I realize that there must be dozens of such articles comparing Gareth Bale of Tottenham and Theo Walcott of Arsenal. Both players are Sothampton youth products, both players have primarily played in wide positions in recents seasons, before graduating to play centrally this year, though both players have only played a handful of games centrally.
The aim of this article is to compare the two forwards using data from the 2012/13 PL season only. Why just this season? If we go back in time to previous years reduced playing time, spells at different positions (LB for Bale) and tender years may cloud the picture. Let's focus on this year, eliminate cup games against wildly differing quality of opposition, and solely use the PL data.
Both players were born in 1989, both are known as wide forwards capable of playing centrally. Both players should be entering their early prime in terms of performance.
This article will be a long one, it will also be an objective look at the two players by someone who is neither an Arsenal or Spurs fan. If you disagree with my analysis, it cannot be due to bias. If the numbers disagree with your opinion, it might be wise to re-evaluate your opinion rather than stating that the stats distort the truth.
I will be using a lot of moving average and per game methods in order to show the players progress over the course of the season. I shall be looking at general performance, game state performance along with factoring in the quality of opposition, and at the end I shall list the players number in per 90 minutes format in order to add a further layer of context to the debate. I hope I will have covered everything, and if you have any comments, feel free to leave them.
I shall be posting this on The Tottenham and Arsenal SBNation blogs.
Bale v Walcott
We already know some of the basic numbers for the two players, but here goes.
Bale 122 shots, 16 goals. Walcott 65 shots, 11 goals.
Total Shots Per Game
Bale will be featured in blue, Walcott in Red.
Here we see each players moving average of Total Shots per game. Bale's number is elite level. Walcott, with time spent playing centrally and a more consistent berth in the team, is seeing rapid improvement in his per game number
Let's break their total numbers down into 3 sections
This graph is a fucking mess!
Straight line features the all important shots on target, dahed line is missed shots, the perferated/dotted line is blocked shots.
Walcott has shown consistent and impressive growth in all 3 of the shot sections. Bale has showed good recent (last 8 games) growth in shots on target but has also seen his share of blocked shots spike in recent weeks.
Bale is currently recording 2 shots on target per game, double Walcott's number/. Walcott is also having a much higher percentage of his shots recorded as misses or blocks, this is displayed graphically as shooting efficiency%
The above graph is the first we have seen which deals with the respective players efficiency numbers, ie time independent.
Shooting Efficiency = Shots on target/total shots. It's a measure of players accuracy and decision making about when to shoot and where from. Bale is a shade above 46%, Walcott a shade above 36%.
We know how many shots on target the two players have recorded, we also know their goals scored numbers, so let's look at it like this:
Again, all info is listed as amoving average. Both players have seen their scoring%'s rise throughout the season. The league average is 30% and both players were positively regressing toward that number. Walcott has surpassed that mean, Bale is still a touch below it.
So why is Walcott's scoring % higher? Does he possess a better shot than Bale, is Walcott shooting from closer to goal? I have no answer on the XY pitch position question, but maybe scoring% at game state can help.
So, it's pretty easy to see why Walcott's scoring% is higher. Walcott is enjoting a very high scoring% when the game is tied (0), and it may be unsustainable. We also see that Walcott has scored 5 goals on just 8 shots on target when Arsenal have been hammering an opponent (Reading, Southampton, West Ham and Newcastle).
I won't bore you with how scoring% increases as you move up through the game states, we solely need to see when at what game state Walcott has scored his goals, 5 of 11 when up by 2 goals or more. And scoring at this game state is not only easy but it has affected his scoring % for the better.
Bale has enjoyed none of the easy goals against weak opposition that Walcott has, scoring just 3 unimportant goals to Walcott's 6.
This may be just one explanation for the difference between the two forwards scoring%. I don't know who has the better shot and I don't care. I'd love to show you guys some shot position data for it may assist the game state analysis and help further explain the scoring %'s. But I don't have it.
Let's move on and look at each players influence on their team. To do this we shall look at each players share of the Total Shots and share of Goals.
Total Shots Share
The equation is Players Total Shots for/Teams Total Shots For.
Althoug Walcott has been gaining an increased share of Arsenal's shots and thus has been enjoying a greater influence over Arsenal, his number is absolutely nowhere near Bale's number. Yes the gap is closing, but it is still a gap.
Walcott sits at 14% of Arsenal's Total Shots, Bale sits at 22% of Tottenham's shots, after showing good improvement over the last 6 games.
Now then, this graph is the first close contest of all the previous categories.
Walcott currently sits at ust over 21% share of Arsenal's goals, Bale is at just under 32%. But the gap between goal influence was a lot closer just 6 games ago at the 22 game mark, before Bale restored the usual order with his hot streak of the last half dozen games.
