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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


The Key To Arsenal’s Revival…….And It Isn’t Van Persie Or Rosicky Or…..

Written by on March 30, 2012 | 8 Comments »
Posted in Arsenal

Robin Van Persie has carried a heavy load for Arsenal this season. The many who doubted his ability to captain and lead the team have been choking on their doubts for some time. With 26 Premier League goals and another 7 in other competitions it has been a banner season for the Dutchman and he is a definite contender for Player of the Year in England.

While Van Persie has led by example from the start of the season we have seen others ramp up their form in the last few weeks.

At times Tomas Rosicky has been playing like a man possessed or at least a man looking for a new contract – something he duly signed two weeks ago. Theo Walcott and Alex Song are two others who have stepped forward to help the Arsenal cause.

But if you are looking for one area of improvement that has contributed to a tipping point in form it would be full back. The return of Bacary Sagna and Kieron Gibbs (with Andre Santos also available again) has allowed Arsenal to play with more width and has allowed the team to press the opposition higher up the park. Although it can leave the team open to counter attack the benefits at the moment far outweigh the costs.

Statistics can be used selectively and you could simply use the information from the last seven matches and draw the conclusion that Sagna and Gibbs make Arsenal a much tougher proposition. But even during Arsenal very lean spell at the start of the season the statistics support the notion that Arsenal’s results are significantly better when they line up with “proper” full backs.

Bacary Sagna has played 14 Premier League matches this season including the loss against Tottenham when he was badly injured and had to leave the game. With Sagna in the Arsenal starting line up Arsenal has gained 69% of the available points; without him the % drops to 60%.    

Moving on to Kieran Gibbs the difference is even marked. Gibbs has started 10 games and has been only the losing side twice – the other starts have all resulted in wins. That comes to 80% of points gained against 57% when he has not started.

But it actually gets more interesting when you bring Andre Santos into the equation. Andre Santos has started 7 games with 5 wins, a draw and a loss – that’s a points gained percentage of 76%. Not quite as good as Gibbs but not bad either.

When we look at the games Andre Santos has not started in (that includes Gibbs 10 starts) the points gained percentage drops to 61%.

Combine the starts for Gibbs and Andre Santos in the left back position and you get a record of played 17, won 13, lost 3 and drawn 1 – 40 points out of a possible 51 or 78%. Goals conceded 17 or a goal per game.

Without either of the two starting Arsenal’s record is played 13, won 5, lost 5 and drawn 3 – 18 points out of a possible 39 or only 46% of the points available. Goals conceded 22 or 1.69 goals per game.

Even more important than Sagna and Gibbs (or Santos) appears to be having a specialized left back starting each game.

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8 responses to “The Key To Arsenal’s Revival…….And It Isn’t Van Persie Or Rosicky Or…..”

  1. Ogo Sylla says:

    I’m so glad you’ve pointed this out. When all my Arsenal friends were despairing I was making the whole “you don’t have fullbacks” case but it all seemed to fall on deaf ears. Like you I think Sagna is very underrated & easily one of the top fullbacks in Europe, certainly in England at very least.

    I’ve usually given a lot of flak to Andre Santos & Gibbs so I’m surprised they actually bring any positives. But hey that’s why stats don’t matter, right? 😉

  2. Gerald says:

    Theo plays a whole lot better with Sagna , as well.

  3. joakal says:

    Could you please explain “fullbacks” to Steve Mcmananananman Bobby? and nearly every other english media pundit.

  4. Lets be honest, Sagna is also the best crosser on Arsenal. so, when he is gone, arsenal lose, pace, not excellent but decent defensive grit.
    As you said, Gibbs and Santos have become the solution on the other side, to bring balance. Arsenal is moving at a lightning quick speed offesnively from the back forward and that is their best game.
    Good article

  5. everwonthetreble says:

    I think Arsenal have shown a United-like toughness this season, which puts to bed the notion that the team is liking any leadership. Despite their deficiencies and injury problems they continued to rise up the table. I think the team’s mentality was the main reason they were in position to improve when they finally did get the likes of Sagna and Gibbs back.

  6. Boris says:

    I am glad to seethat to Lennon is back in the lineup. Modric can finally play more in the central midfield. I really believe that one of the reasons the Spurs had struggled in recent times because their best players like Luka Modric, Bale, and VDV were played out of position. It is so frustrating seeing a player of Modric’ caliber been forced to play on the right for example.

    You play your best players in their best roles no matter what.

  7. Ed Gomes says:

    Bobby, I’ve been a very big Arsenal basher. Although Wenger has been a great manager, there’s always something missing. For me the biggest thing missing is leadership, and it has been for a while. If you’re telling me RvP is providing it in the dressing room, so be it.
    As you pointed out, maybe it was the injuries that have really hurt Arsenal. I agree that Sagna is their best crosser, so that is huge. With him on the field, Theo doesn’t get as exposed as a bad provider since he does it less.
    I will say that I feel that Santos would get exposed if he was the regular starter. He’s just not a good defender and would once again put added pressure on the center backs. Although I do feel that he and Chamberlain could be lethal.

    I still say that Arsenal should have been better than they’ve shown. I know that Wenger gets credit for the youngsters that step up, but I do feel that some just all into their laps. And some get lost in the shuffle.
    Just because I’m one of the many that calls for transfers, I’m not of the spend, spend ilk, just spend smartly. Let me ask, wouldn’t Silva have been perfect for Arsenal? For that matter Mata? They knew Cesc and his replacement, Nasri, were gone.

    I’m not an Arsenal fan, and let me caution that nothing has been saved as of yet. They face City at home and Chelsea and Stoke on the road. Some drop points could be on the horizon.
    Spurs have Chelsea at home. Shame on Harry if they don’t win the rest. For me only Sunderland on the road possibly Fulham at home could be trouble.
    Chelsea and Newcastle do have tough roads. It just might yet be their saving grace.

  8. Soccerlogical says:

    ED – Of course Arsenal should have been better than they’ve shown.

    And of course the likes of Gibbs, Sagna and even a chubby defensively suspect Santos (who has just played like 7 EPL games) will be an improvement on the likes of Koscielny, Djolurou and Jenkinson playing FB.

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