I told you that people would complain about (Alexis/Suarez) turnovers

By Tim Todd Head of Football Operations NORAD

Back in the summer of ’69.. wait, that was before I was born. It was the summer of 2013 and Arsenal had a lump of cash to spend (finally). Their big idea for who to spend it on? Luis Suarez, £40 million. And one.

That summer I wrote several articles about Suarez which questioned why Arsenal were after him. I used stats and charts and numbers but they all added up to one major problem: he was insanely wasteful in possession.

Oh the calumny I received! The derisive laughter! I knew nothing about football I was told. Suarez is the greatest player who ever bit a man and then called another man a bad name. He is going to be great, they all said! You suck Tim. Shut up.

My entire argument was simply that I don’t think Arsenal supporters would appreciate how much he turned the ball over and that Higuain was probably the better choice for our club because he’s better in possession and a better team player. Not even mentioning the bitey racisms.

That argument was lost in the howls of derision. And to those folks great credit Suarez has gone on to prove that 1) he can lead a team almost all the way to the promised land (if only Gerrard, HA!) 2) that in the Barcelona system he can play many different roles and that 3) he can be both a team player when needed and the main striker (at Barcelona, where Messi and Neymar flank him).

In the summer when Suarez went to Barcelona, they sold Arsenal one of their players, Alexis Sanchez. As soon as I saw him play the first time for Arsenal, and as soon as he scored his first goal for Arsenal, stealing the ball off Wilshere’s foot, I knew why Wenger bought him: he’s meant to be our Suarez.

It has taken Alexis two full years but he has finally cemented his place in the Arsenal starting lineup, he has proven himself to be a versatile forward who can play alone up top or wide on either side of the pitch, and like Suarez, he’s prone to turning the ball over once or twice.

Ok, he’s dispossessed 3.1 times per game whereas Suarez in 2013 was only dispossessed 2.8 per game.

But what’s hilarious to me is that people are actually doing exactly what I predicted they would do if Arsenal had been able to sign Suarez: complaining about his turnovers rate.  And what’s doubleplus hilarious is that Alexis is significantly less of a ballhog/turnover machine than Luis Suarez was in 2012/13.

Here’s a mind-blowing stat for you about Luis Suarez: he was not only dispossessed 2.8 times per game (94 total times that season, leading the League) and not only averaged 2.3 bad touches per game (79, again lead the League), but also lead the League with 187 shots, and led the League with an absolutely insane 255 attempted dribbles which was 108 more attempts (3 per game) than second place Adel Tarrabt, and he failed to beat his man off the dribble 160(!!!) times!!! That’s a 37% success rate with his dribbles. Insanely bad. He was also caught offsides 1.2 times per game (40 total).

He was also just a 76% passer, which to be fair, is the best he ever passed the ball.

If we add dispossessed, bad touch, offside and failed dribbles, Luis Suarez averaged 11 turnovers per game. Eleven wasted possessions that his teammates had to claw back so that they could get him the ball so that he could take all the team’s shots or so that he could lose the ball, again. That’s incredible and yet, everyone agrees “Arsenal would have won the League if we had signed Suarez”.

And now, Arsenal have our own, fully functional Luis Suarez type in Alexis Sanchez and guess what? People complain that he turns the ball over too much.

First off, Alexis is a 74% passer. Not great but I asked Orbinho on twitter what Thierry Henry’s passing rates were over his career. Must be upper 90% or so, because he was a football god, right?

Not. Even. Remotely. Close. No forwards are going to pass the ball well. It’s just not their job. Their job is to create and score goals. End of story. So, Alexis’ 74% passing isn’t something I will ever care about. He can pass at 50% for all I care, as long as he scores 25 goals this season.

As for taking care of the ball: Alexis is dispossessed more than Suarez was, 3.1 times per game, 78 so far in the League. That means Alexis is 2nd in total dispossessed this season. He also has shown loose touch 58 times which is 7th “worst” behind Zaha, Costa, Pogba*, Rondon, King, and Arnautovic.