Remember when we looked into scoring%? Walcott's high scoring% is one reason for the close gap in Goal influence, for the Shots% influence tells a very different story.
Initially, I was unsure of how to approach the question of creativity. We know Walcott has 9 PL assists to Bale's 2, but surely assists alone cannot be used a measure of a players creativity.
An assist is made of two main parts: The skill and quality of the pass (shot assist as I will call it shortly) and then the ability of the pass recipient to shoot the ball past the keeper. What I want to do is to remove the recipient of the pass from this equation and solely show how many shots--and not the outcome of the shot--Walcott and Bale created.
I'll call this...
Interesting. Walcott, despite having 9 assists is averaging just 1 shot assist per game. Bale, with only 2 recorded assists has 2 shot assists per game.
Bale is clearly creating more opportunities for his team-mates than Walcott is, so what has happened? Well, maybe Walcott is a better passer, who is finding a team mate in a prime scoring zone. But if Walcott was the better passer then surely his shot assist totals would be higher? Are Bale's team-mates poorer finisher than Walcott's?
Arsenal have scored 1.89 goals per game to Tottenham's 1.75 goals per game. A gap, but nothing really. Maybe Walcott has created more shot assists due to putting in more quality crosses?
Cross or Pass?
|Bale Pass||Bale Cross||Walcott Pass||Walcott cross|
|Per 90 mins||1.43||0.94||0.8||0.7|
Walcott's high assist number isn't down to creating more shot assists, not down to putting in more crosses and nor is it down to Arsenal having a significantly higher number of goals. I'm at a loss, if I had a gun to my head I would say that Walcott has had an element of luck to his assists that Bale hasn't.
9 assists is an impressive number, and those assists are distributed accross the game states so we can't accuse Theo of stat padding. I am really at a loss to explain why Bale has created x2 the number of shot assists than Walcott has but has so many fewer actual assists, whilst playing on teams who have scored a similar number of goals.
Could it be luck? Bale is the more creative player in terms of assisting his team-mates in generating shots, of that there is no doubt. If anybody can explain I'll buy you a few drinks if you're ever in Barcelona.
Now, you'll note that I included each players shot assist type in a per 90 minutes column. This is especially important for the next section where I want to list all the information we have seen above in 90 minutes format.
I think the charts above have real value in terms of showing the gap in performance results between the two players and how those results have fluctuated during the season. But we need an extra layer of context and that comes by normalizing the numbers featured above into per 90 minutes columns.
Minutes and per 90
Formatting the aformentioned stats is the fairest way of evaluating each players contribution whilst also factoring in game time missed due to injury, illness or due to selection policy.
Bale 2201 Walcot 1670
|Goals||Shots||SoT||Blocked Shots||Missed Shots||Cross Assists||Pass Assists||Total Shot Assist|
I have marked in green the stats that are markedly superior.
Formatting all of the above numbers does not diminish the dominance Bale exhibits over Walcott in every category. By using the per 90 format, the only meaningful number that has changed is the goals column, there we see Walcott is not too far behind Bale now.
But as I explained earlier, Walcott's scoring% (and how it is driven by goals against beaten opposition) is the sole reason the goal tallies per 90 are close. If Walcott's Scoring % regresses or Bale's passes the league average mark then we may see a larger gap than already exists develop between the two players.
Speaking of Goals scored and opposition:
|Goals||Ave league position of opponents|
These are the numbers for each players goals scored using the league position of the opponent at the time of fixture. Score 3 goals against Newcastle? Multiply Newcastle's league position at the time of fixture (15) by 3
There's not much in it really, and it doesn't give much credit to the theory that Walcott was scoring against significantly weaker opposition than Bale was. Beaten opposition, yes, lower caliber of opposition, no
Before I leave you with the total numbers by game state for each player, I'll just say a few words on the info above.
Yes, it's pretty conclusive that Bale, whichever way you want to slice it, is the superior player who has also had a greater influence on his team, but it worth noting that both players are significantly trending upwards in both categories.
Both Bale and Walcott are excellent players, and very valuable to their respective teams. It just so happens that one of these players, Bale, is brushing very close to being classed as elite. By elite I mean close to 5 shots per game, above 2 SoT per game, and creating just short of 2.5 shots assist per game for his team-mates.
As I said, both players are trending nicely and it will be positive news for both clubs if these players can continue to grow and improve, and in a years time I'd be very excited to do such a study again. A year from now I would expect both players to be have gained far more playing time in central areas, continuing each clubs experimentation with playing these former Southampton youth products in one of the most vital positions on the pitch.
Watch out for a high number or percentage of shots when losing or winning by many goals. Players can be accused of stat padding by performing well against already beaten teams. Tied Game State (0) usually sees 50% of a teams shots taken at this point, thus it is only fair to expect a players numbers to look similar.
Thanks for reading