Scout Report: Yann M’Vila- Is Yann the Man?

Image taken from the Daily Mail

For Arsenal fans, the love affair between them and Yann M’Vila is a roller-coaster of on again off again intensity. One day he’s signing, the next day he’s on vacation, after that he’s had a tour of Colney, and then he realizes he left his stove on at home.

Progress has been unbearably slow and at times unclear, but a transfer to Arsenal seems the most likely outcome of this lengthy saga. The question is, is Yann M’Vila a vital signing?

This writer says no, and for one reason only: Alex Song. Why spend upwards of £15m on a player when we already have someone equally capable, who contributed immensely last season? Not to mention the fact that Francis Coquelin is breathing down everyone’s neck for playing time. 

Why kill off a career with so much promise, and potentially bench a proven player while overspending in the process? For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at some important stats for a defensive midfielder in a three way comparison between the aforementioned players. 

Alex Song vs. Yann M’Vila vs. Francis Coquelin, by the numbers.

Player       Yann M’VilaAlexander SongFrancis Coquelin

Appearances38                   34                         6 (4)
Was Dribbled0.81.40.9
Blocked Shots0.20.30.2

*All stats are an average per game, data provided by WhoScored.                

At first glance, all 3 players have similar stats and can’t be separated quickly as to who is the best of the trio. 

However, with a closer look at the finer details, we can get an idea of their styles of play outside of the standard duties of a defensive midfielder. 

Take fouls for example. We can easily pick out that Alex Song is the hardest tackler of the bunch, using his size at times to his detriment by conceding an average of 2 fouls per game. 

Recognizing the whole point of a defensive midfielder is to get “stuck in” and break up play, you still have to wonder why Song is so much rougher than his understudy Coquelin, and potential teammate M’Vila.

All three players show impressive stats in defence, but we know that in Arsène Wenger’s current system there’s more to being a holding midfielder than sticking your leg out and hoping for the best. 

Fluid passing and quick movement have been the style that Wenger has stamped on the Gunners since Day 1, and for the most part it has been successful. However, for years we have lacked a proper defensive anchor. No, not even Alex Song can be thought of as a midfield hard man. 

When you look at escapades like this, you have to wonder why he is often criticised for his lapses in concentration at the back. Like André Santos, Song isn’t a defender by choice, but out of necessity. 

Since our formation changed from a solid 4-4-2 to a more fluid 4-2-3-1, Arsenal have done away with one solid figure that sits just ahead of the back four in exchange for two players sharing defensive and offensive duties equally, behind a playmaker. 

Taking into account that Song and M’Vila are more suited to a more “balanced” central midfield role, we have to value their strengths and weaknesses in attack equally to their defensive contributions. We’ll leave Coquelin out of this for a while as he isn’t seen as a first choice player as of yet.


Yann M’Vila: Long Passes, tackling and concentration
Alex Song: Key passes, movement and dribbling

While both are strong passers, both players go about their game very differently in moving the ball around the pitch.

Last season, the Cameroonian completed 1895 passes out of and attempted 2248 – averaging 66 passes per game – earning a completion rate of 84.3%. 

He made an average of 3.3 accurate long balls per game, completing 111/164 and played a total 46 key passes, averaging 1.4 per game. 

M’Vila had more passes than Song, completing 2272/2730 – averaging almost 72 passes per game – earning a completion rate of 83.2%. 

M’Vila made a staggering average 7.7 long balls per game, completing 292/431 and played a total 43 key passes, averaging 1.1 per game. 

Both players can place a ball, that much is clear, but the way their affect the match with their passing couldn’t be more opposite. Song sees the ball quite a bit less than M’Vila, attempting 482 less passes than the Frenchman over the course of the season. 

With similar successful pass and key pass percentages, the only things left to dissect are the ways in which these two players hugely differ: long passing and assists. 

For all his hard work picking out almost 8 long passes per game, Yann M’Vila has very little to show for it, having only 2 assists the entire season. 

Song, on the other hand, played a comparatively paltry 3.3 long balls per game, but his efforts came to fruition with 11 assists; the most of any Arsenal player. That, along with playing fewer passes but more key ones means that Song is the far better option for attacking.

