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The evolution of Alexis and the evolution of the team

By Tony Attwood

Is it all over for Alexis Sanchez?   He scored 12 goals in 24 Premier League games – but none in the last six.  Why’s that?

It is worth looking at because there are early signs in the pubs outside the offices of our national daily papers that Sanchez has had it, he’s gone, he’s busted, is going to be the next made-up story.  Having run the Ozil is useless campaign for a few days we might now onto the end of Sanchez (although a hat trick against QPR could put that one on the back burner.  You are only as good as your last match, remember, and sometimes not even that good).

But there is a growing valiant attempt in some quarters to suggest that the problem is Ozil – that with Ozil on the pitch Sanchez can’t score.

The first thing to note however is that a decline in scoring happens to everyone.  Even Thierry Henry, who knew a thing or two about goal scoring, had a goal drought in early 2010, when he scored just 1 goal in 10 games, and just three goals in 20.

So here’s the first theory.  when Ozil isn’t playing, Sanchez scores.  13 goals in 18 games was the count for when Ozil was out.

But what has happened is that the way Alexis plays and where he plays is quite dependent on those around him.  Put Giroud in the team and Giroud takes up the centre ground.  16 starts in the league this season nine goals.  When Ozil is not playing and/or when Giroud is not playing Sanchez plays out wider.

This is actually a bonus for Arsenal because until one hour before the game Arsenal’s league opponents don’t quite know who is going where.  And even when they have the team sheet they’ve still got to do some quick calculations as to quite how the team is going to line up.

This is very different from the world 20 years ago when club’s would rarely think of tactically changing the team around.  Indeed going back further in the Mee Double side of 1971 Arsenal only ever used 16 players in the league all season, and Marinello only made one league start and Nelson two.  (Incidentally if you are an old timer you’ll recall that Charlie George got injured in the first match and didn’t return until January.  13.5 players you could say through the season.

Today increased injuries and tactical playing means that we chop and change – and in a very real way this is great news.  If either Kennedy or Radford had not played their 41 games each, and scored the resultant goals, the league trophy might not have been ours to take at WHL.

The ability to move players and tactics today however has meant that although the Sanchez hamstring pulled against Brighton, has been a blow, it has not been a devastating blow.  We have other options.

Of course it might not just be the hamstring and tactics that has held him back.  It is often reported that players used to a winter break find the fact that in England we not only continue playing in December but actually up the number of games around Christmas, as a psychological and physical strain, even though they know it is coming.

Indeed what we have to remember is that many players find the first season difficult.  Alexis scored 12 in 25 games in his first season in Barcelona (12 in 23 for Arsenal so far), followed by 8 from 29 in season two, and  19 from 34 in season three.  So keeping up his early scoring rate would have been a transformation in style for him.  Indeed in the whole of his Udinese career he got 20 goals from 95 games.

But the fact is that when he plays the opposition don’t know what Alexis they are going to get.  A sudden dash in for a goal, or a speed down the wing or setting up the pass for a goal.  It makes it harder going to defend.  And what adds to this confusion is that Alexis is upping his running per match even further these days – he is now at over 10km a game.

So the issue arises should he keep playing?  We have, after all, an array of talent up front, and some goal scoring ability in midfield too.   Giroud to me is always a must – his goal scoring record in league matches as I have said is very high: nine in 16 this season.  Which leaves Welbeck, Theo, and Alexis.  And  sometimes playing with just two nominal forward running players.

My own guess, and nothing more than that, is the Aaron Ramsey could be the chance to change it all around a bit, with the extra firepower he brings.   And once again there is the issue not just of how the players perform but what the opposition expect.  Bring on Ramsey and some of the teams will remember the Cup Final and that will mean they watch Ramsey as a striker, leaving extra space for whoever is playing in the forward line. Play Wilshere and Ramsey together and you have a totally different outlook.

In reality it doesn’t matter too much if Alexis doesn’t score another goal all season as long as others can pop them in and as long as we keep the opposition guessing.

In the league this season we have goals coming from

  • Alexis 12
  • Giroud 9
  • Santiago Cazorla 7
  • Welbeck 3
  • Ramsey 3
  • Koscielny 3

Seven other players have at least scored one or two.  That, for me, is all good news because it shows variety, flexibility and a protection against injuries.

Incidentally it makes an interesting comparison with last season in which Giroud got 16 in the league and Ramsey 10.   A return to goal scoring form of an injury free Ramsey could be exactly what we need for the run in.

Personally I love the Cazorla/Ozil axis in the recent team, and hope that we can keep that running.  That means that any of the forward players have a chance to score, and we have that extra level of insurance.

The anniversaries from the ridiculous to the sublime

3 March 1993: Norwich 1 Arsenal 1.  This was the 12th consecutive match in which neither Arsenal nor their opponents scored more than one goal.  It was also the end of a run in which Arsenal only won two league games in 15.

3 March 2002:  Pirès passed to Bergkamp who was loitering at the edge of the area with his back to goal. Bergkamp flipped the ball one way and spun the other to score

Untold Arsenal

13 comments to The evolution of Alexis and the evolution of the team

  • para

    It just seems that certain “partnerships” in the team are more evolved than others, but i’m sure they will all develop. It’s hard enough to be able to get to know one player and his way of playing quickly, but to know two or three different combinations of players, and playing in different positions will take some time. We have seen flashes of complete unity in some games and it’s just waiting to break through permanently.
    //
    So, the FA cup and Manu away. This game is going to be our defining game. We will beat Manu and surge forward on a run to the end of the season.

    I do not envy AW to have to pick the team at all. See, even I am feeling the pressure of that game and it has not even come yet. It must be hard for the players and manager to concentrate on just the next game.

