For Arsenal fans, the love affair between them and Yann M’Vila is a rollercoaster of on again off again intensity. One day he’s signing, the next day he’s on vacation, after that he’s had a tour of Colney, and then he realizes he left his stove on at home. Progress has been unbearably slow and at times unclear, but a transfer to Arsenal seems the most likely outcome of this lengthy saga. The question is, is Yann M’Vila a vital signing?
This writer says no, and for one reason only: Alex Song. Why spend upwards of £15m on a player when we already have someone equally capable who contributed immensely last season? Not to mention the fact that Francis Coquelin is breathing down everyone’s neck for playing time. Why kill off a career with so much promise, and potentially bench a proven player while overspending in the process? For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at some important stats for a defensive midfielder in a three way comparison between the aforementioned players. Alex Song vs. Yann M’Vila vs. Francis Coquelin, by the numbers.
|Player||Yann M’Vila||Alexandre Song||Francis Coquelin|
*All stats are an average per game, data provided by WhoScored
At first glance, all 3 players have similar stats and can’t be separated quickly as to who is the best of the trio. However, with a closer look at the finer details, we can get an idea of their styles of play outside of the standard duties of a defensive midfielder. Take fouls for example. We can easily pick out that Alex Song is the hardest tackler of the bunch, using his size at times to his detriment by conceding an average of 2 fouls per game. Recognizing the whole point of a defensive midfielder is to get “stuck in” and break up play, you still have to wonder why Song is so much rougher than his understudy Coquelin, and potential teammate M’Vila.
All three players show impressive stats in defence, but we know that in Arsène Wenger’s current system, there’s more to being a holding midfielder than sticking your leg out and hoping for the best. Fluid passing and quick movement have been the style that Wenger has stamped on the Gunners since Day 1, and for the most part it has been successful. However, for years we have lacked a proper defensive anchor. No, not even Alex Song can be thought of as a midfield hard man. When you look at escapades like this, you have to wonder why he is often criticised for his lapses in concentration at the back. Like André Santos, Song isn’t a defender by choice, but out of necessity. Since our formation change from a solid 4-4-2 to a more fluid 4-2-3-1, Arsenal have done away with one solid figure that sits just ahead of the back four in exchange for two players sharing defensive and offensive duties equally, behind a playmaker. Taking into account that Song and M’Vila are more suited to a more “balanced” central midfield role, we have to value their strengths and weaknesses in attack equally to their defensive contributions. We’ll leave Coquelin out of this for a while as he isn’t seen as a first choice player as of yet.
Yann M’Vila: Long Passes, tackling and concentration
Alex Song: Key passes, movement and dribbling
While both are strong passers, both players go about their game very differently in moving the ball around the pitch.
Last season, the Cameroonian completed 1895 passes out of an attempted 2248 – averaging 66 passes per game – earning a completion rate of 84.3%. He made an average of 3.3 accurate long balls per game, completing 111/164 and played a total 46 key passes, averaging 1.4 per game.
M’Vila had more passes than Song, completing 2272/2730 – averaging almost 72 passes per game – earning a completion rate of 83.2%. M’Vila made a staggering average 7.7 long balls per game, completing 292/431 and played a total 43 key passes, averaging 1.1 per game.
Both players can place a ball, that much is clear, but the way their affect the match with their passing couldn’t be more opposite. Song sees the ball quite a bit less than M’Vila, attempting 482 less passes than the Frenchman over the course of the season. With similar successful pass and key pass percentages, the only things left to dissect are the ways in which these two players hugely differ: long passing and assists. For all his hard work picking out almost 8 long passes per game, Yann M’Vila has very little to show for it, having only 2 assists the entire season. Song, on the other hand, played a comparatively paltry 3.3 long balls per game, but his efforts came to fruition with 11 assists; the most of any Arsenal player. That, along with playing fewer passes but more key ones means that Song is the far better option for attacking. Song is more incisive in his passing, and is capable of creating a goalscoring opportunity out of a seemingly harmless soft lob. M’Vila on the other hand, is the one who makes far more passes, but doesn’t expose the opposition’s defence nearly as often. You could almost compare their style to the two Euro 2012 Cup Finalists: Song being Italy, always trying to force their way through using fewer passes, being very direct in their buildup. Yann M’Vila being Spain with their tiki taka style of play that requires more passes and patience to provide a threat. Both have their merits, but in this case it’s as clear as day. Song is the better midfielder when on the attack.
Yann M’Vila: Offensive contribution
Alex Song: Defensive concentration
When you look at some of the best midfielders in the past and present, they all did the same thing really well: balance. Knowing when to rush forward, when to provide cover at the back. When to pass, when to shoot. When to tackle, when to wait to intercept. All these decisions and more separate the good from the great.
We know for sure that Yann M’Vila is a bulldog central midfielder.The Frenchman is no goal scorer nor playmaker, that’s already been established. However, there’s no reason why he can’t be these things. He has a powerful physique, standing at 182 cm and 80 kg, and a very composed dribbler. He’s an accurate passer, but perhaps a little too conservative in where he puts the ball. If he were to be more direct in his play and perhaps be more flexible in his positioning, he could have similar attacking prowess to some of the world’s best.
Sometimes when Song takes one step forward, he really should have taken two steps back. For all his good intentions to get up the pitch and help the team score a goal, he also has to realize he has equal responsibility in helping the defence prevent a goal. Everyone loves watching a bombing run forward from Alex. However, too often this season he’s been caught out of position on the counter attack, leaving Mikel Arteta to do most of the grunt work. Song needs to be more committed to protecting our backline, giving equal opportunity to Mikel Arteta to contribute in offensive play.
Over the past few months, talk of M’Vila’s price has fluctuated from an astounding £22m to a relatively bargain basement price of £10m. However, with Rennes seemingly eager to get a decent fee, Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg have stepped into the fold, potentially sparking a bidding war between the two clubs. Keep in mind, this is Arsène Wenger we’re talking about. This is the man who signed both a German international with over 100 caps and Ligue 1 top scorer for less than £25m. Arsène loves a bargain, and is willing to haggle to the bitter end to get it. With interest from elsewhere however, Arsène rarely gets his man due to his reluctance to pay top dollar. Recent examples include Santi Cazorla (2011), Juan Mata and Phil Jones. Overpaying just isn’t his style, so don’t get your hopes up.
Yann is no saint, as evidenced by his knack for appearing on news sites for all the wrong reasons. On the pitch, however, he uses his aggression to his benefit. Still, the Gunners have had their fair share of troublemakers and eccentrics. Do we really need more drama in the dressing room?
My final thought on M’VIla is that he would be a fantastic signing, but I feel other areas need more attention, specifically at left back and in attacking midfield. If we do end up signing him, it will be at a cut price as his reputation is a large factor in the fee. If Wenger works his magic, then great. If not, I won’t be too bothered. Yes, M’VIla is a quality player. No, we don’t need him and probably never will.