If you thought life was becoming repetitive during the COVID-19 pandemic, spare a thought for Arsenal fans. Just when things were beginning to look up for the Gunners, the new normal gave way to the old normal.
Arsenal had lost just once in 11 Premier League games following Mikel Arteta’s appointment in mid-December. But any confidence built has been shattered into a thousand pieces within a week of the restart.
A comprehensive beating at the hands of Manchester City? Tick. Defensive calamity with David Luiz culpable? Check. An embarrassing last-gasp defeat at relegation-threatened Brighton & Hove Albion? Sure. Called out by a victorious opposition player? Naturally.
A porous defence is nothing new to Arsenal. It’s a familiar problem which Arteta will surely make one of his top priorities to plug this summer. Even after Luiz signed a one-year extension on Wednesday – something his disaster class at City should have put paid to.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise The Athletic are reporting Arsenal interest in Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings. On the face of it, recruiting a centre-back from a side mired in a relegation battle might not be seen as very ambitious. But Mings has shone in an otherwise shaky Villa side.
The 27-year-old has even earned his first England caps at the end of 2019. If Villa’s top-flight stay is destined to be only a single season, the vultures will be circling.
What are Mings’ strengths?
From a data point-of-view, the former Ipswich Town and Bournemouth stopper is an interesting case. Of Aston Villa’s four regular centre-halves – alongside Kortney Hause, Ezri Konsa and Björn Engels – Mings is the least ‘active’ by far.
He makes the fewest tackles (0.51 per 90), interceptions (0.99) and contests the least aerial duels (3.45) of any of his defensive peers. But that’s no bad thing. A common mistake with defensive metrics is to assume high volume means a player is good defensively.
What’s interesting about Mings is that as part of a side battling relegation, you’d expect him to be overworked. Yet Mings is about precision and timing, rather than trying to head and kick away everything which comes into his orbit. That’s why he’s on Gareth Southgate’s radar.
“He’s playing regularly, I think he’ll see the game as a great opportunity,” Southgate told ITV before Mings’ debut in Bulgaria. “He’s a really good talker, he’s impressed us with the way he organises others and we need a bit of that at the moment from the back.”
Of the aforementioned defensive quartet, Mings loses the fewest challenges by far – just 0.08 per 90. By contrast, Hause, who makes the most tackles per 90 (1.36) loses 5.64 challenges. Volume, then, is not the be-all-and-end-all.
At 6ft 5in it’s impossible to overlook Mings’ physical prowess in assessing him. He is strong in the air, winning 60.9 per cent of the aerial duels he contests.
Where Mings does come out particularly well is in blocked shots with 1.74 per 90. No-one in the entire Premier League has a higher average than the Bath native in that metric. One way to look at this is Mings defends reactively, rather than proactively. An alternative is to say he combines his long limbs and impressive reading of the game to snuff out chances.
Where can Mings improve?
Passing is the biggest area of improvement for Mings based on his time at Aston Villa. Realistically, no-one would expect the 27-year-old to be bothering the likes of Aymeric Laporte (87.18) or Virgil van Dijk (77.87) for completed passes per 90.
With 45.3 attempted passes (per 90) Mings ranks 40th among all Premier League centre-backs to have played at least 20 per cent of available minutes. For completed passes, he sits in the same place with 35.79 finding a team-mate.
An overall percentage of 79 per cent isn’t too bad when you consider Villa have attempted the third-fewest passes (374.9) of any Premier League side this season and the tenth-most long passes (60.9) per 90.
Mings isn’t overly reliant on long raking balls forward either – just 9.5 long passes attempted per 90 puts him 13th among Premier League centre-backs. However, of those ahead of him in that respect, only Dejan Lovren (3.24) finds his intended recipient with fewer than Mings (3.48).
Equally, when it comes to shorter passes, Mings tends to play it safe, usually sliding the ball out to left-back Matt Targett. If he is to make the leap to Arsenal there will be a greater onus on him to break lines and play progressive passes to start attacks.
But if Mings’ career has taught us anything, he’s a quick learner. It was only eight years ago he was playing for Yate Town in the Southern League Division One South and West. Now he is full England international who commanded a £20million transfer fee last summer.