Titi v. RvP
8 – Seasons played for Arsenal by Thierry Henry 1999-2007
370 – Games played by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
337 – Games started by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
33 – Appearances as a sub by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
91 – Percent of games Thierry Henry started for Arsenal 1999-2007
46 – Appearances per season (average) by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
228 – Goals scored by Thierry Henry for Arsenal*
226 – Goals scored by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
28 – Goals per season average by Thierry Henry for Arsenal 1999-2007
8 – Seasons played for Arsenal by Robin van Persie 2004-2012
278 – Games played by Robin van Persie for Arsenal
211 – Games started by Robin van Persie for Arsenal
67 – Appearances as a sub by Robin van Persie for Arsenal
76 – Percent of games Robin van Persie started for Arsenal
35 – Appearances per season (average) by Robin van Persie for Arsenal
132 – Goals scored by Robin vain Persie for Arsenal
16.5 – Goals per season average by Robin van Persie for Arsenal
So, what happened?
The common belief is that “Arsenal carried Robin through an injury riddled career” and based on the comparison between him and Thierry Henry above, it certainly looks like a career cut short by injuries. For example, if we look at all competitions (League, both cups, CL, Charity Shield) and then just at games started, Thierry Henry started 337 games in his first stint at Arsenal which translates to a whopping 42 starts a season. Meanwhile, RvP started just 211 games in 8 years, translating to 26 starts a year. The same with the percentage of games as starts: Henry was a starter in 91% of the games he played in, RvP is a starter in just 76% of his games.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two players, Theirry Henry is clearly some kind of ubermench to able to average 46 appearances a season for 8 years. In fact, to find other players who average the same or more, you have to look at the very best in world football: Messi and Ronaldo. Messi hasn’t played less than 50 games for Barcelona since 2008 and Ronaldo hasn’t played less than 30 games in a season since he broke into the Man U first team.
If you look at Robin’s career graphically, showing the games played, goal scored, and averages of shots/goal and shots/game it looks something like this:
Those two huge dips in the graph are his two major injury hit seasons. The second one (2009-2010) is actually a year and a half long series of injuries where Robin was so desperate to get better that he resorted to visiting Medic Smurf and her Placenta of Power. Whatever happened in that room must have been pretty Smurfy because since January of 2011, Robin has been on a tear scoring 59 of his 132 career goals. That’s 45% of his total. In 18 months. Which might be why Arsenal supporters feel like the team carried the player for all those six previous years.
There is an alternative view, however. What if we look at Robin van Persie’s Arsenal career in terms of his contributions to the team’s total offensive output? In other words, how much was he helping the team despite his injuries? To figure this number I simply took all of the goals and assists racked up by Arsenal in a given year and took every player’s contribution to that total, expressed as a percent of the whole.
Again, we see the same two dips in the same two seasons where Robin was severely injured and we see a graphical representation of his amazing last year and a half where he broke all of his previous records. However, what you don’t see in that chart is that Robin actually led Arsenal in goals scored and total percent of team offense for four of the eight years he was at the club. To see that, I give you this spreadsheet with the years he led the team colored in red:
|% of team’s goals||40%||19%||10%||19%||9%||14%||12%||9%||16%|
|% of team’s assists||13%||7%||10%||16%||7%||10%||2%||2%||8%|
|% of Total Offense||28%||14%||10%||18%||8%||12%||8%||6%||13%|
2006-2007 was a strange year, Henry was on his way out and Robin ended up leading the team with just 13 goals. Arsenal’s total team output was actually split pretty evenly among Robin, Cesc, Henry, and Adebayor. That was such a weird team that Baptista and Gilberto both managed to chip in 8% each to the team’s total output. As such, I can agree that maybe Robin is getting too much credit in that year. After all, he only edged Cesc to the lead by one data point.
Robin’s worst overall year in terms of team contribution was 2007-2008, the season that Arsenal finished just 4 points off Man U for the title.
What I think is probably the most frustrating aspect of Robin’s time at Arsenal for the fans is this last year where he doubled his offensive output. None of the other seasons in van Persie’s Arsenal career have a single player contributing 28% of the team’s total output. Henry is the closest, with 25% in 2004-2005 and again in 2005-2006 while Cesc led Arsenal in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 with 19% of the team’s output but Robin’s 28% and 40% of the goals scored is really stellar.
That kind of output combined with what looks a lot like a linear progression line makes me wonder what could have been. Especially in 2007-2008.
All data via Tim’s personal database
*That’s the official number, I will always count that own goal awarded to Scott Dann so, Titi scored 229 as far as I’m concerned.