Denilson: the statistics speak

Denilson: Another Wenger Special?
By Aaditya Gupta

Since his display on Saturday the anti-Denilson brigade has been muted. But there is no doubt they will be back on the rampage if he has what they perceive to be a poor game.

Over the 2008/09 season, no player has been more controversial in terms of popular opinion as Denilson. Everybody, from bloggers, to the press, to my neighbour’s dog, to the hobo outside Stamford Bridge, to the fish in the river Thames has an opinion about him.

There are people who put him at the level of a headless chicken and there are others who call him the new DM legend at Arsenal.

Even after scoring a goal and clearing one off the line those against Denilson will still say he is too small to be a defensive midfielder in such a physical league. He gets muscled away by opponents. Most of the times he stands and watches as the man he was supposed to be marking beats him for pace and strength. He looses the ball far too often and he only knows how to pass sideways……..Hold on a sec there!

Sure, Denilson passes the ball around sideways all the time, I’m sure that’s how he got 7 assists last season. He got 6 of them in the 1st half. The top assister in the league (Van Persie) got just 11 throughout the season, playing as an attacking player the whole time. This means that until December, Denilson was Arsenal’s best playmaker, above Cesc and Van Persie (who, by the way, never get any slack for not showing up)

Denilson was NOT supposed to be a defensive midfielder. He was a centre mid in the same mould as Cesc. In January, Mr. Wenger realized that our defense was too disorganized (Gallas and Toure were both sweepers) and as a result, asked Denilson to defend a bit more. Result? 21 Unbeaten Premier League games.

On our unbeaten run of 21 + the Chelsea game we lost, Denilson played in 21 matches. He was subbed off only at Anfield on the 65th minute. When he was on pitch we conceded 13 goals in 2045 minutes (1 goal in 157 mins.), when he was off it we conceded 6 goals in 115 (1 goal in 19 mins).

On top of this, he won the ball more times than anyone else in the league. (254 to Barry’s 187). And just to top it all off, 60% of the time he wins it back with an interception, completely eliminating the chance of a foul or a card.

So let’s get this straight. When he attacks, he is one of the best playmakers in the league. When he defends, our team’s defense is magically plugged. For somebody who’s an Under-21, pretty amazing, no?

Denilson is not going to become and out-an-out playmaker like Cesc. He is also not going to become a monster in midfield like Essien. However, he has the potential to be a great midfield general, similar to Xabi Alonso, who can both start attacks from deep as well as create a wall in midfield.

Denilson is too inexperienced to handle both roles efficiently at the same time. How are we going to give him that experience? Normally, giving players match time gives them the experience to be better players (Unless you expect him to become magically better from the sidelines like in the manager modes of the FIFA series).

With the arrival of Vermaelen, and the coming of age of Djourou, our centre back pairing will be a lot more organized. Think an organized defense, plus Arshavin, Rosicky and Cesc all working towards creating chances, plus Eduardo and RVP to finish the gazillion chances they create, I think Denilson will be able to settle down and develop properly into the great player we know he can be.

Compare that to a Melo who costs 20mil and misses out 9 games a season due to suspension. Or Cana who is now negotiating with the likes of Sunderland. Denilson is cheaper than both these players, and at his age, light years ahead of where they were. Watch out for him, he is going to be the surprise package this season!

Editor’s note: We ran a piece on Denilson here about a week ago and it got a near-record number of replies. This article from Aaditya Gupta takes the debate on a step further by supplying more stats. And of course in the interim we have had the chance to see the first game of the season.

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18 Replies to “Denilson: the statistics speak”

  1. It was originally posted on ‘A Cultured Left Foot’ but has obviously been adapted and updated by the author. I agree Denilson will win over his critics this season just like Song seems to be winning his battle. In fact, I think the whole team will surprise a few people too!

  2. Sorry Tony, but the debate about Denilson is dead. You will hardly get a response this time around. Only the most blinkered “I don’t trust the stats/I trust my eyes” dead-ender will continue to spout the usual nonsense, i.e. Denilson is a light weight, we need a big defensive midfielder. Even after Saturday’s crushing of Everton, these same mindless cretins tried resurrecting this cadaver without success. Nobody mentioned this before, but one observation I made on Saturday is after Cesc was substituted it was Denilson who became the cog around whom all the midfield revolved. (Up to now I still can’t figure where Ramsay slotted in.) This tells you how versatile this young boy is. Ammazingly he is only 21. Can you imagine how better he will become before he peak”?
    Thanks Aaditya – good piece.

  3. Good job, Aaditya Gupta. I agree completely. Denilson went about his business at Goodison Park, like it was nothing. If he had not scored a goal, a lot of people would not really have noticed his contribution. Even after the game, you could notice from comments that quite a few people were looking forward to a lack-lustre performance from him. How nice for them to be pleasantly disappointed. Pleasant because the boy’s performance was near sublime, almost as if he wasn’t really there.

    I don’t know if anyone noticed how he seam not to be doing a lot of running, when in fact, he ran himself almost ragged with purposeful result. His interceptions were almost unnoticeable. He even seam not to be putting in any tackles, when in fact he ‘nicks’ the ball without fouling, almost like a thief. They say he only passes sideways. Wasn’t it his casual pass down the left to RVP that led to the 4th goal? How about his diagonal pass, which by pass under pressure Asharvin, to Sagna down the right touchline? Anyone who is not convinced can watch the game again.

    Yes he gave the ball away a few times at the beginning of the match. But tell me anyone who didn’t? Even Cesc did. But once they all settled into their rythm, everything else went swimmingly.