Song is more incisive in his passing, and is capable of creating a goalscoring opportunity out of a seemingly harmless soft lob. M’Vila on the other hand, is the one who makes far more passes, but doesn’t expose the opposition’s defence nearly as often. 

You could almost compare their style to the two Euro 2012 Cup Finalists: Song being Italy, always trying to force their way through using fewer passes, being very direct in their buildup. 

Yann M’Vila being Spain with their tiki taka style of play that requires more passes and patience to provide a threat. 

Both have their merits, but in this case it’s as clear as day: Song is the better midfielder when on the attack.


Yann M’Vila: Offensive contribution
Alex Song: Defensive concentration

When you look at some of the best midfielders in the past and present, they all did the same thing really well: balance. Knowing when to rush forward, when to provide cover at the back. When to pass, when to shoot. When to tackle, when to wait to intercept. All these decisions and more separate the good from the great. 

We know for sure that Yann M’Vila is a bulldog central midfielder.The Frenchman is no goal scorer nor playmaker, that’s already been established. 

However, there’s no reason why he can’t be these things. He has a powerful physique, standing at 182 cm and 80 kg, and a very composed dribbler. 

He’s an accurate passer, but perhaps a little too conservative in where he puts the ball. If he were to be more direct in his play and perhaps be more flexible in his positioning, he could have similar attacking prowess to some of the world’s best. 

Sometimes when Song takes when step forward, he really should have taken two steps back. For all his good intentions to get up the pitch and help the team score a goal, he also has to realize he has equal responsibility in helping the defence prevent a goal. 

Everyone loves watching a bombing run forward from Alex. 

However, too often this season he’s been caught out of position on the counter attack, leaving Mikel Arteta to do most of the grunt work. 

Song needs to be more committed to protecting our backline, giving equal opportunity to Mikel Arteta to contribute in offensive play.


Over the past few months, talk of M’Vila’s price has fluctuated from an astounding £22m to a relatively bargain basement price of £10m. 

However, with Rennes seemingly eager to get a decent fee, Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg have stepped into the fold, potentially sparking a bidding war between the two clubs. 

Keep in mind, this is Arsène Wenger we’re talking about. This is the man who signed both a German international with over 100 caps and Ligue 1 top scorer for less than £25m. Arsène loves a bargain, and is willing to haggle to the bitter end to get it. 

With interest from elsewhere however, Arsène rarely gets his man due to his reluctance to pay top dollar. Recent examples include Santi Cazorla (2011), Juan Mata and Phil Jones. 

Overpaying just isn’t his style, so don’t get your hopes up. 

Behavioural Problems

Yann is no saint, as evidenced by his knack for appearing on news sites for all the wrong reasons. On the pitch, however, he uses his aggression to his benefit. 

Still, the Gunners have had their fair share of troublemakers and eccentrics. Do we really need more drama in the dressing room?

My final thought on M’VIla is that he would be a fantastic signing, but I feel other areas need more attention, specifically at left back and in attacking midfield. 

If we do end up signing him, it will be at a cut price as his reputation is a large factor in the fee. If Wenger works his magic, then great. If not, I won’t be too bothered. 

Yes, M’Vila is a quality player. No, we don’t need him and probably never will.

Written by Anders Marshall
Follow me on Twitter @MarshallArsenal

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  1. Anonymous

    July 31, 2012 at 23:24

    arsenal should start w/ two defensive mids(song, and hopefully m'vila) with the way our defense always seems to fall apart. One attacking mid(Arteta, hopefully wilshere). Coquelin would be a great player coming off the bench.

  2. Anonymous

    July 31, 2012 at 23:33

    No offence man, but the conclusions you have come to are quite frankly ridiculous.

    How on earth you can say Song and Coquelin have comparable defensive stats based on those basic numbers I will never know. Also, I assume you have at least made the effort to watch M'Vila, therefore you should be aware of his ability to mark a man out of the match, meaning no need to a tackle or interception.

    I don;t see how the two are compared in any way to be honest, as far removed as you can get in terms of central midfield players. Song is a pretty average box to box midfielder whereas M'Vila is a top class anchor man.

    • sidibe farima annie

      August 1, 2012 at 04:04

      Thank you for quality is very good player but m'villa will take arsenal to new level.arsenal will be very soon equal to barca.

