The blockbuster transfer news broke yesterday and much to the chagrin of Arsenal fans, Robin van Persie completed a £23 million move to Old Trafford and he will be wearing the Italian restaurant tablecloth that is the Manchester United home uniform for the 2012-13 campaign.
Arsenal fans are busy throwing up in their mouths, but for anyone capable of continuing with reading here’s a look at the fantasy implications.
|Wayne Rooney||Robin van Persie|
|Shots on Goal||70||82|
|% On Target||44.6%||47.1%|
|Goals Per Match||0.79||0.81|
Well, that looks amazingly close. The only difference that isn’t splitting hairs is with assists, where van Persie had nine compared to only four for Rooney. Taking many set-pieces and corners for Arsenal, it is little surprise he managed more assists. He’s also an asset when he is on the receiving end of corner kicks so there are no assurances he will retain that duty with his new club.
There’s also the age and height difference. Both players are in their primes and the age difference is closer to two years than three, but those are crucial years. Conventional thinking is that van Persie is slightly on the wrong side of his prime whereas Rooney is just about hitting his peak. The Dutchman is also four inches taller, which gives further justification for using him in front of the net.
No question there’s a huge advantage to Rooney here. In ten years of EPL action (two with Everton), Rooney has averaged 31.8 appearances and has never played in fewer than 27 matches in any season. He has appeared in 30 or more league matches in seven of his 10 seasons.
In stark contrast, through 11 professional seasons (three with Feyenoord), van Persie never stayed healthy enough to make more than 28 league appearances in a season until last year. He averaged 22.3 appearances and 9.4 goals per season in his first eight seasons at the Emirates. People don’t tend to get less injury prone when they turn 30 so expecting van Persie to make it through back-to-back seasons unscathed is quite a leap of faith.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s player rotation philosophy might help here. Robin van Persie won’t appear in 38 matches this season even if he’s healthy because Ferguson doesn’t ask his players to appear in 38 matches. The manager is a master of player rotation and knows a thing or two about managing fatigue while juggling multiple competitions. Even the best, most reliable United players generally only start about 32 league matches. Ferguson is as aware of van Persie’s injury history as everyone reading this and he’ll do all he can to protect his investment.
Of course durability doesn’t present the same risk in fantasy soccer that it does in most other fantasy realms. Owners aren’t wasting a 1st-round pick on van Persie if he suffers a major injury; they simply have to swap him out during their weekly transfers.
Obviously, whichever player gets the nod for penalty kick duty has a huge advantage over his counterpart. Both players do plenty of scoring from open play but if you figure they aren’t going to combine for 57 goals like they did last year and the player who doesn’t get penalty duties can expect another half dozen or so goals subtracted from his season total, it’s a pretty big deal.
It remains to be seen which player that will be. Last season both men had 75% conversion rates in league play. Rooney converted 6-of-8 from the spot whereas van Persie had only half as many attempts and converted 3-of-4. (Interestingly, his only miss was at Old Trafford during the 8-2 drubbing.)
Both players are excellent penalty takers and the small sample size doesn’t reveal much. Manchester United’s offensive struggles in the preseason that have included Wayne Rooney’s penalty miss in the friendly against Barcelona might be more telling. Because the Dutchman is so clinical from the spot we have to think he’s going to get the call, but it is only an educated guess. It is impossible to say if loyalty to Rooney for eight years of service or a desire to not put too much pressure on van Persie in his new surroundings might come into play with Sir Alex’s decision making process.
Robin van Persie scored a remarkable 40.5% of Arsenal’s goals last year and he is the best pure striker in the EPL. He’s deadly from inside the 18-yard box as evidenced by the fact that over 90% of his goals were scored in that range. He can has remarkable power and accuracy shooting with either foot and he’s excellent with set pieces. It’s nearly impossible to imagine him playing any position other than striker.
Rooney, on the other hand, has never really fit any mold. His production tells the tale and there’s no arguing he can consistently produce goals at the highest level from the forward position but he also brings a lot to the table when asked to play other positions. He accounted for 30.3% of United’s goals last season which isn’t shabby in its own right, but he wasn’t cut from the cloth as most strikers. Rooney has an underrated mind for the game and has altered his game in the past for other star players. At 26 years old, it’s easy to envision Rooney morphing into a midfield player for the second half of his career and this could be the beginning of that transformation.
Conclusion: It’s anti-climatic, but both players are so expensive we don’t recommend investing in either. We’re inclined to believe van Persie will be the more productive of the two leading the attack in a 4-4-1-1 formation while Rooney plays in the hole behind him, but the Dutchman is priced through the roof and Rooney isn’t far behind. If Rooney does in fact suffer the worst of it and his price drops accordingly, he could become a great value when van Persie gets injured. Until then it’s just too much money to tie up in a committee situation, especially with the penalty kick situation a crap shoot.