  4. Good article. Only disagreement is that Denilson is and has always been a Defensive midfielder. In Brazil since age 11 when he went to Sao Paolo he’s played as a “volante” (classical Def midfielder). Having said that in Brazil a volante is expected to have an excellent passing range and to get forward from time to time. Many only rate the player that flies into tackles, ala Flamini. But Denilsons quiet style actually made as many successful tackles as Flamini did in the previous year (he also made 152 interceptions to Flaminis 57!) so Denilson is the ball winning champion.

    One interesting thing from Saturday was how Song and Denilson both played well up the pitch (left and right) with Cesc often in the deepest position – esp first half. 433 but with Cesc in the centre of the 3 and with full scope to play well forward and deep. Den and Song often harrying players and making good passes well up the pitch.

    Lastly, with reports of Denilson and Cesc injured for Tuesday night – I’m a bit sceptical. Both were seen training (running) at London Colney Monday (Sky news live on TV). So maybe AW is confident enough to rest his top 2 midfielders. With many games next week there is some logic to this. I also think that playing Merida/Diaby and Song in the middle will confuse Celtic. They will have little idea of Diaby’s qualities and Merida similarly they will have no idea about, and his penetrating passing could be key, as it was against Rangers recently. Keep it tight at the back and try and nick an away goal or two.

  5. Aaditya Gupta – fantasitc article. But I disagree with you that the Anti-Denilson brigade has been muted. I’m still reading a lot of negative comments about Denilson, with this guy whose name I shall not mention (though in reality, his name I can’t be bothered to remember) saying that he didn’t understand Denilson and went on to assign him the lowest rating among all the Arsenal players.

    LRV – I disagree with you that Denilson gave the ball away a few times at the beginning of the match. According to the Guardian Chalkboard, he only gave the ball away ONCE and that was right at the very beginning. In comparison, both Song and Cesc gave the ball away 3 or 4 times each.

  6. This boy is good and will be feared when he learns to sneer , stare down his foes and develops a swagger .Then people will give him credit for his industry.He will outshine the feats of Gilberto and become a true Arsenal legend.

  7. Denilson is not a DM ;
    does anyone remember the Carling Cup game against Blackburn of 2007-08 season (we won 3-2, Eduardo scored the winner) ? Please dig up youtube for that match. Denilson was MoM that night and he didnt play in DM, he was the creative force in the midfield (4-4-2 formation). Denilson is more than a DM, just like PV4 was. He can play multiple roles; he can make a pass (assist for AA for his *THAT* Blackburn goal), take long range shots (goals against Aston Villa, Everton this week), and he can break up play (VERY GOOD positional play — look at the # of interceptions) — he is more than a DM.

    Whenever we defend and the ball is taken out of defence forwards, look who is doing that .. who receives the ball from the defenders;
    Cesc (and not Flamini) did that in 2007-08 season.Last year it was Denilson, this year it will be any 3 of the midfield.

    The current midfield will work wonders if all 3 midfielders are complementary to each other (one breaks forward, other guy sits back; PV4 and Petit partnership any1?)

    Lets stop this Denilson debate, it is boring now; anti-xyz brigade will always find ways to lambast xyz, we dont need 1 article every week to defend xyz. And Denilson debates ends being cliche festivals — we hate football commentary/punditry because of the cliches and lack of original analysis; nothing new has been said here that has not been said earlier.

  8. one more thing — most of the folks came here to read the witty articles Tony (and some guest authors as well) used to come up with; so called football analysis sites are dime a dozen, and almost all of them are cliche fests, nothing else.
    we came here to read about Aston “hold your heads” Villa, Man IOU, Liverpool insolvency, KGB fulham; Untold Arsenal posts were unique and fun — while supporting Lord Wenger; what is the fun in reading an article already posted on ACLF, what is the fun in reading a debate which is the usual fodder at Vital Arsenal, ‘holic, goonertalk, arsenal analysis, wengerball, online arsenal, ?

  9. KG: fear not (well not very much). As an experiment (and Untold Arsenal is nothing without experiments) we are moving from publishing once a day to either two posts in three days or even (amazingly!!!) twice a day.

    Thus on Monday 17th (using UK time, as that is where I am)there was a wild and mindless rant from me in the morning, and a reasoned piece about Denilson in the late afternoon.

    I am at this very moment preparing to go utterly over the top with a piece which as they say in Glasgow is pure dead brilliant.

  10. Tony, Waiting eagerly for your new post.

    On the topic of Denilson, He is a hybrid between a traditional DM and playmaker similar to Alonso. Watch his game and you’ll notice this.

  11. I don’t trust the stats/I trust my eyes

    But my eyes show me he is amazing, or at least will be amazing. Nuff said.

  12. Eagerly awaiting the new post. I have been in pain all morning, still not recovered from the sore throat and cough that I gave myself since Saturday. I badly need to smile or laugh, whichever is applicable.

  13. i’ve seen something special in this boy Deni since he came here. and now still so. always suppot him.

  14. He gave the ball away in the 54the minute against Celtic. 😉 How long is the manager going to give him credit. 😉
    Just seen the game and Song and Denilson really impressed once again.

  15. I regard Denilson as a work in progress- young-21, and not the finished article yet but with clear strengths and improving. The reservations are against the top 4-particuarly United and Chelsea whose midfield is packed with muscle and power. Last season when it mattered Denilson was far less effective-lets be reasonable if it was a boxing match it would have been a mismatch- a fly weight against a heavy weight-its a big ask to counter these players and Arsenal needed more drive, penetration and physical strength than Denilson gave them in midfield-but as he gets stronger-tougher-Denilson’s superior capacity to retain possession under pressure will give us the edge.
    One thing Denilson does not need is the lacerating he received from many gooners-

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