Like Brando in The Godfather, I am loathe to tell anyone outside the family what I am thinking but given the current atmosphere of mischief and sensationalism surrounding Arsenal Football Club, needs must, especially when the usual subjects are avoiding the truth like a plague.
Alexis Sanchez is undoubtedly Arsenal’s most potent offensive player. If you tuned into the mainstream media, most Arsenal blogs and podcasts you would be struck by the tones of worship when they describe his performances. You would think he is irreplaceable.
But sporting history is replete with examples of great offensive players who, rather than being assets, are downright liabilities to the overall team. American professional sports, whether it be baseball, basketball or their gridiron football, has numerous examples of blockbuster trades to get rid players with gaudy offensive stats in return for new talent with whom hopefully a more successful future can be built.
One such trade that never took place was the legendary Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls who was the dominant worldwide sports marketing figure in towards the end the last century and into this millenium. This episode in the history of the Bulls has literally been airbrushed from history and is unknown to most Gen-Xers and Millenials.
In 1988 when Jordan was coming off of being the Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, and the league’s leading scorer during the 1987-1988 season, the Bulls were close to dealing him away for two high draft picks. I vaguely remember the story from my days as a basketball hound but had to dig deep in the internet to confirm. According to this piece on “the-trades-that-didnt-happen” the Bulls were on the verge of being eliminated in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Detroit Pistons and the team had won just four total playoff games – and sported a 4-15 playoff record – in the first four seasons with Michael Jordan. There was a large dividing line among Bulls management that led to a theory that the team would
“never win a title because Jordan’s style of one-on-one play eliminated the other players as contributors.”
I am increasingly becoming like those skeptical members of the Bulls’ hierarchy when it comes to Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal. Having watched him very closely since he came to this club, while ecstatic about his unpredictability and the wonderful goals he has scored I have become increasingly alarmed at his negative impact on the team dynamic.
As some of us have highlighted, Wengerball depends on maintaining possession as the club progresses up the field seeking opportunities for vertical passes to get behind defenses and create scoring opportunities. Over the past 3 years the emphasis on possession has declined. Arsenal is now the 3rd best possession team in the league behind City and Liverpool and the frequency of turnovers in midfield leading to dangerous counter attacks by opposing teams have left me with a bad state of heartburn and acid reflux.
Apart from @blackburngeorge and a few others this is a minority opinion among the denizens of this blog. Many regard his goals and the unpredictability he brings to the team as more important than his wastefulness in possession. As friends, who love the club, we never hesitate to disagree, respectfully.
Outside PA, in the mainstream media as well as most Arsenal bloggers and podcasters, there is virtual sycophancy when it comes to Alexis. It is literally taboo to criticize him. Like the political correctness crowd, they are the self-made guardians of what is acceptable discourse among Arsenal fans. Based on their recent publications, evidently blaming the manager, for one bad year in 21, is more likely to generate clicks and satisfy the snarling, howling mob that needs a scapegoat for their disappointments.
Unlike my opinionated colleagues in the blogsphere, as is my wont, I decided to do some research and see how Alexis compares with the leading strikers from other clubs fighting for top-4 positions in the Premier League. As usual the stone-cold data has no agenda, creates no headlines and is oblivious to feelings and emotion (courtesy of Whoscored.com).
Mins – Minutes played; Goals – Total goals; Assists -Total assists; SpG – Shots per game; KeyP -Key passes per game; Drb – Dribbles per game; Fouled – Fouled per game; Off – Offsides per game; Disp – Dispossessed per game; UnsTch – Bad control per game; Avg Passes – Avg Passes per game; PS% – Passing success percentage
Given he is not dedicated center-forward like those in the peer-group, often playing wide left, his numbers are noteworthy:
- Goals scored is right on the average, at 19.
- Assists are 80% above the average and one-third higher than the next best, i.e. Kane and Costa.
- Highest number of dribbles per game at 2.7 is arguably a positive especially for a wide forward.
- Fouled at a higher than average per game although nowhere near Costa-levels.
- Key passes are above average at 2.2 per game compared to an average of 1.46. Only Ibra comes remotely close at 1.7.
- His passes per game widely exceed all his peers, 43.5 vs an average of 31. Only Ibrahimovich at 37.3 is remotely close. Seems his peers are less involved in the passing game and focused on being present in the box.
- Passing percentage is below the average, 73.4 vs 75.3. Only Kane has worse passing percentage but he touches the ball on average over 50% less than Alexis.
- Being dispossessed far higher than the average, 3.2 times per game vs 2.4. Only Costa is dispossessed at a higher rate at 3.4.
Having seen the evidence, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how say you? Asset or liability?