We have undoubtedly witnessed a lot of big players leaving Arsenal.
If we solely focus on the Wenger-era, we have seen
- Nicolas Anelka sulking his move away from Arsenal to Real Madrid in 1999 where he was a huge failure,
- Both Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars leaving Arsenal for Camp Nou in 2000 only to see both of them failing to meet expectations in Barcelona due to various reasons,
- Patrick Vieira leaving Arsenal for Juventus in 2005,
- Ashley Cole’s greed almost forcing him into a car accident before he joined Chelsea in 2006,
- Mathieu Flamini leaving for Milan in 2008 on a free transfer because of the wage at the Italian club where he was virtually a bystander,
- Alex Hleb joining Barcelona in the same transfer window,
- Emmanuel Adebayor joining Man City in 2009 before acting disrespectfully to both Arsenal players and fans,
- Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving us for Barcelona and Man City respectively in 2011 in the same transfer window,
- Robin van Persie joining Man United in 2012 but not before criticizing the direction of the club…
We thought the days when players we want to keep would leave Arsenal were over after September 2013 when Mesut Özil signed for Arsenal for the club record transfer fee. Indeed, Bacary Sagna did leave Arsenal for Manchester City after his contract expired in 2014 but the emergence of Hector Bellerin in 2014-15 made us all forget about him.
However, the on-going saga about Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil implies a different conclusion. There is a good reason why I focus on Alexis in this piece which doesn’t mean Özil shouldn’t get a piece as well. The thing is, Özil’s situation hasn’t produced anywhere near as many controversies as the Alexis one has.
The last season saw Arsenal trying a new tactical approach. No, I am not talking about our switch to 3-4-2-1 in the last fifth of the season.
Whilst we were still using 4-2-3-1 formation, it wasn’t the same tactics we used in the previous years. Instead of having Olivier Giroud as our target man, we were playing with Alexis as our main striker. Bar the opening game against Liverpool when we were playing without half of our team due to prolonged rest after EURO 2016, it worked perfectly well until…well, Arsene Wenger’s 67th birthday.
That was the last day we had spent as the league leaders. Alexis was scoring goals and creating them, we were winning matches and we looked pretty much invincible. We were second only to Liverpool in terms of goals scored.
True, the level of our game dropped a bit after Santi Cazorla’s injury against Ludogorets but we were still capable of keeping the pace with Chelsea until two back-to-back referee-inflicted defeats to Everton and Man City respectively. After those two defeats, it looked like we didn’t have any confidence at all.
Things looked to be coming to the happy ending after our excellent run-in and FA Cup glory. Alexis played a huge role in winning the cup with goals in both Wembley matches and Arsene became the most decorated FA Cup manager EVER. WOBs were probably eating themselves alive reading Alexis’ positive comments on the manager and AKBs were no longer mentioning how many times Alexis lost the ball against Watford.
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Sadly, this was short-lived because “Victoria Concordia Crescit” has become an empty phrase more than an Arsenal FC motto. As soon as buzzing from the FA Cup Final victory ended, Alexis was thrown in the ring one more time.
It’s interesting that Alexis has been criticized for not being the team player (because you obviously can beat Messi’s Argentina twice in Copa America Final and become top player of the competition or create ten goals or more for your club team-mates as a non-team player). But let’s do an Untold Arsenal thing and assess all the facts and, especially, the whole context of it.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the usual criticism of Alexis that says Alexis loses the ball too often.
According to Whoscored.com, Alexis got dispossessed 3.4 times per game. That makes him the joint second worst in the league with…Diego Costa of Chelsea with Wilfried Zaha losing the ball 3.7 times per game.
When it comes unsuccessful touches, Alexis is joint eighth worst in the league with…Sergio Aguero, Marko Arnautović and Salomon Rondon as all four players averaged 2.5 unsuccessful touches per game. The leaders in this category were, again, Wilfried Zaha and Diego Costa.
Then I paid a visit to Whoscored’s stats for La Liga and got some interesting results using the same appearance criteria.
The players who got dispossessed more than any other were beautifully Arsenal-named Gabriel Pires from Leganes and Mehdi Garcela-Gonzalez from Granada, both with 2.9 per game. Third-placed were some guy named Neymar and Malaga’s Juanpi with 2.8 per game. Fifth-placed was another Barcelona player. I think his name is Messi or something like that.
When it comes to players with unsuccessful touches, Neymar is joint third with Sergi Enrich from Eibar with 2.6 unsuccessful touches per game each.
What these stats reveal about the whole picture?
Well, nothing. It only proves that worst offenders in this statistical category are either wingers or strikers who use and receive the ball in the final third where the number of the opponents’ players is the biggest. Also, wingers and strikers usually try to dribble past their opponents. It’s no wonder that, when it comes to successful dribbles per game, Zaha is second (4.1) and Alexis is fifth (2.9) in the league.
If negative statistics about possession are a valid criteria whether a player should be kept or not, should Barcelona sell Neymar despite the fact he was also the highest rated player in Primera according to Whoscored (8.52)? Should Arsenal sell Alexis despite the fact he was also the second highest rated player in Premier League according to Whoscored and Squawka’s Performance Score (behind Hazard)?
Second, let’s take a look how dangerous for our goal Alexis’ mistakes actually were. According to Squawka, his defensive errors led to three attempts on goal, zero goals conceded.
So, why it looks like positive Arsenal fans want to make Alexis look like an Arsenal problem instead of seeing him as our biggest asset?
If they think WOBs have made a lot of damage to Arsenal by writing negative articles on our players and the manager, why do positive Arsenal fans do the same about Alexis?
Why do people who usually use brains and facts to get conclusion now use incomplete facts torn out of context to get their conclusion on Alexis?
In my job, if I make an administrative ruling assessing only a single piece of evidence in the case while completely ignoring every other evidence per se and in the context with other items of evidence, any decent lawyer would be able to write a successful appeal because I didn’t do my job properly.
Conclusion: the Alexis Sánchez case should have never been existed at the first place regardless of his decision to renew the contract with Arsenal. There should have never been a dilemma imposed to Gooners – Arsene or Alexis – because Arsenal need both of them to win things. As far as I am concerned, they are both members of the Arsenal Football Club crew and they both deserve our support.
Mind you, when Patrick Vieira was making awful comments about the Arsenal team and was openly flirting with a move to Manchester United (of all places!), Arsene Wenger managed to persuade him to stay at the club and to sign a new contract. It was summer 2001, just before Wenger’s Second Double Season.
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