshere, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Diaby, and Coquelin in central midfield is anyone’s guess but I would love to see M’Vila at Arsenal.

7am

Follow Tim on twitter @7amkickoff and on 7amkickoff.com

*The kind of guy who you all LOVE.

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