Rooney and van Persie aren’t the only two players impacted by this move. Here’s a look by team of the other impacts, with a special focus on the new Arsenal forwards that will be asked to fill van Persie’s shoes.
This is a huge downgrade for Welbeck. Until a few days ago he was one of the most appealing sleepers of the season. Now that’s he’s clearly third in the pecking order he drops off the radar. Unless there’s an injury to one of the stars, Welbeck will be spending a lot of time on the bench and can expect to be used as a sub and in FA and League Cup matches.
Chicharito already took a small step backwards and this doesn’t help. His staggering goals-per-minute statistic from the 2010-11season was unsustainable, but there’s also no doubt he’s struggling to regain his magic. Without his misfires on a couple of chances at El Azteca, this picture would have never been possible.
With van Persie’s arrival he’s even the subject of transfer rumors, including a move to Arsenal where he might be a nice fit. Until further notice, his value is bottoming out as well.
How Berbatov has been rotting on United’s bench through some of the best years of his life is tough to understand. For his sake, hopefully he’ll finally get a move to a club where he can get the playing time he deserves.
There’s room for one less person on the pitch, and it isn’t going to be a defender. This is a slight downgrade to all United midfielders and it’s going to be tough to find value amongst the high-priced offerings. Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, Nani, and Antonio Valencia could all be impacted. Kagawa was expected to play “in the hole” but Rooney might knock him out of that slot so only time will tell. He’s also the one player new to the league so there’s probably going to be an adjustment period. For the others, maybe one will emerge as the clear cut fantasy favorite (probably Nani) but given their high asking prices it’s hard to believe they aren’t at least slightly overpriced.
Lukas Podolski / Olivier Giroud
Let’s look at the same comparison we did for Rooney and van Persie, keeping in mind that last year’s stats for both players were accumulated in different leagues, neither of which was the EPL.
|Olivier Giroud||Lukas Podolski|
|Shots on Goal||70||37|
|% On Target||43.8%||43.5%|
|Goals Per Match||0.58||0.62|
Again, the players have remarkably similar stats with Podolski taking far fewer shots but still managing a better goals-per-match number. The age and stature differences could be a huge factor here as well. The statistics are not an “apples to oranges” comparison because of the fact they played in different leagues and we also have to figure in some factor for a drop in production associated with a move to the EPL.
The oft-cited knock on Podolski is that he struggled in his only other time with a so-called “big club.” It’s true that his time at Bayern Munich didn’t go quite as planned, but he missed time with an ankle injury and he got lost in the shuffle on a team full of superstars. He was also only 21 years old when he was brought to the club so the fact that the manager preferred Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose over him isn’t exactly a slap in the face.
Judging his ability to produce at Arsenal based on that isn’t entirely fair. A better indication might be his time with the German National Team. He has scored 44 goals in 101 matches at the senior international level, and it isn’t as though there’s a lack of talent on that squad. With Arsenal, he could also see himself on penalty duties for one of the top clubs in the league.
Giroud is known for his size and physical ability, but those aren’t going to be assets in the Premier League the same way they were in Ligue 1. There’s little doubt he’ll be able to stand up to the physical play that bothers so many other imports from the continent, but it’s tough to think he’ll be able to use his strength to overpower defenders the way he did in France. He has never been a regular on the French National Team and has only recently earned 10 appearances. He has one goal in that span in a friendly against Germany.
Conclusion: Arsenal will probably use a 4-3-3 formation with Podolski on the left, Giroud in the center, and a winger like Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain on the right. Goals should be distributed fairly evenly across the front line and overall Arsenal probably isn’t losing a lot in terms of total production. Podolski has high upside and we like his fantasy outlook. He’s being overlooked a little because of all the uncertainty surrounding the new players, but we think he’s worth an early season investment. We’re more inclined to take a wait-and see approach with Giroud. He’ll get goals, but he’ll also quite possibly turn in much less consistent performances.
What little impact there is here is positive. Whereas van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford puts another cook in the kitchen and squeezes midfield production some, it shouldn’t be the case with Arsenal. Even though Giroud/Podolski seem to be a 2-for-1 replacement the fact is players like Gervinho got their share of time on the pitch but weren’t big factors anyway. Aaron Ramsey’s value might suffer a bit because he’s less likely to feature in an offensive role but he only did so when pressed into duty as a result of other injuries in the past so it isn’t a huge factor. Theo Walcott should still be his talented, productive, and sometimes infuriating self. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still one of the best rising young talents in the league. Santi Cazorla still has a promising outlook as an attacking midfielder depending how quickly he can adjust quickly to the speed and physicality of the English league. He looks like a slam dunk to be the second coming of Juan Mata and that might be selling him short because he takes deadly free kicks. He could represent great value as well.
The transfer doesn’t impact defenders much, but the Belgian benefits in that he inherits the captain’s armband. Coming off a solid season, it can only add to his confidence. We expected him to be one of fantasy’s top defenders and this does nothing but reinforce that opinion.