What Kolasinac Does Well
Schalke are what I call an “interceptions oriented” team and are third in the Bundesliga in interceptions with 24 per game. Schalke also have center back Benedikt Howedes who is the 4th most interception-happy player in the Bundesliga with 3.8 per game and Sead Kolasinac is 11th in the Bundesliga in interceptions with 3.2 per game.
This defensive style sort of matches with Arsene Wenger’s philosophy. Wenger’s Arsenal last season averaged just 14.2 interceptions per game (7th in the PL) but in 2014/15 they led the League with 20.1, and in 2015/16 they were 4th with 19.4. Wenger’s players also led the League in 2014/15 with Coquelin 1st in interceptions with 3.7 per game and Koscielny 2nd with 3.5 per game. Koscielny led Arsenal in interceptions in 2015/16 with 3.8 per game and has almost always been at the top or near the top of this stat for as long as he’s been at the club.
So, this is to say that Kolasinac’s interceptions numbers were almost certainly an important factor in Wenger purchasing him.
Schalke aren’t a big tackling team, just 12th in the League in tackles per game (2.8), but Kolasinac did lead them in total successful tackles with 69. He was also a highly accurate tackler and was only dribbled past 21 times making his tackles rate 77%.
Arsenal also aren’t a big tackling team (7th in the League) but interestingly our leading tackler was Nacho Monreal. Monreal averaged 2.5 successful tackles per game and totaled 89 tackles but was beaten off the dribble a terrible 49 times last season making his tackles success rate just 67%.
Kolasinac had 7 assists (in both domestic and European play) last season which is outstanding for a left back. All of his assists were from the wide positions and two of them were what most people consider traditional crosses. The others were all from inside the 18 yard box via dragbacks.
This assists record matches his crossing record. He’s 9/44 crossing the ball. Which at 20% doesn’t seem like a lot but it’s better than Monreal who was 6/62 (10%) and I guarantee that at least one of Monreal’s “completed” crosses went all the way to the other side of the pitch and was collected by Bellerin. So, 20% cross rate is really excellent for a LWB for example, Boring James Milner crosses the ball at a 20% rate (51/250). If you’re going to have your defenders bomb forward like Arsenal do, it’s good if they can also cross the ball and even better if their crosses score goals.
Heading the ball is always a big transition point for players coming into the Premier League. Kolasinac won 56% of 3.2 headed duels last season, which is ok for a left back. When he played exclusively on the left (wing or back) he won 62% of his headed duels. When Monreal played on the left (in other words excluding the times he played center back) he was just 48% in aerial challenges.*
Aerial challenges aren’t the most critical skill for a fullback/wingback but a player who is perceived to be weak in that area will be targeted by the opposition. It’s also a well known tactic for teams with players like Andy Carroll to post up their big man in the wide areas to create a mismatch.
Kolasinac also fouls a lot. 1.6 fouls per game for Schalke. In contrast Monreal only fouls 0.9 times per game. But fouls aren’t always a bad thing and Wenger’s teams tend to shy away from fouls with just 10.5 per game, 4 fewer than Schalke. And Kolasinac has never gotten a red card. He only got five yellow cards last season and he’s never even gotten a second yellow card in his career.
This suggests that he’s a clean player but I’ve put this in the unknown category because when I watched his highlight videos he seemed like a wild tackler. And I’ve been watching Arsenal long enough to know that the Premier League likes to hand out red cards to Arsenal players, especially new Arsenal players (Gervinho, Koscielny, and Xhaka were all welcomed to the League with red cards).
Needs to Improve
Kolasinac missed four games last season with injuries and has a history of muscle tears. In three of the last four seasons Kolasinac has suffered a muscle tear (2013/14), a cruciate ligament tear (2014/15), and an abductor muscle tear (2016/17). Even when fit Kolasinac has never played more than 25 league games in a season. Last season, Kolasinac played the most minutes of his career, 2892. That’s a huge step down from Monreal who played 3798 minutes last season. That’s 10 additional full 90 minute games that Monreal played.
Kolasinac is also not a great dribbler. He successfully completed just 17 dribbles last season. Now this was 4 more than Nacho Monreal, but still not a good stat from a wing player. In fact, when he played left wing he was just 8/28 dribbles, 29%. Ox was 11/20 on the right and Bellerin was 42/56. Monreal was 13/20 and even Gibbs was 12/21.
Other players who played wide in a left wing/back position in the Premier League were Holebas who completed 42/71, Daniels was 31/40 and Boring James Milner was 30/38. There are also a lot of examples of players who play left back/wing who are good dribblers: Emerson completed 40/57 dribbles for Roma last season.
Dribbles may not be an issue for Kolasinac, however. Because he plays on the left, Alexis is typically the one doing the dribbling over there. If Arsene continues with his current setup then Kolasinac probably won’t be dribbling a whole lot.
Another weird thing about Kolasinac’s stats is that he’s got some pretty poor touch. He had 29 unsuccessful touches last season, Monreal had just 15. That’s 1.2 bad touches per game for SK and 0.4 per game for NM. And when we adjust for playing in the left wing position only Sead’s numbers go up to 1.5 per game and Nacho’s go up to 1.0 per game.
And Kolasinac saw a lot less of the ball than Monreal, averaging just 38 passes per game compared to Monreal’s 49. So, he was turning the ball over at a very high rate.
Kolasinac also had a large number of bad short passes. When he played just left back he was a 79% passer, completing 242/306 passes. When Monreal played left back he completed 1103/1241 passes. When we move Kolasinac forward he completed just 354/476 passes, 74%. Monreal completed an astonishing 98/107 passes (92%) in the left wing position.
And Kolasinac needs to play forward in order to be an effective attacker. He only created 4 key passes when he was in the left back position, but 18 when he was in the left wing position. Monreal created all 11 of his key passes from the left back position.
His pass completion numbers will almost certainly go up if he plays with guys like Özil, Xhaka, and Alexis. Though as part of a five man Schalke midfield his numbers seemed a bit low.
Kolasinac is an excellent defender who should fit right in to the style of Arsenal defenders. He reads the game well and tackles at an exceptionally high rate. He is also a great crosser and could provide some much needed assists from the left wing back position.
He will need to improve his short passing and I expect that number to get better next season because of the step up in overall team quality from Schalke. I don’t expect his heading numbers to improve nor his dribbling but that might not be a problem as long as he has Alexis in front of him to take that burden off.
Overall, Kolasinac is an excellent addition to Arsenal and as a free transfer is a classic Wenger find.
*When Monreal played center back his aerial percentage only dropped to 47%. He’s just not good in the air.