Whilst the Gunners were beaten all over the pitch on Sunday in their 3-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park, compounding concerns over the way they fell apart at Stamford Bridge last month and at Anfield in February, I think the statistics hint at where their biggest problem has been this season.
In fact, I’m confident in saying that injuries to key players have been the No.1 cause for Arsenal’s slip in recent months, not the manager or players.
There are, of course, other factors involved – the clear mental weaknesses when the Gunners face the ‘big teams’ away from home as well as the manager’s lack of spending to reinforce in January.
But a closer look at what the absences of Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil have done to the Gunners’ title challenge provides real food for thought for those prepared to suggest Wenger should be sacked.
Let’s start with Walcott. Arsenal’s top scorer last season was ruled out for the season back on January 4th. He has missed 13 league games so far and will miss the five remaining games.
Last season Walcott scored on average 0.43 goals and made 0.37 assists per game in the Premier League. Times that by thirteen and you have 5.59 goals and 4.81 assists to start with, which on its own doesn’t sound like enough to win a title but, as you will see, key players being injured combined really start to stack up.
Prior to his injury on December 26th last year, Ramsey was scoring an average of 0.42 goals per game and making 0.31 assists per game. He has missed 14 games before appearing as a 66th minute substitute on Sunday. That totals 5.88 goals and 4.34 assists.
Jack Wilshere has missed five games since his fracture suffered on international duty on March 5th. Wilshere was scoring an average of 0.13 goals and making 0.21 assists per game prior to being sidelined. That totals 0.65 goals and 1.05 assists.
Finally, Mesut Ozil was operating an average of 0.18 goals and 0.4 assists per game prior to his injury on March 11th and has missed five games also totalling 0.9 goals and 2 assists.
On average, if Arsenal have all these players fit in any given game they add anywhere between 1.29 goals and 2.45 goals per game if you consider goals and assists – the average between the two figures (considering they might be assisting each others’ goals) is 1.87 goals per game that has been missing in recent weeks.
The total goals and assists missing due to these injuries based on the players’ performances and tallies is 13.67 goals and 12.2 assists which combined is 25.87 in terms of goals and goals created.
Now, even just looking at the games played since Walcott was injured (after Ramsey was already out) but prior to Wilshere and Ozil’s injuries in March, Walcott and Ramsey’s availability would have provided the Gunners 6.8 more goals and 5.44 assists across 8 games.
On average around 1.53 extra goals per game. An extra goal even in that period would have seen Arsenal beat Southampton in late January, for example, still lose to Liverpool, beat Manchester United at home, and draw or likely win at Stoke. Walcott and Ramsey’s injuries in even that small period without the other injuries compounding the crisis have cost Arsenal roughly 7 points.
Then continue that and add Wilshere and Ozil into the mix and I believe Arsenal’s injuries have cost them around 11 points since New Year. With the players available they could likely have, for example, beaten Manchester City and Swansea by one or more goals. Those extra points would give the Gunners 75 points which, today, would see them sit top of the table, one point ahead of Liverpool.
This is not intended as a ‘what if’ piece because key players gets injured, it’s a part of the game – City lost Aguero and David Silva at inconvenient times, for example, and got along just fine. But my purpose is to illustrate that those who attack Wenger or suggest Arsenal don’t have the quality to compete for titles are missing something and that something is the players Arsene Wenger has been missing, the goals and assists they bring to games and that’s not even taking into consideration the psychological advantage of having those players in the line-up or the general play they contribute all over the pitch.
Those suggesting Arsenal are mentally weak were saying the exact opposite back at the turn of the year when, incidentally, Arsenal had these players fit and were top of the table one point clear.
The pace and width Walcott provides, the protection and goal-threat from deep Ramsey offers, the creative magic of Ozil, and the leadership and graft of Wilshere has been sorely missed.
You can’t change the past but you can use the lessons learned to view the future and, judging by these numbers, Arsenal don’t need a new manager, they need perhaps to take a look at their medical facilities and policy, if anything. Maybe they just need better luck next time and greater strength in depth.