Can Arsenal find a Jurriën Timber stand-in?
Using numbers to find similar players in a pinch
Jurriën Timber’s injury was a stiff headwind into what had been an encouraging summer for Arsenal. Suddenly, a player who looked certain to force his way into regular minutes in a season meant to include a Champions League run and Premier League title chase looks set for a long stint on the training table - one that may even end his debut season far, far too early.
The good news for Arsenal, if there is any, is that the transfer window is open for two more weeks. The Gunners are unlikely to find another Timber, a 22-year-old with Champions League experience, and incredible natural smoothness and calm on the ball still on the market, particularly not for cheap.
Truthfully, Arsenal may not even bring in a defender. Mikel Arteta may roll the dice and trust Takehiro Tomiyasu, Jakub Kiwior and Kieran Tierney to provide depth at fullback for the first half of the season, opting for a January move or none at all, depending on Timber’s formal prognosis.
But if Timber truly is done for the better part of the season, say February or later (and that seems likely), it does feel like Arsenal will have to move for something. Whether that’s a permanent move on the cheap or a temporary loan (with or without a purchase option) remains to be seen.
Opinions also vary on whether that player should be left- or right-sided. After all, Timber was being used in game one as cover for the left-sided Oleksandr Zinchenko. But he’s also very strong competition for Ben White on the right, and would allow White to play CB if Saliba ever needed a break. The oft-injured Tomiyasu is now the only option in that space, save for Rob Holding or a debutante like Reuell Walters (I’m not counting Cedric).
But who could Arsenal really go for?
Studying defenders is very much a qualitative practice, but this is a site all about numbers, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and run some numbers to see which players in the Big 5 leagues, as well as the Eredivisie, Brazil, MLS, Liga MX and the Championship, showed up as most statistically similar to Timber. For now let’s call that their WOOD score.
I ran 1,434 defenders through a similarity formula based on 13 differently-weighted metrics, assigning each a final WOOD score. From there, I identified the five major statistically measurable qualities that any Timber clone must have.
First, I removed everyone who lacked Timber’s ball security by eliminating anyone whose WOOD score in that area was too far off Jurriën. That dropped our player count to 254.
Then, I eliminated anyone without Timber’s incisive ball-carrying abilities, dropping anyone whose score as a dribbler or ballcarrier in the attacking third was lacking. Down to 75.
Last, I attempted to find players more comfortable in an attacking side by eliminating players too far off Timber’s WOOD score for progressive and final third passing. That got me down to 31, including Timber himself. After clearing out players who’ve already made a move this season (Malo Gusto, Alex Grimaldo) and some others who are just way too far off a Premier League level (MLS, Liga MX players mostly), and Zinchenko, I was left with 7 players. Let’s talk about them below.
Before I jump in, just a couple of notes.
This is only based on numbers. Particularly for defensive players, counting stats are not always indicative of quality, and sometimes can be massively impacted by factors like a player’s club. So please do your research whenever you can.
For this reason, I’m also not including charts for this piece. Another big part of that is that Timber played CB and I’m comparing him to a lot of wide players here.
I don’t know everything. I’ll tell you what I know and have learned about the players as I go, and I’ll do my best to gauge what their availability might be, as well as how they compare to Timber. None of them are better than Timber, so please don’t interpret it that way.
I’m also going to talk about a couple of guys who didn’t make my numbers-based cut. We’ll do that at the bottom.
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