Unlike Suarez, Alexis actually has a terrific dribble percentage for a CF, he’s currently completing 67% of his attempted dribbles and has only lost possession in that category 36 total times out of 108 attempts. You can see this in effect in a match; defenders stand off him, they are afraid of his ability to get by them. This gives him time to create for his teammates which he does at a terrific rate of 2.5 per game. Even better is that Alexis creates from open play, not set pieces. He’s the most prolific passer from open play in the league.

Alexis has also been caught offside 0.8 times per game or 20 times total.

Now, if we add up all of Alexis’ wasted possessions he’s giving the ball away 8 times per game. Three fewer than Luis Suarez in the season that we all wanted to buy him so badly.

And you know what else? Alexis is scoring on 17% of his (non-penalty) shots. Luis Suarez scored just 12% that 2012/13 season.  It took Luis Suarez 187 shots to get 23 goals that year. If Alexis took 187 shots this season and scored at the rate he is currently scoring, he would score 32 goals.

I learned my lesson about center forwards: don’t get too concerned with turnovers and wasted possession. What you really want is an all-action center forward who gives the opposition defenders the terrors the night before a game. Arsenal have that guy, his name is Alexis Sanchez.

Qq

*For a CM this is actually a shockingly bad stat.

51 Comments on I told you that people would complain about (Alexis/Suarez) turnovers

  1. I was never a fan of passing stats when judging a player, especially when it came to CBs for example. Saying some centerback has a 90% success in passing usually means that 9 out of 10 times he usually passes the ball to the other centerback, while there is only one opposition player nearby, and the 10th time is when he usually tries to pass the ball to the midfielder. So, it mostly doesn’t mean much.
    The exact opposite goes for strikers though because they are almost always surrounded by opposing players, so a lower percentage rate also doesn’t count for much, like Henry demonstrated through the years.
    And when it comes to Suarez, he did waste a lot of balls but it’s not like he was surrounded by world class players like Ozil and…well, just Ozil I guess.

    • Is Özil still world class? I mean, he’s willingly abdicated the playmaker role to Alexis. And now he doesn’t even make runs to get on the ball to score.

      Actually, what does Özil do?

      • Well, he screams “Ja Gunners Ja”, or was that Podolski?
        Last season he was on fire and at that time he was a world class player in my opinion.
        But then again, so was Ramsey in his only spectacular season, and then he dyed his hair and started doing the Magnum look.
        But at this rate (and I hate to say it, but also at this club), I believe Ozil will go down as the player who never lived up to his potential instead of the player he was promising to be when he destroyed Argentina as a teenager at that World Cup.
        So yes, right now probably the only ones who see Ozil as a legitimate world class players are people supporting Arsenal.

        • I compared Ozil to players in analogous positions on other top teams on what I believe he does best, which is his use of the ball. Here he is vs Hazard, Coutinho, Eriksen and Pogba:

          http://www.squawka.com/comparison-matrix#premier_league/2016/2017/mesut_özil/641/641/123/0/p|premier_league/2016/2017/eden_hazard/641/641/454/0/p|premier_league/2016/2017/philippe_coutinho/641/641/2673/0/p|premier_league/2016/2017/christian_eriksen/641/641/61/0/p|europa_league/2016/2017/paul_pogba/728/728/2710/38/p#possession_score/pass_completion/key_passes/chances_created#90

          He leads every possession based category, including pass success, key passes and chances created. So I’d say that’s what he does.

          • Why do people feel the need to criticize specifically our second best player (and it’s not close) every time the team goes through a slump? In a way it’s worse than the Ramsey or Denilson or Djourou or Eboue or Santos bashing because it’s harder to understand. You like beautiful football, no? That’s Ozil’s thing. Enjoy it. And if the team doesn’t win, it’s probably not because Ozil didn’t try hard enough, it’s probably because of something else. Yet, we return to him every single time.

          • People don’t criticize him more than the manager who also criticized him today. Also, we just won a game and I’m hardly criticizing him after going through a short slump, this has been a thing with Özil for over a year now. And it IS normal to ask questions about Arsenal’s record signing. That’s part of the territory when you’re a record signing! You have bigger expectations. Again, Wenger has said as much on multiple occasions.

