Sunday, February 05, 2012
In Defence of Aaron Ramsey: a Statistical Analysis
It seems odd to me, but over the last few weeks I've seen Aaron Ramsey come in for a lot of criticism, especially on the angst-spewing machine that is Twitter. The main bone of contention seems to be that he has become an automatic first XI pick for Arsene this year, despite the fact that he has not contributed enough to the team. In particular, there is an idea that he often goes missing in games, yet still plays the 90 minutes, and gets picked again for the next game despite having contributed little.
Personally, I'm of the view that Aaron has been excellent this season, and I believe the statistics are there to back-up this argument. Yet, regardless of stats, what people need to remember is that this is, essentially, Aaron's first season as a member of Arsenal's starting XI. He had only just forced his way into the team when the cavemen broke his leg, and he had only just begun to work his way back into the team last year after a loan to Nottingham Forest. Moreover, he's had to play in a radically altered Arsenal midfield. Fabregas and Nasri are no more, and Wilshere will probably miss around 90% of these season's games. When you add in the 8-2 Old Trafford trauma, you can see just how turbulent his career at Arsenal has been thus far, to say the least. So, my first point would be - give the kid a break. He's still a relative newbie to the demands of top-level football, and has been subjected to a steep learning-curve this season.
But when you actually break down his performances, you'll see that he has played pretty well this year. Firstly, he has 4 assists in the league, the fifth-highest in the team. This number is pretty decent in itself, but I believe it would be much higher if we had more players who could score regularly within the team.
This can be seen through his key passes statistic - i.e., passes which leads to an attempt at goal without scoring. Aaron has 47 key passes in the premier league this season - an average of 2.1 per game. At Arsenal, only Robin van Persie bests him in this area with 55 key passes at an average of 2.3 per game. Arteta has the same average of 2.1, but has only 40 key passes in total as he has played less games. To put that in a wider context, Aaron is 13th in the list of players who make the most key passes per game in the Premier league this season. He produces more key passes than players such as Suarez, Giggs, Rooney, Dempsey, Lampard and Yaya Toure (to name a few). That the players ahead of Ramsey include Mata, Silva, Nani, and Modric shows the impressive company that Aaron is very close to emulating in terms of the creation of goal-scoring chances in the league. Indeed, if we had more than one consistent goal-scorer in the team, I am certain that Aaron would be near double-figures for assists this year already. (On a related note, it also hammers home how galling it was that we missed out on Mata, who has had a superb first season in England.)
Aaron also passes the ball extremely well. He is second only to Arteta in terms of average number of passes attempted per game, and, out of our midfielders, he is also second only to Arteta in terms of average pass completion rate per game. Despite playing a more offensive role, he therefore makes and completes a higher amount of passes than Song, who appears to attempt a higher amount of riskier through-balls which often don't come off. (Interestingly, Mertesacker has the overall second-highest pass completion rate out of regularly appearing players, which says a lot about the oft-overlooked calming roll that Per plays in our defence.)
In terms of defensive abilities, Aaron completes an average of 2 tackles per game - lower than Song (2.9) and Arteta (2.4), but higher than the likes of Vermaelen (1.9), Djourou (1.6), and Rosicky (1.1). Indeed, it's interesting to note that Aaron completes almost twice as many tackles on average per game than Rosicky, despite the impression that many hold of Rosicky as a player who's always leaping around the pitch winning back the ball. Aaron not only tackles more than Rosicky, he has a higher average number of interceptions per game. For all you Rosicky fans out there, Ramsey also completes a higher percentage of passes, and creates more goal-scoring opportunities than Tomas. Rosicky is a useful option for rotation, but there is no question that Ramsey should be starting ahead of Rosicky at the moment, at least in the league.
Where Aaron's performances have been a little disappointing is in Europe, where his pass completion rate falls to about 75% compared to 87% in the league; where he is only 7th in terms of key passes per game; and where he has 0 assists, although his last-minute winner in Marseille means he is one of only 5 players to score for us in Europe this year. Particularly as he is a British player, it does appear that Aaron has struggled a little to adapt his game to the differing demands of Champions League football.
Despite his exploits on the French Riviera, goal scoring has been a general weakness for Aaron this season. He has only 1 goal in the league, despite having the 3rd highest number of shots per game. When he first arrived at the club, what I liked about Aaron was his directness, and the fact he seemed a bit more willing to shoot than the likes of Cesc and Nasri. One league goal is a poor return for someone who United saw as a potential replacement for Paul Scholes.
Another criticism that could be levelled at him is that his concentration levels are not always as high as they should be. While they don't give the stats to back-up the assertion, whoscored.com lists Ramsey's concentration as 'very weak', calculated by own goals and errors that he has made which have led to opponent's shooting and scoring. How much this has been skewed by his appearance in the Old Trafford bloodbath, or his own goal as our ten-men desperately tried to keep Liverpool out in the 2-0 defeat in August, I'm not sure. But, watching him, I think Aaron does turn off too frequently, which is why I don't think he's quite mentally ready to start week-in, week-out at the moment. While I don't rate him as highly as I rate Aaron, I do think that Rosicky can step into the fray on occasion to give Ramsey a mental breather, as he did to reasonable effect yesterday.
So, what is the overall picture that I'm trying to paint? It's of a player who passes the ball extremely well, and consistently creates goalscoring chances. It's of someone who would have more assists this season were he surrounded by a higher number of players who could finish their chances. It's also of someone who, despite predominantly being an attacking midfielder, does his bit defensively, with a good number of tackles and interceptions. However, what's also clear is that Aaron struggles slightly in the Champions League, that he is as guilty as anyone of the slack finishing which has generally surrounded the team this year (this weekend's result notwithstanding), and that he sometimes lacks concentration.
This, for me, is a classic glass half-empty/full situation. For someone playing their first full year of premier league football, his passing and general attacking threat is clearly apparent, as is his determination to work hard to win the ball back. I also think that, given time, he will start to contribute a higher number of goals to the team than he does at present. However, he has not yet reached the heights of the player he is effectively replacing, Fabregas, who even in an injury-hit campaign last year, still bagged 11 assists and 2.9 key passes per game.
I say, give him time. For me, his stats this season show that he is still developing as a player, but that he is not as far as everyone thinks from being the top, attacking midfielder that we all want him to become. Lastly, perhaps if Wilshere had been fit this year, people would see Aaron in a bit more of a positive light. My great hope for the future is to see a midfield featuring both Ramsey and Wilshere playing together regularly. That, I think, is the basis of a team that could lead us to trophies.