    Yes, Feb is going to be a much tougher month than Xmas for us and i hope our “secret” weapons are ready and rearing to go. Theo must be raring to go.

  • TailGunner

    You’d have to be a pretty shallow sort of person if you based your judgement of a player on very easily massaged stats. Believe in the evidence you see on the pitch, and if your own eyes can’t tell you of a players worth then perhaps the numbers might be of some value, but come on now, don’t let them influence your judgment.

  • colario

    Para do you mean ‘March’ not ‘Feb’?

    If Alexis was scoring one or two goals in every game then Arsenal are ‘ A one man team, and what happens when he gets injured?(Euphemism for being kicked out of the game) Ans: ‘Arsenal will be lost. They have no back up. You can’t win anything with a one man team.’

    So these highly paid experts – pundits tell us. (Well they think they are experts and pundits. Who are we to deny them them their delusion?)

    Every game Arsene plays a tactical game and every game the anties tell us ‘Arsene doesn’t do tactics!

    What did we do to deserve the tripe these people come up day after day?

  • Rich

    Everything is about balance for a specific task/opponent for me, so it follows that what is the best bet for one game isn’t for another, what would be right against a particular team at home isn’t necessarily for an away match against them.

    I don’t think we have he same sort of all-weather – home, away, big opposition, less big, the same team had it in them to adapt on the day- team as in earlier eras, but this is fine and I trust the manager is learning new things all the time about how to use this larger set of options.

    I try to be careful not to give too much weight to the recent Man City game, but can’t exactly prove that’s the case because, yep, that’s the team we should go with when playing absorb and counter in big away games.

    To me, in the majority of games they should both start, but in a few I’d go with one or the other.

    Another big point of interest is whether or not Ozil and Ramsay will ,in this year’s different team, show the sort of rapport they seemed to have last year (pre-christmas mostly). I could scarcely believe how well they were linking up at times then, it looked like two players who knew each was operating at a slightly higher level than the others on the team, trusted each other accordingly, and had good ideas about how to put this in service to the team (a surprise to me because I’d been obsessed with imagining Cazorla and Ozil linking up when the latter signed)

    It would be amazing if they could pick up from there again, but I’m not sure how it works within the altered landscape of the team (my memories are of them linking up everywhere, especially far up the field and in wide areas. Ramsay won’t have that much freedom in the current set-up)

    Whatever,the options are incredible now. While there seems no way Sanchez can play and dominate in the same way with Ozil and Giroud in the team, I don’t see a problem with that. He can adapt and still make plenty of telling contributions.

  • esxste

    “TailGunner
    March 3, 2015 at 9:29 am
    You’d have to be a pretty shallow sort of person if you based your judgement of a player on very easily massaged stats. Believe in the evidence you see on the pitch, and if your own eyes can’t tell you of a players worth then perhaps the numbers might be of some value, but come on now, don’t let them influence your judgment.”

    Stats are useful if you know how to put them into context. They provide an evidence based, unbiased way to judge a player.

    All humans are biased. We see what we want to see, remember negatives easier than we do positives. We’re restricted by one pair of eyes, and a brain that doesn’t build a true representation of what those eyes see – it makes alot of things up from intuition.

  • Pete

    I don’t think Alexis has seemed fully fit since his injury – although the distance stats seem to belie that. However, he looked a bit sharper against Everton (in terms of closing down oppo players, making runs etc).

    The other point to note is that we are now playing teams for the 2nd time – they will have experienced Alexis first time around so will have a bit more of an idea how to defend against him. However this does create space for others.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    And, have we done better with ozil and Alexis on the pitch with Giroud up front? Or did we do better at the start of the season? Despite the month the weather seems rosier , now.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Tony , has it really been 13 years , when GB scored probably the best goal I’ve seen against Newcastle ?
    My eyes well up whenever I watch that goal !
    Sniff !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    DB ….. DB ! Oh God !

  • OK Brickfields try this one….

    3 March 1961: Ben Marden played his first match for Arsenal – a 1-3 away defeat to Manchester United. He only played 42 games in all, but two of these were definitive moments for the club, winning the league and the biggest win at Anfield.

  • Josif

    There is a factual error in the article – Danny Welbeck has scored four goals in the league. It’s interesting to notice that he has scored just one goal at home (a late equalizer against Hull) while the remaining three were scored away at Aston Villa, West Brom and West Ham. One might notice that Danny scores “heavy goals”.

    Speaking of scoring goals and Welbeck, I think that – once more – Thierry Henry holds the key for making us the deadliest side in the league. Welbeck’s record and, especially, conversion rate must improve – he has physical abilities second to none in our squad (Henry-esque combination of height, pace and strength), he has intelligence to use it (just remember his two runs against Spuds in both NLDs this season or that move against Monaco) and all he needs is an improvement in terms of composure and conversion rate. He has 25+ goals per season in himself and you can’t find anyone better than Henry to give him a few tips how to release them.

    “But there is a growing valiant attempt in some quarters to suggest that the problem is Ozil – that with Ozil on the pitch Sanchez can’t score.”

    If Alexis had scored against Crystal Palace after Özil perfectly released him in the counter-attack, nobody would have mentioned either of them as a problem. It was matter of inches.

    Regarding Alexis, it’s interesting how he has an eye for a pass and a through ball. That pass for Welbeck against Palace or the one for Walcott against Hull were brilliant.

  • Jerry

    Excellent write up showing the growth of the team over the season and variety of options to score goals. I just wanted to add to your list that Özil has also scored 3 league goals.

  • Sleekwhale

    I’m learning day by day how to ignore the media and just enjoy my football. Back then, the commentators always talk about the match and history – today most of what they do is criticize all the way. Sometimes, I just shut them the hell up. Who cares who scores in-so-far as we’re racking the points in?