By Joss Bennett - Follow @JossBennett
One of the most popular transfer rumours surrounding the club – both in terms of occurrence in the back pages of our newspapers and in terms of support from fans – has been the £20-something-million signing of Marouane Fellaini.
The 6’ 4” Belgian has played a number of different roles for Everton since his move there in 2008; the most recent being as a rather unconventional ‘no. 10’ behind the striker, from where he managed 11 goals and five assists in 27 games*. However,
Arsenal’s strength in the attacking department suggests Fellaini may instead be used to rival his former team-mate, Mikel Arteta in midfield.
The Everton man’s defensive statistics are hugely impressive, even when played ahead of the midfield where he averaged 2.6 tackles per game (more than any Arsenal midfielder last season) and 1.2 interceptions per game. One slight concern regarding Fellaini’s defensive contribution may be the amount of fouls he gives away – using his height and strength to become a ‘target-man’, he was often accused of backing into opposition players and gave away 2.6 fouls per game last season and picked up eight yellow cards.
However, Fellaini’s attributes were also put to good use as he won an average of 4.9 aerial duels per game (with a 60% success rate) – a better rate than Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud (56%) and Arteta (52%); the latter winning just one aerial duel per game.
Interestingly, his statistics were not quite so impressive in the 2011/12 season (where he played as a defensive midfielder) when he won ‘only’ 2.6 aerial duels per game (but with a 74% success rate).
Of course Fellaini – just one of a number of central midfield targets Arsenal have been linked with this summer – did make more tackles (2.9) and interceptions (1.6) per game when he was played in a deeper role. Despite this increase, his numbers still aren’t as impressive as Arsenal’s current option in defensive midfield, with Arteta averaging an impressive 3.2 tackles and 2.9 interceptions per game last season. The other, more obvious, area Arteta had the advantage in was passing. When played in midfield in 2011/12, Fellaini managed just 52.6 passes per game (79.7%) compared to the 80.9 made by Arteta (91.5%).
Fellaini’s statistics were not bad, of course, but were also inferior to Etienne Capoue, apparently Arsenal’s other major target for the position who averaged 69.3 passes per game with a completion rate of 80.8%. The Toulouse midfielder also made 7 successful long passes per game last season, compared to Fellaini’s lowly 2.4 when in the same position (Arteta averaged 5.3).
Fellaini’s goals and versatility would certainly add something to a team currently reliant on their front four to provide the goods, while his aerial ability would no doubt go some way to aiding Arsenal’s inability to defend (or attack) set-pieces in recent seasons.
However, there are legitimate doubts about whether Fellaini’s price-tag and reported wage demands are worth the effort, and about whether – regardless of his price – he would be able to adapt to the ‘Arsenal’ style of play.
Whatever the answer, it is no doubt encouraging that for once Arsenal are being linked with players who don’t necessarily conform to the stereotypes regarding their price and style of play.
(*Although he played 31 games overall, whoscored statistics show he only played 27 in the advanced role)
All statistics are courtesy of OPTA, via whoscored.com