  3. davi

    July 31, 2012 at 23:57

    How many more of these articles? SONG IS NOT OUR MAIN DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER. If you compare the defensive stats of arteta, they are comparable in interceptions (1.9 per game each). Also Arteta makes less tackles but with a greater success rate – this is because Song routinely goes chasing people and fouling them, while Arteta holds his position in front of the defence (like a DM!) and thus makes tackles less frequently, but thankfully more effectively.
    He makes fewer through passes, but has a higher pass completion at 91%, and I'd guess that he makes more passes overall, but I don't have data to back that claim.
    Overall neither is a true defensive midfielder. It's kind of like the Milan side from a few years ago, where Pirlo sat in front of the defence, defended, maintained possession and started attacks, while Gatuso had more of a licence to go forward (almost like a right midfielder in that diamond formation), but also contributed defensively in kind of a destroyer role – in simple terms Arteta is our Pirlo, and Song is our Gatuso, it just so happens that Song is a much more talented attacker than Gatuso was.
    Ultimately M'vila could play with either of these two in an Arsenal midfield, as could Coquelin, who really deserves his chance. I don't think M'vila is really a classic defensive midfielder either as he's usually had a more defensive player next to him for Rennes, or so I've read. Coquelin could be, however, because he's shown he is able to read attackers movements and is a really strong tackler, probably better than any of the other midfielders we have currently in that department. It's just about maintaining his fitness for him.

  4. Anders Marshall

    August 1, 2012 at 03:03

    Davi, did you read my article? I said and I quote

    “However, for years we have lacked a proper defensive anchor. No, not even Alex Song can be thought of as a midfield hard man.”

    I also went on to say

    “Taking into account that Song and M’Vila are more suited to a more “balanced” central midfield role, we have to value their strengths and weaknesses in attack equally to their defensive contributions.”

    Read the article more carefully and you'll see most of your points made in my article. Yes, I even compared Song to Italy without directly mentioning Pirlo.

  5. Anders Marshall

    August 1, 2012 at 03:12

    Anonymous #2, I also don't see any weight to your argument. Their stats are very close, with exemption to the amount of fouls Song commits. If he doesn't need to tackle or intercept too much, then why does he have the most tackles and interceptions?

    I'm not comparing them as like for like. I talked about their differences in style of play, strengths, weaknesses… What was your point again? I never was comparing them as the same type of player, I was analysing how M'Vila would fit our current system, which he really doesn't. We have two deeper lying mids who should be equally responsible for attack and defence. Sub Song for M'Vila and see how static our play would become as he's virtually solely focused on defensive play, leaving most of the creativity of deep lying playmaker #2. Currently it balances out with Song marauding forward and Arteta covering at the back and vice versa. Never did I say in the article that Song and M'Vila were the same. I even gave an analogy to how they differ:

    “Song being Italy, always trying to force their way through using fewer passes, being very direct in their buildup.

    Yann M’Vila being Spain with their tiki taka style of play that requires more passes and patience to provide a threat.”

    This was obviously only comparing them in attack, but I hope by now you get the gist.

  6. Anders Marshall

    August 1, 2012 at 03:14

    Davi, neither Arteta nor Song were true DMs.You could say they are the Arsenal version of Gattuso and Pirlo.

  7. Anders Marshall

    August 1, 2012 at 03:27

    Also, I'd like to post this comment from the moderator of, another site where this piece is posted.

    “The thing is, Wenger's system doesn't have a true defensive midfielder, but rather two box-to-box midfielders in a pivot. Which means we're not in desperate need of true defensive midfielders. As long as our central midfielders are positionally disciplined and able to perform a good tackle here and there, they have fulfilled most of their defensive duties.

    We have Song, Wilshere, Arteta, Frimpong, Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Lansbury in the first team able to play in our two central midfield positions. Even with Wilshere and Frimpong out, we still have six players able to fill in.

    Obviously a defensive-minded central midfielder is good to have in the mix, as it offers us more protection, but our two central midfield positions aren't meant to be a defensive wall, they're only meant to be a link between the defensive line and the attacking line.”

