Despite articles earlier in the week saying that United had all but sealed the deal, ESPN is reporting that Morgan Schneiderlin is weighing his options between Arsenal and Man U. With two big names after the Southampton man, now is a good time to break down his stats and see why these teams are after him.
Fans tend to think of Schneiderlin as a defensive midfielder but he plays less like a traditional destroyer and is more of a cultured midfielder than he gets credit. If Wenger and van Gaal are after him it is because he is more a direct replacement for Mikel Arteta and Michael Carrick than a pure destroyer like Coquelin. Here’s the chart comparing Schneiderlin’s Southampton career to Coquelin (last season), Arteta (13-14), and Carrick (11-12)
First, tackles: as far as I can tell there is very little correlation between the number of tackles that a team makes and the points that they earn or the goals that they allow. The variation among teams in terms of total tackles attempted and won is very small and winning more tackles doesn’t correlate to possession or to having a better defense. It doesn’t even matter how good the team is, for example the most dribbled past team in the League last season was Man City. As my friend Chris Gluck pointed out, this happened because City were the most open team in the League — they had the 5th best defense (despite being poor tacklers) but the best offense. Clearly Pellegrini wanted to play end-to-end football and traded off some defense for offense.
Moreover, the number of tackles that any given player makes is more related to the style his manager has set out, the role the player is asked to play, and how often the opponent decides to challenge him with a dribble than with how good that player is. The second most active tackler in the League (tied with Schneiderlin) is Pablo Zabaleta — this indicates more of a perceived weakness by the opposition or a style of play by City than Zabaleta running around destroying opposition attacks.
But a large number of tackles paired with a high percentage is a good indicator of a player handling his responsibility. Arteta’s 67% last season is pretty poor and probably at least partially down to his older legs. Even Coquelin, who has a fearsome reputation and is known for his spectacular tackles, only brings 72% to the table in his half-season. Only Carrick and Schneiderlin (2012-13) have truly impressive percentages. And this season, when Schneiderlin was deployed in the actual defensive midfield role and not the center mid role paired with Wanayama, Schneidi completed 41/48 tackles: 85%.
Interceptions and aerials won are both interesting because Coquelin blows everyone away in both categories. This is mostly down to Arsenal’s style of play and Wenger’s preference for an interception over a tackle. Wenger likes his DM to “step” and try to take the ball away before the opponent has a chance to control and get the attack going. Coquelin is very quick in the step and in 22 matches picked up more interceptions than Arteta did in 31 matches last season. To show you how much Arsenal play the passing lanes, the three players who led the League in interceptions per90 (more than 5 apps) were Gabriel, Koscielny, and Coquelin. Southampton’s top players with 16th and 17th respectively. Schneiderlin shows decent stats here but we can’t be certain if that’s because Southampton don’t play the passing lanes as much as Arsenal or because he’s slow. Either way he moves we will know for sure next season as both Arsenal and United place special emphasis on interceptions.
The other stat that’s important for a defensive midfielder is that he takes care of the ball and acts as the fulcrum to launch long counters. Here, both Carrick and Arteta are supreme examples: leading their teams in total numbers of passes made, in passing percentage, and completing an astonishing 80%+ long passes.
Arteta, Carrick, and Schneiderlin all led their respective teams in pass% and pass volume. If Coquelin truly wants to take the DM role at Arsenal, he will need to improve both his short and long passing. It is one of his weakest points.
Note that all four of these players are looking for safe passes: safe passes long, safe passes short, safe sideways, just safety first. This safety first ideal shows up in other stats as well: notice how few dribbles Carrick made in 2011-12, just 8. Part of this is because he isn’t a great dribbler but also because teams weren’t challenging him when he had the ball and because he was much happier moving the ball to a teammate than trying to keep possession for himself.
Coquelin did fairly well with his dribbles going 21/25 but was dispossessed 25 times in just 22 appearances. Arteta is one of the best I’ve ever seen at being tidy with the ball and in his last full season only managed to lose possession a combined 25 times. It’s interesting to note that as Schneiderlin has grown in experience at Southampton, he has turned the ball over less and his passing percentages have grown from season to season.
What you should be able to clearly see is why Arsenal and United are both after Schneiderlin. For all his bite, Arsenal’s Coquelin doesn’t pass the ball as well as his predecessor Arteta and isn’t as reliable in possession. Meanwhile, United have been looking for a replacement for Carrick since 2012. Schneiderlin fits the bill for both teams.