            In his last 39 Premier League Appearances, Özil has just 8 goals and 7 assists. That puts him in the same category as (last year’s stats) Wayne Rooney, Kevin de Bruyne, and Ross Barkley. Coutinho and Firmino too. I guess that’s not an awful return. It just seems like maybe he could do more. Maybe not. Maybe this is his level.

            As for the KP stats, I’m aware that he creates more KP than Alexis. Though 13 of his KP are from corners and free kicks. Also half of his assists are from corners. He’s becoming a set play specialist.

            So, I guess what he does is recycle possession, occasionally pick out the nifty pass, and take set pieces. Cool.

          • I don’t agree. He doesn’t “recycle possession” because his touches mostly come in the final third, which makes his 86% passing rate very impressive. Leading the team and nearly the league in KP is not the “occasional nifty pass” and whether it comes from a set piece or not, who cares?

            As you say, the company he keeps even just in the sphere of the “porn stats” you quote is not too shabby and that comes on the heels of his ludicrous assist rate in the first half of 2015/2016 which you don’t mention.

            I get that he has lofty expectations because of his price tag. I just think people judge him against the player they want him to be rather than the player he is. I don’t buy for one second that his manager is as hard on him as the general viewing public.

          • “People don’t criticize him more than the manager who also criticized him today.”

            –This claim is just bizarre. Yes, Wenger criticized him today, but this almost never happens (isn’t that one of the things people complain about–that Wenger protects/indulges him???), and the criticism was hardly along the lines of “what does he even do?” “he’s overrated” “he’s not worth the money; we should sell him,” “big game bottler,” “he’s soft and lazy and doesn’t look interested,” etc etc etc, which is what many, many Arsenal fans say about him on a semi-regular basis. And this is not even mentioning the abuse he gets from many sections of the media. OF COURSE Wenger doesn’t criticize him nearly as much as many other people. Obviously Wenger has faith in him and rates him extremely highly. You can’t use AW’s comments today as a defense for your extremely harsh and dismissive verdict on Ozil.

            “I’m hardly criticizing him after going through a short slump, this has been a thing with Özil for over a year now.”

            –Says you. Ok, so you don’t think he was playing consistently really well in the first third of this season, like, clearly outshone by Sanchez but a great foil for him (Robin to his Batman, etc), one of our best attacking players over that period??? If you think, on the contrary, he was in a slump during that period, then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

            “In his last 39 Premier League Appearances, Özil has just 8 goals and 7 assists.”

            –As you go on to admit, that’s hardly an awful return, and his form dipped in the end of last season (so did Alexis’s; so did the entire team’s), which partially explains those numbers, but more to the point: is it conceivable that Ozil was one of our best players in the first third/half of this season, but that his goal and assist numbers during that time weren’t that high? It seems not only obviously conceivable to me, but actually true. It’s almost as if stats don’t tell us everything…

            “So, I guess what he does is recycle possession, occasionally pick out the nifty pass, and take set pieces. Cool.”

            –Come on. You’re going to be that dismissive? Let’s take the Hull game, in which everyone including me admits he did not play very well (though I think a lot of the stick has been over the top, obviously). He was heavily involved in both goals, particularly instrumental in the all important first. His give and go with Iwobi, bursting into a small pocket of space in a tight penalty area and crossing the ball, was the critical moment that turned a standard bit of possession in which Hull were relatively comfortable into a dangerous goal scoring opportunity for us. Ozil’s bit of play opened up their defense; after that it was just panic and ricochets (taking nothing away from Alexis being in the right place at the right time to pounce). If Ozil doesn’t do that, the chance doesn’t come and the goal isn’t scored (obviously you can say that about any number of passes before that moment, but that was clearly the “turning point” in the move). Talk of “match winners” is a bit silly, but on the basis of what I’ve just said, why shouldn’t we think of Ozil as the match winner on Saturday just as much as the guy whose arm accidentally knocked the ball into the net??
            And look, this is in a game in which I freely admit he was mediocre at best, but my point is we can’t have it both ways: apparently we should overlook countless losses of possession by Alexis as long as he sticks it in the back of the net, and there’s some logic to that, since goals are decisive moments in games. But we should overlook Ozil’s decisive moments, belittle them as “occasional nifty passes”, or at least we should do so provided they’re not assists or goals? The point is not to pit Ozil against Alexis. Alexis has clearly been the better player this season (though Ozil was last season). But your summary of what Ozil brings to the team just seems willfully short-sighted and uncharitable: “recycling possession”?? Really?!