  8. Anonymous

    August 1, 2012 at 03:43

    This is complete and utter nonsense, the stats you've picked show M'Vila wins a lot more tackles and Song gives away freekicks, that's not a good thing. You also imply they would play the same position, except you identify defense as a weakness for Song and offense as a weakness for M'Vila, meaning they do different jobs and would fit perfectly together, not fight for one spot. Coquelin is nowhere near good enough yet to rely upon as a replacement for Song, if he can't play we currently have no cover. The fact you suggest Lansbury as cover for Song says enough. If anything, buying M'Vila will allow Song to attack for and play to his strengths, providing more assists and maybe scoring a few himself.

  9. davi

    August 1, 2012 at 03:44

    Anders, in my comment, I was not comparing Song to Pirlo, I was comparing the Arteta-Song partnership to the Pirlo-Gatuso partnership, where Song was more like Gatuso. Gatuso was the destroyer who played for milan with more freedom, while Pirlo actually played a more disciplined role in front of the defence and influenced play from deeper, arguably more like Arteta.
    My negative reaction was to the whole idea of comparing M'vila to Song as though Song was the main DM of the side. It's simply not true, and arguably never has been. Arteta played more centrally and held a position behind him, clearly indicating that he was playing the more defensive role, albeit he played it more like Pirlo than Makelele – and in recent seasons Denilson and Diaby have played in Arteta's current position – so to compare the defensive stats of Song to M'vila gives completely the wrong impression. It should have been a comparison of M'vila and Arteta, if you believe that M'vila is being considered as a DM signing.
    Basically, it seems that Song has long been considered the defensive midfielder of the side because he CAN defend, and can play CB, but mainly simply because he's the most physically strongest and imposing member of the midfield who regularly plays. People don't seem to take into account the areas of the pitch he moves into, and they use their false impression, that he is a DM, to say he is a poor player – because if he was supposed to be a disciplined DM who's 1st job was to protect the defence, he'd be doing a really bad job, and I imagine Arteta would hate having to play with him, because in their world Mikel is constantly covering for idiot Song who can't hold his position.

  10. davi

    August 1, 2012 at 03:48

    “Sub Song for M'Vila and see how static our play would become as he's virtually solely focused on defensive play, leaving most of the creativity of deep lying playmaker #2.”

    I can certainly see the logic there, but try subbing M'vila for Arteta – they're more like-for-like.

  11. davi

    August 1, 2012 at 03:59

    “However, too often this season he’s been caught out of position on the counter attack, leaving Mikel Arteta to do most of the grunt work.
    Song needs to be more committed to protecting our backline, giving equal opportunity to Mikel Arteta to contribute in offensive play.”

    You see, it's this assumption that Arteta is being forced into doing “grunt work”. He always lines up behind Song during games, so what is the basis for this assumption. Maybe Arteta needs more help from the other midfielders at times, inclding Song of course, but who says Arteta is lacking the opportunity to contribute in offensive play because Song is playing further forward than he's supposed to? Do you really think Song is that careless and that Arteta would be that willing to be taken advantage of? Maybe Arteta's role really is to just hold his position and maintain control of the ball for the side?

  12. davi

    August 1, 2012 at 04:02

    “The thing is, Wenger's system doesn't have a true defensive midfielder, but rather two box-to-box midfielders in a pivot.”
    That was certainly true last season when Wilshere was available; Jack clearly lined up on the left side, and Song on the right. This season, that's simply not been the case. Arteta has played centrally. The midfield triangle is the reverse of last season, probably because fabregas left.

  13. sidibe farima annie

    August 1, 2012 at 04:09

    Arsenal need a good goal keeper,csneny isn't reliable or world class.we need m' villa ,a goal keeper and two more creative players

  14. Anonymous

    August 1, 2012 at 04:21

    Shit article, hope you don't get paid for it. M'Villa would e an awesome addition. You're the only one reporting on it. We will sign a DM but I don't know which one. Victor Wanyama would be my pick. With injuries to jack, rosicky, arteta and diaby all recently it's definitely worth adding some experience to the midfield

  15. Anders Marshall

    August 1, 2012 at 06:12

    To the most recent anon comment (you guys really need to get names)

    A) Thanks for reading. How much time do you spend writing? I'd love to see your work.

    B) I'd put money on you having never heard of Wanyama before last week. I watched him play once for Celtic by chance and liked his hair.

    Please come up with an original insult or writing style so I can tell your ignorant arse(nal)s apart.

