First, a disclaimer: I actively dislike the “Arsenal’s record with X player is Y and without X player is Z” stat. I hate this stat because every season there’s one of these that’s published and it supposedly shows a player’s impact on the team but in reality they tend to just illustrate flukes, streaks, or minuscule differences that look big because of the way they are being presented.
Remember that stat about how Arsenal never lost when Djourou played a full 90 minutes? That made all the rounds until Djourou reverted to form and was shunted back to Deadwood.
But for whatever reason this stat captivates people, moreso than actually meaningful stats. So, when WhoScored tweeted:
Theo Walcott: Since the start of the 2006/7 PL season, Arsenal have won 58.6% of the matches Walcott started, and 53.2% the games he did not
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 6, 2014
People took a look at that difference in win% and thought, “oh no, Arsenal are going to lose 5.5% more games!” But, if you look at what that number actually means, you see that if you extrapolate +5.5% over the 8 seasons they measured, Arsenal would have won 9 more total games. Total. In 8 seasons. Twitter user @dorkkly made this graphic to illustrate the concept:
Some people took exception to me pointing that out on twitter and claimed that over the last three or four years Walcott’s impact has been greater. So I looked at that and sure enough, Walcott has had very little impact on the overall points difference for Arsenal whether he plays or not. The +5% win rate is the same but the PPG? 0.04.
This is Arsenal’s leading goal scorer last season, 14 goals and 10 assists, making almost no impact? Something tells me that this “X wins with and Y wins without” stat is at best misleading and at worst may be just downright wrong. Do you really think the club would have found 24 goals from someone else last year?
Maybe they would have. Maybe that’s when Cazorla steps up or Podolski steps in? Those contributions, though, have to come from somewhere. To paraphrase, those 24 goals aren’t going to score themselves. And most folks think Gnabry and Ox will step in and fill Theo’s speedy boots.
I really hope so, but based on my analysis this is a huge step up for them.
It’s difficult to say with both Ox and Serge because both of them have played precious few minutes and we know that most players need minutes, consistent minutes, to put down good stats. Gnabry, in particular, has so little data that I’m actually ashamed of putting those states in that graphic above. I’ll probably receive a stern warning from the Statslords for “excessive use of small sample sizes” but instead of looking at that chart and saying “they’ll never replace Walcott” look at Walcott’s numbers as targets.
Both players are better dribblers than Walcott and that’s based on both data and anecdotal evidence, so that’s a huge plus in their book. They are exactly the kind of player we want to help us break down teams that park the bus.
Gnabry and Ox also have that surprise factor, in that defenses don’t have experience dealing with their eccentricities so they can use that to their advantage, especially in the next few months.
What you might be tempted to think will go missing are Walcott’s crosses and key passes but here’s the thing… A lot of Walcott’s successful crosses and key passes come from corners. Corners that Cazorla and Özil can and will take from now on. That leaves the two young bucks to get crosses from the by-line in to others in the box, a Walcott specialty. With their control and dribbling ability, I think both of them will be able to perform that function admirably.
The big question for me is where Arsenal will get Walcott’s goals. Notice I didn’t do a “Per 90″ for goals and assists. That’s because goals and assists are unlike other stats in that they are rare and change games radically. This is where I am most hesitant to say that Arsenal will replace Theo easily. Walcott has a knack for scoring (or assisting) early in matches and this has been huge for Arsenal in the last year. Those early leads have allowed the Gunners to sit back soaking up pressure rather than camping in the opposition half trying to break down a team playing for a 0-0 draw, like Chelsea.
So, in some ways I think Walcott can be replaced: crosses, dribbles, and even shots will be redistributed among the others. But where I’m a lot less sure is in the place where it really matters: goals. 24 goals last season (scored and assisted) is a huge burden to place on the shoulders of two young men. The whole team is going to have to step up to fill in that stat.
And maybe they can? I mean, after all, without Walcott, the team only averaged -1.5 points per season less over the last 4 years.
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