“Please do a stat comparison of Khedira and Schneiderlin!” – everyone on Twitter
If absence makes the heart grow fonder then ignorance makes the heart grow clamorous and there has never been racket so clamorous as the rumored transfer of Sami Khedira to Arsenal. It is a noise like a a chest full of kids toys thrown down the stairs. Squeaking, chirping, clanging, and ultimately some crying.
In terms of stats when I’m looking at defensive midfielders for Arsenal I’m looking for high numbers of tackles, interceptions, and long passes per game. I also want to see a low turnover rate and low dispossessed numbers along with high pass completion rate and a large number of passes per game. A high completion rate of long passes is a bonus, a high number of blocks per game is a bonus, and a high number of key passes is a bonus.
Shots per game are not something I look for in a DM. If I see a player with high numbers of tackles, interceptions, passes, and shots I’m looking at someone who is more likely a box-to-box midfielder. For example, Aaron Ramsey. 2nd at Arsenal in tackles per game, 1 interception per game, 3rd among outfield players for long balls per game, second in passes per game. Looks like a DM until you see that he is second in all those stats to Mikel Arteta and he averages almost +1 key pass per game over Arteta, almost +2 shots per game over Arteta, and almost +1 dribble per game more than Arteta. If Arteta is the prototypical Arsene Wenger DM, Ramsey is the prototypical Arsene Wenger box-to-box midfielder.
But is there an actual “prototypical” Arsene Wenger anything? Two years ago Arteta and Song played next to each other in midfield. They both had about the same number of tackles per game, interceptions, and passes. Song had more turnovers and dispossessed numbers, more assists (11!) and far fewer shots and fewer key passes. They both had about the same number of attempted long passes but Song was no where near as good at it as Arteta (88% v. 68%) and nor were his overall passing percents as good as Arteta. I joke but it did look a lot like Arsenal were playing with a holding attacking mid next to a defensive box-to-box player. I’ll let you sort out which was which.
All of which is to say that Wenger doesn’t have “prototypical” anything. I think he even may intentionally eschew such things. So, where does Khedira fit in all of this and what are Khedira’s stats?
Well, Khedira’s stats suck but they aren’t really his fault. First, he’s been injured and I don’t need to tell you that a player has to stay healthy to compete for places on a team like Real Madrid. Second, when he does play he plays next to one of the best midfielders of his generation in Xabi Alonso. What’s Khedira’s role in that team? He does a little of this, does a little of that. but takes a back seat to Xabi.
The result is that his stats look like crap. Let’s take the main three DM stats from last season, tackles, Interceptions, and long passes:
Khedira’s not the main tackler, nor the main man to intercept the ball and is certainly not the deep distributor. Because Xabi, like Elvis, is everywhere on the pitch already doing all those things. But weirdly, even when he was at Stuttgart he never shone too brightly. His numbers there were pretty terrible to be honest and yet Real Madrid paid €14m to get him from Stuttgart and then paid him €100k a week in salary! So, we can’t look at his stats from his club football and draw any conclusions.
In the end, Khedira is an absolutely fascinating player. He’s not been given a free role at Real Madrid to showcase what he can do and yet despite his back seat role at Real Madrid, and injury nightmare, and despite his kind of mediocre performances for Stuttgart he’s been selected to play for Germany 51 times. (record scratch).
Yep, Khedira is a mainstay in the German national team. Has been since he was a kid. He’s captained the German U21 side and been selected in every senior team match he was available for since 2010. This is a German team with an embarrassment of players available in midfield to play the defensive midfield role and Jurgie Löw chooses Khedira over all of them.
We’ve also seen that he’s not “just a defensive midfielder” for Germany. He can go forward, he dribble, and he can set his teammates up for goals. As you might expect from a player who has had to play multiple roles over his career to get time at Real Madrid he is versatile and classy.
So, for once I have to put down the stats and ask “what kind of midfielder is Sami Khedira?” He’s a German international midfielder. A German international midfielder who is about to help his country win the World Cup.
And where would he fit at Arsenal? My guess is “in the midfield, somewhere, doing all kinds of cool things to help Arsenal win”.