The definition of success at any club is always defined by expectations, and depending on how the rest of the season plays out, it will be interesting to see whether Arsenal fans, and indeed the board and management, view this season as a success. In terms of improving their league performance, it has already been successful, with the club currently on 66 points, 3 points more than they picked up over the entirety of last season, a season when they finished 6th, 12 points adrift of a Champions League qualifying position. I suspect some Arsenal fans will only judge this as a truly successful season if they achieve qualification for the Champions League, either via a top 4 finish or winning the Europa League, and whilst they are in a good position in both competitions currently to achieve those goals, neither will be easy. Nevertheless, the progess made in the Premier League is clear, so the club have achieved a certain level of success already.
Arsenal’s current Plus Minus ratings per 90 minutes contain a few names at the top of the list you perhaps wouldn’t expect to see. Bukayo Saka, Carl Jenkinson and Danny Welbeck are the top three, though that trio have only played a total of 327 minutes in the league between them. The player in fourth on that list, Rob Holding, may have missed the majority of this season due to injury, but he did make 10 consecutive appearances near the start of the season, during which time Arsenal won 6 and drew 4. That gives an average of 2.2 points per game, a return which if extended over the full season would bring 84 points. Whilst that wouldn’t be enough to challenge Liverpool or Manchester City this season, it would have given Arsenal a clear gap over their rivals for 3rd place. Holding’s name is rarely mentioned when discussing Arsenal’s most important players, yet their form was significantly better when he was in the team than it has been without him in the team. Therefore was Holding merely the beneficiary of a general good period of form for the Gunners, or was he a major factor behind that form?
|Player||Rob Holding||Sokratis Papastathopoulos||Shkodran Mustafi||Laurent Koscielny||Nacho Monreal|
|Pass completion %||87.46 (3rd)||89.93 (2nd)||82.45 (5th)||90.89 (1st)||87.03 (4th)|
|Tackles won per 90 minutes||0.72 (4th)||0.94 (2nd)||1.40 (1st)||0.55 (5th)||0.83 (3rd)|
|Aerial battles won per 90 minutes||2.16 (2nd)||1.93 (3rd)||3.43 (1st)||1.58 (4th)||1.46 (5th)|
|Blocks per 90 minutes||0.72 (2nd)||0.60 (3rd)||0.48 (4th)||0.95 (1st)||0.47 (5th)|
|Interceptions per 90 minutes||1.24 (4th)||1.03 (5th)||1.85 (1st)||1.74 (2nd)||1.35 (3rd)|
|Clearances per 90 minutes||3.81 (4th)||4.37 (3rd)||5.13 (1st)||4.51 (2nd)||2.24 (5th)|
The table above would, at least on first inspection, appear to suggest that Holding was a beneficiary of the good form of his teammates during his spell in the team, rather than being a major contributor himself. Holding doesn’t lead the way on any of the key defensive statistics for Arsenal this season, ranking between 2nd and 4th across all six statistics. It would therefore be difficult to make a case that Holding was Arsenal’s best defender, regardless of which attributes you deem the most important from a central defender.
It is however worth remembering that whilst Holding was enjoying his run in the team, Laurent Koscielny was himself out injured and didn’t make his first Premier League appearance until the 3-2 defeat at Southampton on 16th December. Therefore Arsenal have never had more than 3 recognised centre halves fit at the same time this season, and given that Unai Emery has regularly utilised a back 3/back 5 after initially preferring a back 4, this has forced Nacho Monreal to regularly deputise as a left centre back.
Whilst Monreal has done a decent job, the statistics highlight the fact that it is not his natural role. Monreal doesn’t rank higher than 3rd for any of the statistics, and indeed ranks bottom in half of them. This perhaps gives a more accurate reflection of Holding’s value to Arsenal. He isn’t their best defender, or even their second best defender, but his injury has exposed a lack of depth in Arsenal’s squad which has cost them points across the season. So whilst his high Plus Minus ratings can in part be attributed to the form of his teammates whilst he was in the team, the scale of the loss to the team and squad has arguably also been understated.
Fantasy Premier League Tip – Andre Gray
Andre Gray has struggled to regain his place in the Watford starting line up following his return from injury, due mainly to the excellent form of Gerard Deulofeu. However, Deulofeu missed the defeat to Arsenal due to injury, and with an FA Cup Final looming, Watford will not be taking any risks over his fitness. With a ban likely for Troy Deeney following his red card, Gray therefore looks certain to start both games during a double game week which sees Watford travel to Huddersfield Town before hosting Southampton.