      • Since we are talking about having made predictions that came true, and you have made more than your share, I predicted Ozil would find himself exactly where he’s at right now. Neither an assist creating machine , nor the clinical finisher Wenger wanted him to become.

        While it’s not unusual to expect your advanced playmaker with a free role to take up any position on the pitch to score an add goal here and there, asking him to reinvent himself at 26 or 27 years old when he was already great at what he did, and to become one of the club’s top scorers, was always going to be risky and it proved so.

        It takes a totally different mindset for an assist provider to be great at it, than a clinical finisher with an eye for goal.

        • Tom, assists require the person on the end of the pass to convert the chance. The assist maker cannot influence that. Ozil is averaging about a key pass less than he did this time last year when he was playing in more withdrawn areas, but his current assist rate per 90 of 0.19 is explained more by variance than by positioning. This time last year he had an assist rate of 1.5 (!!!) after connecting for 17 assists through 26 games. He broke the previous record for chances created (held by Gerrard and Giggs) with 12 games to go in the season. That’s an absurd tally and while I give him credit, it’s the other extreme of variance. Virtually everything he was putting up to Giroud was flying into the net. This year, the bounces haven’t gone his way and it took him something like 10 games to register his first assist.

  2. Ozil meditates, levitating in his own ether of detachment Tim. The gospel, we’re told, is that his playing tastes are so refined and his creative antennae so delicate that he must not tackle, track back or resolutely withstand a sturdy challenge. All those chores are for the plebeians. Forgive my uncharacteristic sarcasm but I would willingly sacrifice Ozil, in his current form, for a structural rejig that will make Arsenal more compact and more durable. I fear that Wenger is too soft on Ozil and over-indulges him. In the right tactical structure, possibly with the German playing behind a front two and in front of a midfield three or a disciplined double defensive pivot, Ozil will regain his sparkle. Wenger, alas, is not given to such radical team engineering so I’m not holding my breath. As such, the genius of Ozil is seldom sighted and he increasingly resembles a real luxury…which is a pity.

    • Am I the only one who thinks Ozil looked really good playing up top with Alexis from September to early December?
      Since then, he sat out several games due to fitness and there’s only been two games where they’ve been back playing together up top after AW’s latest fling with Giroud. Give it time; no need for the jerky knees.

      Also, the constant, sneering ad hominems against Ozil’s defenders (we’re all deluded, precious snowflakes, don’t you know) is a little tiresome. Yes, Ozil has his legion of Arsenal fan defenders; he also has his legion of detractors. For every Ozil-loving keyboard warrior there seems to be two or three jumping at the chance to announce he’s overrated and to ridicule the keyboard warriors defending him (as if they’re the first one’s to ever make this observation). Maybe if every subpar Arsenal performance wasn’t an excuse to lay the blame at the feet of Mesut (everyone gets in on the act, from the neanderthals on Arsenal Fan TV to the more refined folks on here), then those of us who defend him wouldn’t be so touchy.

