Sometimes the numbers do tell the story …

Morning all.

Over on Patreon yesterday, Lewis and I did a player ratings podcast in which, quite unsurprisingly, we rated the players’ performance for last season out of 10. It’s fair to say there were a lot of high numbers in there. Even some 10s, you’d have to go listen to find out who, but I’m sure you can probably guess.

There were some who didn’t get marks quite as high though, and as the discussion went on, it was hard not to think about those players and those positions when it comes to this summer’s transfer business. Without giving too much away, you just have to look at the minutes some of these guys played to see where we can upgrade.

These are Premier League only, but let’s look at three players. First, Fabio Vieira. It has to be acknowledged that he spent a period out with injury after having knee surgery, but he was in the squad for 24 of 38 games, started only twice, and played just 291 minutes. After his return from injury, he had 54 minutes of playing time, and 45 of those were when he came on at half-time against Sheffield United with the game well and truly won at that point. He didn’t get off the bench in 10 of our last 13 games.

Next, Emile Smith Rowe, a player I really like, but who has struggled to make an impact since his big injury sidelined him last season. There was, I suppose, a glimmer of hope in that when we needed a goal against Everton he was the man Mikel Arteta turned to, and but for the crossbar, he might have got it too. However, his numbers tell a story that’s hard to ignore.

He was in the squad for 31 of the 38 games, started just three times, came off the bench on 10 occasions, and the earliest he did that in any game was the 68th minute of the 2-2 draw away at Chelsea. His appearance on the final day came in the 69th minute. In total, he played 345 Premier League minutes this season.

Finally, Reiss Nelson. He was basically an ever-present in the squad from August to March, until we got some players back from injury and he was the man to make way. In that period though, he was in the squad 30 times, and started just once. One of the most striking ‘stats’ of last season was that when he was in the team to face Luton, it was the first time he had started a Premier League game for Arsenal since July 2020, when he played against Liverpool in the weird restarted Covid season. That really is striking, on a number of levels.

He made 14 substitute appearances, didn’t score a goal, didn’t make an assist, and in total he played 255 minutes (75 of which came in that game against Luton). For periods of the season, he was basically the de facto back-up for Bukayo Saka, and while I think everyone can understand there’s an inherent difficulty in sourcing somebody for that specific role, there are ways of providing cover. For example, I sincerely hope we can get Gabriel Jesus and his knee 100% ready for next season, because he’s a very talented footballer who can easily play on the right, as well as anywhere else across the front-line. The quality difference between Jesus and Nelson is undeniable, even with his finishing issues.

I understand why Arsenal offered Nelson a new deal, I understand to some extent (his connection with the club and being part of this exciting project, and probably wages too) why he signed it, but this was another wasted season in his career. He’s going to be 25 later this year, and surely the time is right for him to accept that in order to play regularly, he’s going to have drop down a level. He could probably do a job for a mid-table Premier League side, but the evidence shows Mikel Arteta doesn’t think he can do it for a side challenging for the title.

All three players were cumulatively available for 85 Premier League games, and between them they have 6 starts. Right there is a key issue for this summer’s recruitment. There is so much discussion about Arteta’s use of his squad, and how the pool of players he trusts is so small. Some of that might be on him, some of that might be circumstance. In the heat of a run-in it’s hard to play guys who haven’t featured much, so you default to the players who have done it week in, week out. But what’s pretty clear is that in order for us to do again what we did this season, and do it better, some upgrades need to be made, and those three are the obvious candidates (along with Eddie Nketiah, even if he was much more involved than the others this season – until he too found himself warming the bench with scant playing time towards the end).

Finding buyers for them won’t be easy, and I suspect a couple could go on loan rather than permanently, but imagine a squad next season where their replacements are able to start more games, or even have an impact from the bench – something none of them really have in their locker. A few extra goals here and there might be the difference between missing out on the title by a tight margin. None of this will be news to Edu and Arteta, of course, and as much as I’m curious about who comes in this summer, the departure lounge is an interesting aspect to consider too.

If you fancy listening to that podcast, it’s over on Patreon right now, you can sign up for $6 a month to get instant access to that and everything we do there. For now, have a good Wednesday folks.

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