Kyle Lafferty didn’t have his best game for Rangers on Thursday night when he was…
When Graham Dorrans signed for Rangers during the summer of 2017, there was a fair bit of buzz around Ibrox. Here was a talented midfielder and Scotland international returning after a successful stint in England and fans were excited to see what he could bring to the Rangers midfield. It never really worked for Dorrans last season – a string of injuries kept him out the starting lineup and when he did play, he failed to make a huge impression – and Gers fans were ultimately left disappointed.
This summer, another central midfielder decided to join Ibrox and after an impressive start to his career back in Scotland, looks to be producing the sort of performances that were originally expected of Dorrans. Scott Arfield moved from Burnley and was one of Steven Gerrard’s first signings as Rangers manager, however his arrival was met with a degree of skepticism from some quarters. Arfield was undoubtedly a quality player but after Dorrans’ failure to establish himself in the first team, some felt that there was a risk of history repeating itself.
Thankfully for Gerrard, this hasn’t been the case. Arfield has wasted no time at all in settling in and is already putting in commanding performances in the middle of the park. There were clear parallels between Arfield and Dorrans when they arrived in Glasgow – both had started their careers at provincial Scottish clubs before spending the majority of their careers down in England. Both had slipped down the pecking order at their respective clubs and were keen for a new challenge. And both were brought to Ibrox to be an experienced head in midfield capable of controlling a match.
Arfield has been one of Rangers’ standout performers this season and fans will be hoping that he can keep up his level of performance as the season progresses. Where Dorrans failed to establish himself last season, Arfield is thriving after a series of composed performances both domestically and in Europe.
Comparing Arfield’s performances this season to Dorrans’ 2017/18 campaign, we can see some key differences between the two midfielders. Admittedly, it’s a relatively small sample size for the Canadian international but after around a dozen appearances for Gerrard’s side his stats are illustrative. Arfield is the more direct player, attempting more shots and providing more assists than his teammate, whereas Dorrans excels at recycling possession.
Dorrans’ scoring rate of 0.28 goals per ninety minutes is vastly superior to Arfield’s 0.17, but the former Burnley player has an enviable assist rate of 0.34 assists per ninety – more than three times higher than Dorrans’ 0.11. Arfield’s tendency to drift wide means that he averages more crosses than Dorrans does, but the 29-year-old attempts slightly fewer dribbles. What this means is that Gerrard now has varying options in midfield, each with their own particular skillset, that he can call on to meet whatever tactical demands the fixture list throws up.
The move to Ibrox seems to have come at a good time for Arfield as the central midfielder approaches thirty, when players in his position usually hit their peak. A comparison between Arfield’s stats from his final season at Burnley and this year’s for Rangers are revealing, and seem to indicate that the Canadian international is thriving at his new club.
Pretty much across the board, Arfield has improved dramatically. His shot accuracy has increased by 7%, with the midfielder’s passing accuracy rising from 74% to 83%. Arfield’s long passing and crossing success rates have increased significantly. Dribbling success has improved marginally and the number of successful aerial duels completed has gone up 10%. Wherever you look, the numbers suggest that Gerrard is getting the most out of his new signing.
There are a couple of caveats, however. Firstly, Arfield’s stats from last season are perhaps not the most representative: the 29-year-old mainly featured as a left winger for Burnley last season, as opposed to his preferred position further infield. Secondly, it’s important to note that Arfield was playing in a different, higher quality league last season. The Scottish Premiership seems to be improving year on year but there’s no denying that the English top flight attracts a higher calibre of player, so an increase in performance is somewhat to be expected.
Having said that, there’s no denying the impact that Arfield has had on his new team and if he continues in this vein of form, the ex-Falkirk midfielder will surely continue to be a nailed-on starter for Gerrard. Since Rangers’ second leg Europa League qualifier against Osijek, Arfield has appeared in all but one of the Gers’ fixtures and at present is rightly one of the first names on the teamsheet at Ibrox.
A deep completion pass is a ball played in to a teammate in and around the six-yard box and Arfield is the league leader in this regard, providing 2.41 per 90 minutes. Perhaps more impressively, however, the 29-year-old has a 100% success rate in this metric, never once failing to find his man. This ability to pick out a teammate in a packed box separates Arfield from any other player in the division and means that the midfielder is a constant threat to opposition defences.
All in all, it’s been an impressive start to life in Glasgow for Arfield. Gerrard’s decision to replace Dorrans in the Gers starting eleven has proven to be a masterstroke and if Arfield can maintain his current level of performance then he will surely be one of Rangers’ most important players this season. Dorrans put in a strong performance against Ayr United in the League Cup on Wednesday, suggesting that he may well have a future at Ibrox after all, but could find first team opportunities hard to come by as long as Arfield continues to excel.