Arsenal made their first transfer of the Unai Emery era earlier this week. Stephan Lichtsteiner officially joined the Gunners from Juventus on a free. Now, attention moves to other areas of the pitch in which this Arsenal side have needs. With center-back high on that list and a certain Head of Recruitment knowing what he likes, the team looks set for a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Just what could the Greek international bring to the table? Let’s have a look at the stats and see what they say.
All stats courtesy of Whoscored.com
Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ Arsenal Role
To judge the player’s abilities, we must compare him to others in his position. Since the Bundesliga and the Premier League are fairly different as far as playing styles go, we should first compare Sokratis Papastathopoulos to other central defenders playing in Germany.
Sokratis played more minutes than the other three defenders he is compared to. While this does not say much about his raw talent, this does show that Sokratis Papastathopoulos is not injury-prone, and can be relied upon throughout the course of a league season.
Second, his proficiency at tackling jumps off the page. None of Jérôme Boateng, Ömer Toprak or Niklas Süle managed more tackles per 90 in the Bundesliga this season than Sokratis. Meanwhile, his intercepting is slightly worse than his Bayern counterparts, but not by much.
From this chart, however, we see his biggest flaw, at least through the course of this past Bundesliga season. No other defender on the list committed more fouls per match than Sokratis. In fact, he averaged .5 more fouls per 90 than the next closest player.
Additionally, Sokratis is adept at catching attackers off-sides, same as his defensive partner Toprak. However, the Greek defender averages fewer clearances and blocks than his Turkish pal.
So we see that Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a good tackler, durable, good at interceptions, but gives away more than his share of fouls.
2017-2018 Premier League
The next step to compare Sokratis with Shkodran is to study the profile of the German international. Here he is stacked up against some other Premier League center-backs.
Same as Sokratis, Mustafi is very good at tackling. His average of 2.4 per match is unequalled between his partner, Laurent Koscielny, Chris Smalling or Nicolás Otamendi. Mustafi’s intercepting is also good, with both Koscielny and Smalling averaging just .1 more per 90.
However, just like with Sokratis, Mustafi’s undoing is his lack of discipline. The German averaged one foul per match this season, which is more than anyone else in this chart.
We also see that the Arsenal duo are fairly good at catching attackers off-sides, and are also fairly good at clearances.
So, Shkodran Mustafi’s profile matches up fairly similarly to Sokratis Papastathopoulos. They are both good tacklers and interceptors, but both lack discipline, at least in this past campaign.
They also averaged similar numbers of yellow cards. Mustafi collected seven in 39 matches, averaging one every five and a half matches. Sokratis collected nine in 50 matches, also averaging one every five and a half matches.
Side by Side
When we stack the two players side by side, things get even more interesting. While from a distance, they are fairly similar players, when we take a closer look, they are actually much more complimentary.
For example, they are both good at interceptions, but Mustafi averaged more than double per 90 compared to Sokratis. Meanwhile, the German also outpaces the Greek in terms of tackling, but only by an average of .2 per match.
Shkodran Mustafi also averaged more clearances and fewer fouls than Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The numbers are indicating that Mustafi is perhaps more of an ‘active’ defender than Sokratis, making more tackles, interceptions and clearances.
The difference between the two is similar to those between Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker in the 2013-2014 season. Ditto with Koscielny and Mustafi in the 2016-2017 season, especially early on.
We see that in both of these partnerships, one defender played a more active role in tackling, intercepting and clearances. In 2013-2014 that role was left to Koscielny and reflected in his stats compared to Mertesacker. The Frenchman’s numbers exceeded those of his German counterpart across the board.
In 2016-2017 it was Mustafi’s turn to take over as the active gatekeeper of Arsenal’s defense. While the differences here are not as stark as between Mertesacker and Koscielny, we see that it was very much Mustafi who stepped up to challenge attackers. The difference is magnified in the 2017-2018 stats from section two.
Why it Could Work
You probably see where I’m going already, so let’s make this brief. Arsenal’s best defensive pairings from the past few years are comprised of two complementary players.
First, it was Koscielny and Mertesacker who teamed up and found success. The hulking German relied on his cunning to stop attackers, while the quick Frenchman relied on his mobility and overall physical ability.
Next, it was Mustafi who joined up with Koscielny and we saw a transition. It is very much the Frenchman who drops as the German steps up to face the attack head-on.
We see that, although Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi may be somewhat similar, their strengths can be complimentary. Mustafi could be the watchdog, immediately stepping up to deal with an attack. Meanwhile, Sokratis could be the safety net, allowing his partner to play his game safe in the knowledge that the Greek will support him.
Certainly there are no guarantees in life, outside of death and taxes, but the partnership between Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi could work well.
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