Who do Arsenal miss most?
Arsenal's comeback win in midweek moved them back into familiar territory, for the time being at least, with the Gunners having never finished outside the top four during Arsene Wenger's 18-year reign. The fact is that the remarkable record is out of their hands for now, with Everton just a point below them with a game in hand, albeit having to face title hopefuls Manchester City.
Wenger's aspirations have fallen from top spot -- a position his side held just 10 games ago -- to fourth place in two short months, and there's a sense of "same old Arsenal" to their relative dip in form. Most would credit this dip to a lengthy injury list, but again that's nothing new as far as the Londoners are concerned.
Many have begun to question the training methods under the club's much-loved manager, with Arsenal seemingly always atop the injury list when it comes to the number of players sidelined at any one time. It's a long-running theme that can no longer be judged as coincidence.
The absences have been wide-ranging throughout the current campaign, but the four who are perhaps most notable due to the duration of the players' respected layoffs in midfield are Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott. While the former has recently returned to first-team action after a blistering start to the campaign and the German is nearing a comeback, all have missed a significant chunk of the season, coinciding with their downfall in the league.
Here WhoScored.com look at the impact that the absence of each has had on results, backing up the belief that Arsenal's title challenge has whittled in correlation to the squad numbers available.
Ramsey has been Arsenal's top player this season, according to WhoScored.com's ratings (7.68). The Gunners are certainly glad to have the Welshman back in the reckoning. Ramsey has started 17 of 34 league games this season (three off the bench), with the team's win ratio at 64.7 percent when he's been in the starting XI compared to 52.9 percent when he hasn't.
The team have both scored more goals per game with the midfielder starting (1.88 to 1.59) and conceded fewer (1 to 1.41), and his ability in both the attacking and defensive phase has clearly had a significant impact. Averaging 2.11 points per game compared to 1.82 without Ramsey in the starting XI, the 23-year old's return can only help Arsenal's bid for another Champions League berth.
The England international will not play a part in Arsenal's run-in. His injury, despite being one of many in a short career thus far, was picked up on international duty. Nevertheless, Wilshere's impact on results has been similar to that of Ramsey, with Arsenal winning 12 of 19 league games that he has started (63.2 percent) compared to 8 of 15 that he hasn't (53.3 percent).
The 22-year-old has also had a positive influence on the number of goals that the team have scored per game (1.89 to 1.53), but his absence has had little effect on Arsenal's defensive record. It indicates an aspect of Wilshere's game that is perhaps not yet fully developed, with Arsenal conceding 1.21 goals per game when he has started (1.2 when he doesn’t), proving that the midfield is perhaps a little more open, in turn leaving the defence exposed.
Mesut Ozil Plenty was made of Wenger's persistence when it came to sticking with Ozil week in and week out -- or even minute in and minute out -- even though he was accustomed to more than the odd breather at Real Madrid. Ozil began to look tired after an impressive start and a somewhat inevitable injury followed, with the playmaker last playing in the league on March 1 as a sub against Stoke.
The German has started 21 of Arsenal's 34 league games to this point, with his impact on Arsenal's win rate slightly lower than the rest here. Where Ozil has the most positive influence, however, is in attack, with the team averaging 1.9 goals per game when he has started compared to 1.46 when he hasn't, though surprisingly they’re conceding 1.46 goals without him, marginally more than his other teammates here. In turn, Ozil's impact on Arsenal's points per game is the greatest of the four (plus-0.33). \ Theo Walcott
Having missed the most sizeable chunk of the campaign, starting just nine league matches this season, it could be argued that the variety Walcott offers, given Olivier Giroud's hit-and-miss form, has been most lacking. Arsenal's win ratio both with (66.7 percent) and without (56 percent) Walcott is the highest of the four players here, but perhaps more surprisingly the Gunners have scored 1.68 goals per game without him, more than his other teammates here.
Less of a shock is the fact that the team have conceded more goals per game with Walcott in the XI (1.33) than without him (1.16). While Arsenal have missed his pace on the counter, the game can become more stretched when the Englishman is involved. It's a feature that is suited to some games more than others, but it's clear that having the option would have helped Wenger at times this season.
With all four players having a positive impact on results, it's perhaps the all-round balance that Aaron Ramsey offers that has been most sought after in his absence. His return could yet see Arsenal ensure they are competing with Europe's elite next season, but limiting the physical stress on some of the players could have led to so much more.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.