      I happen to love when a player takes care of the ball with a good touch and good decision making (not for the sake of it, but for the sake of getting upfield into dangerous attacking positions), especially because these little moments in a game often seem to go unnoticed by most other fans. I don’t say this to suggest I’m especially brilliant at watching football, it’s just that I’m always genuinely taken aback by how what I see isn’t appreciated by others. Ozil performs this role in the team all the time. I also hate when a player ruins a promising attack by coughing the ball up when a simple pass was on (either by dribbling too long, or by forcing a pass that was never on). Alexis does this ALL THE BLOODY TIME. Other people absolutely HATE when Ozil doesn’t jump up and challenge a defender for a long ball, but does his back-turny thingy (which, admittedly, is a bit craven, but why do the refs always assume this is a foul?), or doesn’t go in hard enough to win the ball for their tastes. I’m not going to argue that one is a worse habit than the other; I just would like to see a bit of consistency in how we criticize players, or at least an admission that what we choose to criticize most is often a matter of taste.
      Suarez may have coughed the ball up just as badly or worse than Alexis does–I didn’t watch Liverpool enough to notice (interestingly, he was not as good in 2012-13 than in 2013-14, as I recall). What I noticed was that in what seemed like almost every game in 2013-14, he did something absolutely brilliant to win his team the game. So it makes sense that he’s forgiven for his wastefulness. I don’t think Sanchez is as consistently brilliant as Suarez was/is (I also still think Suarez is the more natural centre forward, both in terms of his size and being a more natural goal poacher), but when Alexis does brilliant stuff, I forgive him the wastefulness. This makes sense. But when he’s less brilliant (as he has been lately), let’s not pretend that his weaknesses don’t have a significantly negative effect on the team’s performances.

      • PFo, you have highlighted my mind. Sanchez wastefulness always cost us what could have lead to a goal. His hollywood dribbling allows teams to re-group and defend against us. He only pass if it will be an assist, or if it is Ozil. I also noticed that Ozil and Sanchez hardly pass the ball to Theo Walcott. Anyone who cares should watch all our matches this season where the trio played together. Walcot goals always come from defenders. Possibly that is part of the reason Ozil is not getting enough assist. Always looking out for Sanchez. If this carcus stuff is what these guys were exhibiting, I would gladly like to loose both Ozil and Sanchez. As for Sanchez, it is arsenal that polish him into what he is now. People should stop thinking without him we cannot survive. At least he was injured last year and we were top of the league. When he returned from injury, we loose plenty points. By the way, 7am kickoff, stop comparing him to Suarez. The difference is clear. Suarez will win you matches that are destined to be lost, Sancez will not. Sanchez need his teamate to score, Suarez will score out of no chance. The differences are numerous. Problem with we fans is we have double standard in our judgement. Imagine Walcott or Charmberlin being that wasteful? Fans will slaughter them. But it is okay if it is Sanchez. I pray this our own Sanchez will just have 2 month injury so that fans eyes will be open. We can survive without him

      • You’re trying to tell me that the guy who has scored or assisted in 13 of the last 15 games is in a slump?

        I wish I had a scratchy head emoji for this.

        • I didn’t use the word slump. I said, he’s been “less brilliant” (hardly a damning criticism!). Are you really going to tell me that he was very good against e.g. Watford, Chelsea, or Hull??

          The very fact that he was average against Hull (says me, but are you really going to claim otherwise?! insert scratchy head emoji here) and yet the stats show he scored two goals, just establishes (as if we needed this established) that stats don’t tell the whole story. His first goal was a (perfectly legitimate but) fortuitous ricochet, and his second was a poorly taken penalty.

  3. You can call me stupid (by all means lol) but ball dispossession with Suarez was never an issue for us (I’m an LFC fan). The guy took calculated risks and they clearly paid off as his incredible goals and, more notably, assists ratio in his last two LFC seasons demonstrate. Note that he’s racked up an insane number of assists for Barca considering he’s now playing as an out-and-out 9.

    I like Sanchez, I really do. To me, he seems like a quicker, slightly less physical, yet more nimble Suarez. But Suarez just has that ruthlessness and speed of thought that really puts him in a different bracket. He has become a big-match player over the years, being the difference in so many matches now. I honestly think you guys would’ve won the league with him lol – you’ve only got to look at how his signing has impacted post-Guardiola Barcelona.

    • I don’t know if we would have won the League with him, we didn’t have Ozil then and Arsenal have never shown a propensity to spend more than they need to to get the pieces around him to make him successful. Plus he always takes a year or more to bed in. Then there is the little fact that we should have won the league last year and this year we have a guy who is going to approach Suarez-like numbers or better and we are miles away from winning the league. So, I think the idea that we would have won the league with Suarez is a definite “I doubt it.”

