Putting the Robin van Persie ‘One Man Team Argument’ to Rest

Without Robin van Persie, Manchester United would be 16th in the table, right?

The flaws in the ‘One Man Team’ argument are numerous, but the biggest of these flaws is that when arguing United would be a lesser team without van Persie, you assume every other team retains their own leading scorers. If you really want to argue that Manchester United would be facing relegation without their Dutch striker, you’ve also got to remove the goals of every other team’s lead goal scorer – because after all, if you provide the majority of goals, you’re clearly the ‘One Man’ in a ‘One Man Team’, right?

The truth is that if you take out not only Robin van Persie’s goals but also the goals of each team’s most prolific goalscorer, the Premier League table doesn’t change even half as dramatically as a 15-place drop. Before we take a look at that hypothetical table, here are the leading goal scorers for each Premier League team after Round 21 of competition and in brackets the amount of Premier League goals they have scored so far this season:

Arsenal – Theo Walcott (8)
Aston Villa – Christian Benteke (6)
Chelsea – Fernando Torres (7)
Everton – Marouane Fellaini (8)
Fulham – Dimitar Berbatov (7)
Liverpool – Luis Suarez (15)
Manchester City – Edin Dzeko (9)
Manchester United – Robin van Persie (16)
Newcastle – Demba Ba (13)
Norwich – Robert Snodgrass (4)
QPR – Adel Taarabt (4)
Reading – Adam Le Fondre (5)
Southampton – Rickie Lambert (8)
Stoke – Jonathan Walters (5)
Sunderland – Steven Fletcher (8)
Swansea – Michu (13)
Tottenham – Jermain Defoe (10)
Wigan – Aruna Kone (6)
West Bromwich Albion – Romelu Lukaku (7)
West Ham – Kevin Nolan (5)

Below we have the hypothetical Premier League table after Round 21 without the goals of each team’s top goal scorer, plus the difference in positions on the ladder from each team’s actual position in the Premier League at the same point in time.

So what can we learn from this hypothetical table?

Firstly, it’s important to note that no team moves more than four positions higher or three positions lower Without Top Scorers (-TS) than they currently sit Including Top Scorers (+TS). If you were shown this table before the beginning of the Premier League season it would not be overly difficult to believe – the biggest surprises would perhaps be Arsenal and Everton placing above Manchester United, who would be fourth, and Aston Villa lying four points off safety in nineteenth. The top of the table is much more compact than reality, with just four points separating first-placed Manchester City with Tottenham in sixth.

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