Squad Strength: Half of ManU and Chelsea?

I won’t dwell too long on the embarrassment of Old Trafford, but you’d think if you gave a penalty to the fifth best ranked player in Europe and put him up against a young and short-on-confidence goalkeeper, he’d score every time. Not in the case of RvP against De Gea. Yep, you read that right: Robin van Persie is ranked fifth best player in the five major European leagues in the latest Castrol rankings, which cover up to the end of last season. To be fair, he was on very good goalscoring form, particularly away from home – maybe he is just not so good on penalties.

It’s no surprise that Messi is number one in the rankings – if he wasn’t, the people who work them out would probably have had to fix it to prevent people asking why the hell not. Maybe they did, because to be honest these rankings seem a little unscientific. The castrolfootball website has an explanation of how they’re worked out here, but some of the actual positions in the rankings still look a bit flakey to me. I was alerted to the Castrol rankings by The Times sports section and their ‘Fink Tank’ feature, which seems to swear by them. So I’d assumed they must be pretty scientific and accurate.

In theory it all sounds good. They look at every touch from every player in every game of the English, French, Spanish, German and Italian top divisions, assess how effective it was in helping or hindering their team, including obvious stuff like whether they tackled successfully or found a team mate with a pass, but also which area of the field it was in, and they give points for every aspect. Scores are also weighted so that you get more points for doing well in the Premier League than the French league, and more again for Champions League matches as these are perceived as the highest standard. Then they divide by the number of minutes on the field, because clearly someone who plays every minute of every match has more opportunity to rack up points.

All this is fair enough, but where it falls down a bit is that they use 2000 minutes (which is roughly half a season) as the minimum divisor for final points. So anyone playing less than 2000 minutes in the season is at a disadvantage. Thus we get Aaron Ramsey at 1836 and even more bizarrely Thomas Vermaelen at number 1732, both having missed much of last season.

However, ignoring ones we know are affected by absences, where are the other Arsenal players compared to our English rivals? (I was going to say ‘title rivals’ but I think we can forget that this year.)

Behind Van Persie is Gervinho at 28, Walcott at 53 and Arshavin at 71. Cesc is at 70, having been top 30 at the start of last season. I think I would rather have Cesc than either Arshavin or Walcott.

I won’t list every position of every player, but for simple comparison these are the numbers of players the biggest English clubs and Tottenham have in the top 100 and 200:

Club            Top 100           101-200

Chelsea            7                      5

Man Utd            6                      6

Arsenal             4                      2

Man City           4                      1

Liverpool          3                      2

Everton            2                      4

Spurs               2                      2

Now, like I said I don’t regard these rankings as infallible, but come on then Arsène, tell us our squad is as strong as any other in England.

Interestingly Joey Barton was Newcastle’s highest ranked player last season and they’ve decided to let him go for nothing. That probably tells anyone all they need to know about his character.

Barca, by the way, have 15 players in the top 100, including eight in the top 30.

Even more amazingly, Chamakh is number 140. How the hell did that happen? He’s looked like a Sunday league player for months. By contrast, Modric, who played all of last season including in the Champions League, has never got into the top 150 and currently languishes at number 325.  It’s been suggested we slap in a £35m bid for him, because we’ve got money, he wants to go somewhere, it would annoy the Spuds and he’s available (at least in his own head). But if you believe the rankings, why would anyone want to pay more than £5m for someone who ranks that low?

Meanwhile Gary Cahill is currently at 806, and didn’t get in the top 700 last season. This either makes a mockery of claims he’s worth any number of millions that’s in double figures and would improve Arsenal’s defence, or these stats aren’t much use.

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