Arsenal: Forget Stats, The Unquantifiables Matter Too

An Arsenal fan holds up a shirt with Eboue written on it (Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)
An Arsenal fan holds up a shirt with Eboue written on it (Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images) /

In the last couple decades, there has been a shift in the methodology of ascertaining the quality and ability of footballers, nowhere moreso than Arsenal.

Players, from Arsenal to Napoli and everywhere in between, have come to be judged not only on the impression they make on the eye during a game, but also what their stats show subsequently.

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How far did he run? How fast? How many passes did he make? How many key passes? Chance conversion? Interceptions? And so on.

It can help paint a rounder picture of a player’s aptitude and such statistics are used at clubs the world over, to assist in recruitment and development.

But what of “The Unquantifiables”?  What of the key parts of a player’s game that the stats don’t reveal?

What of the fear-inducing glare of a charismatic captain to keep a young debutante focused?

What of the little movement from a winger to drag a full back wide, allowing space for the striker to exploit the middle?

Do these aspects of football, these unquantifiables, have just as important a role in defining the quality of a player as their assist stats do?

And do they have just as big an impact on the outcome of a game as, say, possession does?

A quarter of Arsenal’s 24 premier League goals this season have involved dummy runs that have been essential in the scoring of the goal. None of these have been recorded in the match’s vital statistics.

Against Liverpool we saw a run from Sanchez drag Henderson out of the middle, opening up central space and allowing Iwobi to find Walcott to score. We saw his movement against Liverpool cause problems again when he kept Klavan occupied as Oxlade-Chamberlain danced into the box and found the net.

Against Watford, a run from Oxlade-Chamberlain forced Kaboul to leave Sanchez one-on-one with Amrabat, resulting in a penalty for the Gunners.

Against Hull, another run from Sanchez pulled Maguire away and opened things up for a Walcott/Iwobi one-two and goal.

Against Swansea a dummy run from Theo kept Amat and Fernandez occupied as Ozil ghosted in to finish.

Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez
(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) /

And against Sunderland, Giroud put Arsenal ahead as a run from Ozil meant Van Aanholt was unable to get near the Frenchman.

All of these runs and movements are as integral to the scoring process as the assist and the finish itself, yet are not available in stat reportage.

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Indeed, Sanchez’s performance in the Daily Mirror following the Liverpool game was summed up thusly: ‘Flattered to deceive. Produced nothing.’ This, despite him being integral to two Arsenal goals.

Also not covered by statistics is the undeniable affect the charisma or reputation of a player can have on the psychology and subsequent performance of a team or player.

Thierry Henry was a good example of this. Arsenal’s greatest-ever striker would regularly shoot a scary look at a team-mate for a less than perfect pass. Watching from the stands, I knew the next pass from the player concerned would find Thierry’s feet.

Bradley Wright-Phillips summed this up well when talking about playing alongside Thierry for the New York Red Bulls.

"“When he’s moaning at you, you can see the wisdom in it… there are so many things I learnt [from Henry]”"

Seeing the wisdom in a scolding from a team mate, learning from it, and improving for the next time – a common unquantifiable piece of game influence and individual quality.

Moving away from Arsenal for a minute, Wayne Rooney is an interesting study in this regard. Despite frequent poor statistical performances, Rooney continually finds himself in the starting XI of teams picked by experienced and successful ‘football people’ such as Mourinho, Van Gaal, Allardyce and Southgate.

They clearly feel he has an unquantifiable impact on the team beyond the statistics. Perhaps they feel he generates confidence, vocally orchestrates positions well or instils a certain professionalism within the team.

There are plenty more unquantifiables to mention; communication, anticipation, confidence and so on.

One such unquantifiable that is very noticeable amongst this current Arsenal crop is team morale. They seem to want to fight for one another. Last minute goals, last ditch tackles and the act of lasting itself are becoming the hallmarks of this side. At the minute they seem unwavering in their determination to not lose.

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And unwavering doesn’t appear on any player’s stats sheet.

So let’s obsess less about stats and look closer to see the important things they overlook.

And let’s bring Emmanuel Eboue back. Because that boy was a true Unquantifiable.