  16. Anonymous

    August 1, 2012 at 07:53

    Hello Anders,

    I become increasingly frustrated by the we love Alex Song articles such as this, stating we don't need a player like M'Vila because we have Song. But in your article in a way you have shot yourself in the foot and contradicted yourself and realized by the end of the piece why we need him/or a play like him so bad.

    Ok i completely agree, why spend when we have so much talent in the midfield. You mentioned Coquelin ( he played 7 of the 10 apps at fullback so you cant compare his stats)none the less a fine player and in my opinion better than Song.

    Just a couple of flaws in your defense of Song, dont get me wrong Song is a good player but the more i watch the more i feel he would do better else where. somewhere a quick short high tempo passing game does not hold so much importance.

    Flaw 1: Arsenal conceded 49 goals last season its a popular myth that its because of the defense or center backs but a huge amount were scored by opposition midfielders who should have been tracked by their opposite numbers. this is a result of lack of concentration by our more defensive midfielders so needing a player who will stick to his task and concentrate is what we need.

    Flaw 2: Saying Song is not defensively minded is quite a claim when Song actually came through the ranks at center back. He played all of his first games there in his first season in the first team eventually moving to the midfield 2 seasons later.

    Flaw 3: Song is slow and clumsy and this is why his foul rate is higher than Yann's not because he is more robust with his challenges. Hes far to easy to take on because he has a turning circle of a cruise ship and he is not quick enough to recover so as a result either body checks, sticks a leg out or dives in at an opponent committing fouls.

    Flaw 4: You have tried to say how Song is so important to our attack with some pretty numbers to back it up. Dribbles for example this is no doubt Successful dribbles per game but you have to be careful when using these figures because they don't tell the whole story. For a “apparently” more attack minded player that number is poor. Also M'Vila and Le Coq are more prone to pass the ball than run with it. The stat that's missing would be how many times the player was caught in possession and Song gets caught far too often for my liking. He sould leave the attack to Arteta, ramsey, wilshere, diaby, ox, walcott, gervinho and cazorla if and when he signs all better equipped than Song to create tbh.

    Flaw 5: The use of the amount of goals Song song created compared to M'Vila don't forget song had RVP to finish them off Yann Didn't because one playes for Arsenal the other for Rennes.

    in summary for me M'vila should only be signed if Song is sold and with Barca hovering apparently (complete tripe in my opinion why would they want him)this may happen. But if he stays Coquelin shoul be given the holding mid role and when the rest of the nidfield are fit and cazorla is signed song should be used in rotation

  17. Anders Marshall

    August 2, 2012 at 03:55

    To the latest Anon: You, sir, are the example. Good points, every single one of them and you managed it without insulting me or using caps. I should have expanded on this article more, it could have easily been 2500 words.

    Flaw 1: I have no data to prove that, but I can see how that's a reasonable claim.

    Flaw 2: He's not. I'll give you another great example in Chris Samba. He started out as a striker, and is now a centre back. Things change, and Song loves to attack. He loves to pass, move and take on the odd player. I really don't think he enjoys defending.

    Flaw 3: i agree that Song is clumsy, but that's down to physiology, no fault of his. He's rough too, so that's why I made my point the way I did. Side note, I've never laughed so hard at a comment in my life with reference to his agility

    Flaw 4: lots of more attacking minded mids have poor dribbling numbers as well. Xavi for instance: 0.5 I agree with the leaving attack to others part, and I did mention that in my article.

    Flaw 5: I try not to add factors like this, although it is a huge difference having RVP in your team. However, I would argue that any striker worth his salt would be able to take down Song's balls and finish from right in front of the net.

    Thanks for reading, it's people like you that aid the experience of journalism. It helps me get better, and lets other people enjoy my work even more. Do you have Twitter? You know mine.

  18. anon2

    August 15, 2012 at 18:52

    @anon. You got it spot on mate. I’m getting more than a bit tired of listening to people going on about how good song is. If he was that good, he would have done the job he was designated to do, and that was to protect the back four, which he failed to do….miserably. At least with M’Villa you know you have someone who will stick to the task given him with vigour. He is a tough tackling no-nonsense sort of guy who is adept at creating an attack from a defensive position with long/short range passes to attacking mids/strikers with unerring accuracy. I’d go as far as to say, if we get rid of Song and bring in M’Villa, we’ll win the league, regardless of whether V.P stays or not. Good spot anon. 🙂