So, in the past few years, Arsenal have been categorized a number of times in a number of different ways in regards to nationality in the squad. Is Arsenal really an English team or a French one? Do they really favor Frenchmen over the rest? Is Arsenal really the most diverse team in the Premier League? Has there suddenly been a revolution, leading to Arsenal becoming the breadbasket of the English National Team? Can Welsh Lightning strike twice? Well, I'll address those questions in this two part series, and probably a few more. However, I would first like to introduce you to a graph.
Meet Graph 1. He likes long walks down the beach and dancing in the rain. He is also really handy. However, Graph A, along with all the other graphs here, is a tad bit unorthodox. As you can see, there's a string of nationalities listed with different colors. These are the countries that have been represented by players in the Arsenal first team since the fall of 2002. They are arranged by number of player instances. The way that works is if a player ever gets into any game (be it the league, Champion's League, or a Cup game) they get counted for that season under their nationality. If they make an appearance the next season, they get counted for that season, as well. For example. Aaron Ramsey has been with Arsenal for 5 years, with no other Welshmen playing in the squad. Wales thus has 5 instances. If you notice, each nationality with 8 or more player instances gets its own color. Unless otherwise stated, they will always be represented by that color. So, England will always be red, France always blue, and Japan, black (with all the other nationalities with only 1 instance). Here's a complete chart of player instances since 2002.
The Y-axis on Graph 1 is the average number of games each player of each nationality had per season. The higher the bar, the more games each player got each season and so on and so forth. The average Arsenal player gets around 23 appearances per season. Now, you are probably wondering why some nationalities have a really low average number of appearances. That's because they were likely represented solely by youth players who maybe came on as a substitute once. That is counted in this method. Every single appearance, including substitutions, players who got transferred, and players who were mostly injured, goes into this graph. The only way a player can be listed on the squad and not be counted for is if they never made it into play at all in the entire season. While there are problems with looking at it like this, I felt that that this method would best illustrate nationality without cutting out players who played would have contributed more but for circumstance (and the minutes weren't on Wikipedia). I think it also keeps players who would grow and contribute much more in later years. In order to minimize the issues, the focus will mostly be on nationalities with at least 8 instances, especially England and France. There will be some other things concerning player from less represented nationalities mentioned, as will a discussion on the number of Euro and non-European players.
This is Graph 2. This is basically another visualization of the percentage of the total player instances each nationality got. Notice that England and France are rather similar in size yet considerably larger than the rest. That's going to be important later.
Graph 3 is very similar to Graph 2 except it applies only to the 2012-13 season. Of particular interest is the fact that 3 nationalities make up nearly 1/2 of the squad. Also of note, the colors do not entirely match the standard from Graphs 1 and 2. There is a key that should be referred to instead.
I would like to pause at this point to make some observations using these three graphs, as well as the spreadsheet that I used to make it (which is very big and sort of messy and raw.)
Interestingly enough, England, France, Brazil, and Ivory Coast have had at least one player instance every year since 2002. Cameroon and the Netherlands have had an instance every year except this year (which, to me, is an interesting change in demographics). Similarly, Spain have had a representative every year except 2002-03.
Certain nationalities have clearly had a very large role in a number of seasons. Ivory coast gets fairly close to 40 games a season after sixteen player instances. This indicates that the club has basically only picked up Ivorians who have consistently made the starting eleven. If Gervinho had played more games, the number would be even higher. Other nationalities that have done very well are Cameroon, Brazil, and the Netherlands, indicating that the players from those countries were rather important to the starting line up.
You can use the graph to see how specific players have done. For example, Hleb, the only player from Belarus, was a beast in terms of getting on the field consistently during his three years at Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey has also put up strong numbers despite having had a horrendous leg break. He is well above the average number of games per season. He has been at the club since he was 17. That is amazing. It does bring up another point, though. Aaron Ramsey saw considerable time as a teenager. As has Cesc Fabregas, Johan Djourou, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Not all of these players consistently made the starting eleven, but all of them did make the first team. However, no reserve team player got a significant number of minutes in first team competition this season. This signals a shift in the squad. Fewer teenagers in general are being used. Whether that is as premier league substitutes or cup appearances, I don't know. However, they aren't getting the time anymore. Gnabry had the most with 4 this season. Meade was tied for second with 2 appearances and he was cut. I think that the current youngsters are not yet ready to join the first squad. If they don't get more minutes outside the reserve team, I think you could expect more cuts. In general, I would be surprised if very many of these kids ever worked their way up to starting consistently for the Gunners.
Arsenal and the French vs. English Identity Disorder
It has long been stated that Arsenal don't know who they are. Are they a French squad on English soil or an English squad invaded by foreigners from across the channel? Considering that Arsene Wenger is French and has experience managing in Ligue 1, it shouldn't have been very surprising for Frenchmen to join the team. Yet, it is a London team, so there should be an English presence, right? It turns out, the squad has been, in fact, very heavy on imports from the continent. While there are more instances of English nationality, France is a mere eleven players behind. In addition, it looks like the French were very much preferred on the field. Take a look at Graph 1 again. Englishmen barely average 15 games a season, the worst among the larger nationalities and only better than those that are entirely made up of reserve players. In contrast, France's players get an average of over 10 more games, even approaching twice as many as their northern neighbors. This is where Graph 4 comes in.
Graph 4 has two parts, 4-A and 4-B. 4-A is composed of the small red and blue bars. Those are the number of English and French players on the squad each season. 4-B is the number of times those players made an appearance. Interestingly, there have been more French players than English players in only three seasons. Yet, there those Englishmen have only had more appearances in three years. While 2002-03 may have been a good year for the English, much of the rest of the decade has been rather forgettable. They had six consecutive years of earning under 100 appearances, despite having either the most or second most players in the squad. Most seasons, it's been a gulf of at least 100 appearances. And this is just French nationals. All of the Ivorian and Cameroonian nationals hail from the French League and speak French.
However, the past two years has seen a general decline in the number of French appearances and an increase in English ones. The French decline could probably be attributed to selling Clichy and Nasri, as well as to Diaby's near constant state of injury and Sagna's two broken legs. Meanwhile, Oxlade-Chamberlain was bought and Gibbs and Jenkinson received more time. It's interesting that both teams received an uptick of 50+ appearances from 2011-12 to 2012-13. Sagna's return and the acquisition of Giroud would probably explain France's improvement. Similarly, Kieran Gibbs and Wilshere returned from injury. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that the only other French speaking player on the team is Gervinho (I suppose Johan Djourou and Thomas Vermaelen could also count, but we'll leave them out for these purposes). So I think one could really say that the French presence has, in fact, gone down. Meanwhile, England's has undoubtedly gone up by leaps and bounds.
This is the conclusion of part 1. Part 2 will look at how Arsenal's English contingent compares to the rest of the leagues, how it's diversity stacks up, as well as changes in the number of non-European influence.
All information was collected either from Wikipedia or BBC Football. Statistics assembled and graphs made using Microsoft Excel. All the graphs were made by me and shared through Photobucket.