In football potential can be a transient phenomenon. For every Thierry Henry or Lionel Messi there are always thousands of those who never made the grade, tales of nearly men and success stories that never were. Early season spirit can be a flash in the pan; moments of brilliance can be confounded by a lack of effort and commitment. Marouane Chamakh is one of Arsenal’s bargain buys who has been in decline at Arsenal since his apparently explosive start to the 2010/11 season.
Chamakh was signed on a free transfer from Bordeaux in May 2010 after almost a year of rumour and speculation surrounding his departure to Arsenal. Having starred in Ligue 1 for Bordeaux, and featured in the Champions League, Chamakh had established himself as an essential member of their team from 2003/04, appearing in 35 and then 43 competitive games in his final two seasons at the club. He played a part in the 2009 title win, and the subsequent Champions League campaign where Bordeaux reached the 2010 quarter-finals.
As the 2010/11 season commenced Chamakh was well placed to deputise for Robin Van Persie in the central striker’s role. Van Persie had a difficult history of frustrating injuries, and Chamakh’s style of dropping deep and making darting runs into the box, combined with a physical presence and talent for headed goals added a new dimension the Arsenal attack.
Though this season has seen Van Persie put injury setbacks behind him to devastating effect, at the beginning of last season he was once again out of action, as might have been expected given his history, after a bad tackle in the third game of the season at Blackburn. Step forward Chamakh, who took full responsibility in leading the line for his new club.
Chamakh’s first season started with promise. He continued in the style of play he had been accustomed to at under Laurent Blanc, as Arsenal’s attacking set-up was comparable to the 4-2-3-1 employed by Bordeaux. He quickly made a name for himself with the fans as he held up the ball from the front in the absence of Van Persie and developed an understanding with Theo Walcott.
Indeed, on the face of it Marouane made a significant contribution scoring eleven goals for Arsenal by December. However, from December 2010 onwards he scored just a single goal. During the current season he has added to his Arsenal record with just a single goal from seven starts and ten from the bench, and this forlorn effort came during a 4-3 defeat to Blackburn in September.
This makes it six months since Chamakh last scored a goal, with just one in the league for 16 months since scoring in the 4-2 win over Aston Villa at the end of November 2010.
The return of goals is poor, as have been his performances, but what is the real story behind this and why has Chamakh suffered this drop in form?
One reason may have been fatigue. Marouane himself noted that he was struggling to adapt to the pace and demand of the Premier League and had played approximately 40 game seasons for each of the previous two years. After holding the line for two months he began to look jaded and Wenger made a conscious decision from the beginning of 2011 in reducing his playing time as his form stuttered and Robin Van Persie became available.
After starting 21 games in 2010, Chamakh started just six in 2011, two of which were FA Cup matches, he finished only one full game in the league between January and May 2011.
We can look at this another way, in terms of % of possible minutes played, this is detailed in the graph below.
It is clear that Chamakh has played fewer and fewer minutes since December 2010, and when he has had chances to prove his worth, they have not been utilised effectively. Often these have come in cup ties and dead rubber Champions League fixtures as against Olympiakos. In effect Chamakh has had to prove himself from the bench, and he has not done so.
In reality much of the problem for Chamakh has been the blistering form of Robin Van Persie since returning to action in 2011, as arguably the world’s most in-form striker it has been a fantastic 15 months for Robin. Look at January 2011 on the graph above, and you can clearly see the impact the return of Van Persie has had on Marouane’s career.
Chamakh noted his lack of opportunity in the 4-2-3-1 system earlier this season.
“It would be better for me if we played with two strikers, but that’s the system and the way of playing here…I respect that and it’s working very well… That’s the way it is, that’s football and if the system were to change we would need another striker. This would provide a chance for another player, but that’s the way it is at the moment.”
Questioning Chamakh’s Contribution
Another point remains unaddressed. How important was Chamakh’s contribution whilst he was playing regularly during 2010?
We can analyse the importance of Chamakh’s initial goals to understand if you look closely at the records, only four of these goals came in games where Arsenal won by two goals or less. The majority of his goals are in high scoring games, indicating lower quality or demoralised opposition, or days when the team may have been playing well as a unit, rather than a highly prolific striker.
Furthermore, in studying the games they were scored in and placing these in the sequence of goals during the game another pattern is clear. Of his 12 goals for Arsenal, just two have been the opening goal, and eight of 12 have come in games where Arsenal scored 3 or more goals. Therefore, it could be argued that his initial goal scoring contribution was minimal, in games already won, compared to say, a game where his single goal provided three points.
In reality goalscoring and shots are not the only measure of a striker, but Chamakh’s goal drought and crucially lack of effectiveness in play mean that Wenger is less and less likely to select him. This comes down to taking your chances, and with Robin Van Persie in-form, those chances will be few and far between, especially when Arsenal play with a single striker.
Analysing minutes per shot and minutes per goal reveals Chamakh’s drop in form, and subsequent lack of playing time as his Arsenal career has progressed. The graph below details the increases and inconsistency in minutes per shot and minutes per goal scored, in particular this season.
This can be a vicious circle. Chamakh hasn’t had the playing time to develop consistency since 2010, but his poor form, lesser technical ability mean that he cannot be a viable choice in the line-up. A lack of impact from the bench has compounded his selection problem. He has struggled to take his chances, and this season has found inconsistency in his involvement in attacking play, as demonstrated by increased minutes per shot, and the single goal.
Another interesting pattern revealed is that Chamakh hasn’t scored when playing below 195 minutes per month, though when playing regularly during September and November 2010 he was scoring every 138 minutes and every 86 minutes respectively.
However, the previous analysis of the goals he scored for Arsenal during 2010 reveals that these contributions were not vital to the team, though he did act as an effective central striker, in holding up the ball and acting as an outlet whilst Arsenal had no other options.
At 28 Chamakh is meant to be in the prime of his career, however, on occasions such as against AC Milan, he failed to provide another option after coming on as a substitute. Finally, the infamous shisha incident after the loss to QPR has left Chamakh facing a summer transfer away from Arsenal.
A potential return to Bordeaux has been suggested, though the salary expectation may be a stumbling block. Wenger is likely to settle for a cut price in order to offload Chamakh and free up a sizable portion of the wage bill.
Overall, Chamakh’s performances have been disappointing after early promise, but this is an example of the pressure to take your chances. While the system is based around a single central striker, and one as in-form as Van Persie, the best opportunities are in the wide roles, and these are not suited to Chamakh. Therefore his future is now uncertain.
James writes about Arsenal on Arsespeak.com where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.