Sunday, 29 April 2012

Why Benayoun’s hard-working performance at Stoke allowed Arsenal to dominate proceedings

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Yossi Benayoun's performance against Stoke City.

Since joining Arsenal in what seemed like a fairly random loan move last summer – after all, Arsenal had already signed two wingers in the same window in Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain –Benayoun has struggled for place in Wenger’s starting XI.

That is, until the Israeli’s hard-work finally paid off in one of the best North London derbies ever. The former Liverpool player’s determined attitude and eagerness to press the ball has established him as somewhat of a ‘big-game’ player; a player who is happy to track back and defend, but who is also a threat in the final third.

The use of Benayoun in various different positions on the field this season is both a credit to his versatility, and a positive sign of how much Arsene Wenger wants to find a place for the 31 year-old in his side.

Not often can we say that of an Arsenal player over the age of 30 – particularly attackers - after the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Freddie Ljungberg and even Robert Pires were shipped out when they got too old.

Against Stoke, Benayoun was used in his most familiar role – on the left wing, where he was able to cut inside and link up with the overlapping Kieran Gibbs. With the in-form Theo Walcott out injured, and fan-favourite Chamberlain not risked in an inevitably physical contest, Benayoun provided a different threat to both and was undoubtedly the key to Arsenal’s dominance.

All too often in away games against teams in the bottom half, Arsenal’s lack of intensity means the opposition is able to simply sit back and play their game, hitting long balls forward to the big-man and exploiting Arsenal’s aerial weaknesses.

However, the improved pressing of Arsenal in recent months – led by Tomas Rosicky and now Benayoun, meant the Gunners could win the ball back quickly in dangerous areas and immediately look to create goal-scoring chances.

The Israeli captain, who made just three starts in all competitions for Chelsea last season, forced two turnovers and tracked back well with two successful tackles (from three), whilst also making three interceptions (including one in the opposition half) and one foul*.

Offensively, Benayoun has proved his worth to Arsenal this season with 2 goals and 1 assist, together with an average of 0.6 key passes and 0.7 successful dribble attempts per game in the Premier League**. At the Britannia, Benayoun more than doubled these averages with two successful take-ons and two chances created**.

In fact, it was Benayoun’s hard-work in winning the ball back after a slightly heavy pass from midfield that led to Arsenal’s equaliser. An intelligent reverse pass to Tomas Rosicky gave the midfielder the perfect chance to pick out Van Persie and help level the score.

Benayoun has become an increasingly important part of an Arsenal team that has surprised everyone by making such a strong finish to the season when a place in next season’s Champions League looked beyond them.

With 12 starts in total this season, including 8 in the Premier League and in each of the last four games (excluding Chelsea, which he was ineligible for), Benayoun has gone from zero to hero with some fine performances and a positive attitude that has delighted fans and manager alike.

Whether Wenger will ask him to stay on a permanent basis after the season’s end remains to be seen, but the Chelsea loanee has done himself no harm with recent displays.

OPTA stats from *StatsZone App by FourFourTwo and **

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

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