  4. the only people who typically have high passing percentages are defenders and defensive midfielders. why? if they lose the ball in that area of the field, the team is likely in big trouble so they take more safe, high-percentage passes. however, it’s the attacking player’s role to take risks, create chances, and score goals. you can’t score goals by being an exceptionally safe passer of the ball. that turnover stat means nothing to me.

    the biggest difference between suarez and sanchez is that suarez is a proper center forward while sanchez is impersonating a center forward. it’s not sanchez’ fault; he is who he is. arsenal have needed a center forward since van persie left so the suarez preference was not difficult to appreciate. sanchez doesn’t even play center forward for his country. he’s on record saying he’s watched videos to try and learn the position. under those circumstances, he’s been absolutely outstanding. it’s a bit unfair to compare him to, arguably, the best center forward in the world.

    • “the only people who typically have high passing percentages are defenders and defensive midfielders.”

      And Mesut Ozil!

  5. one option i still believe would prove very intriguing is alexis in the hole behind giroud. it’s not so much that i’d like to see ozil dropped but i believe alexis playing as a second striker/attacking midfield would allow him to still be a potent goal threat but also make arsenal more solid defensively in midfield. likewise, arsenal would still have good penetration and an aerial threat from a proper center forward. there were so many times on saturday, among other games, that arsenal had plenty of players forward but nobody near the goal. giroud wants to be that guy near the goal and he’s an incredibly dangerous goal threat in those positions.

    ironically, i believe the person that would benefit most from alexis being in the 10 spot behind giroud is whoever is playing as the 8. that might be ramsey, chamberlain, or whomever else. alexis would draw so much attention with his dribbles that the space behind him would be prime real estate. not to mention, you’ve still got theo’s speed and iwobi’s dribbles. boys, that’s a problem for any defense. the last time arsenal had a player that liked to go by people playing as a #10, they almost won the league. hleb scared the piss out of every team arsenal faced and fabregas put up career numbers in goals and assists that year. chelsea has a dribbler behind a center forward and they’re pretty good. i’d love to see it.

    • I don’t like the idea of Giroud + Sanchez because they both like to come short to the ball and Giroud doesn’t have the quickness to combine with Sanchez on the break. Ozil will run the channels and find the space Sanchez leaves and has the quickness to combine with him too. It makes us a fundamentally different team when Giroud plays and not in a good way in my opinion. What makes Ozil-Sanchez a great duo is that they can both pop up anywhere and set up each other or someone else; they move quickly into each other’s range of passing and their interchange offers complete fluidity. With Giroud, we would lose that in favor of a comparatively static lightning rod for the ball.

      I do think experimenting with a more “tigerish” #10 has merit, especially if we intend to pursue a pressing team ethos, but we must preserve the quickness and mobility which has underlined our finest performances. Furthermore, who has the capacity to supplant Ozil in the current group? Probably only Sanchez himself, which would rob us of our best CF in turn. A Welbeck/Sanchez duopoly may have the legs if Danny can stay fit and would likely be the way the team gravitates in a post-Ozil world; however it’s tough to argue benching Mesut in favor of Danny and would be a powerful statement from the manager. Even further, Danny’s comparative lack of creativity would place the onus on players further back but with center midfield such a mess at the moment, who can we count on to deliver the passes? Both players would revert to type: Danny would run the channels, Alexis would naturally play deeper, and we would not derive the same benefit from his front line pressing of opponents that I’m not convinced Danny can replicate. Nor am I sure that Danny can replicate Alexis’ conversion rate in front of goal and carry that burden.

      No, our two best players have to be the two furthest forward.

      • This. Plus, the best reason not to start with a Giroud-Sanchez partnership: Giroud is not one of our best players and shouldn’t be in our preferred starting 11, period.

      • i seem to remember giroud scoring a scorpion kick not too long ago during a counter attack while linking up with alexis. in theory, your points are valid concerning giroud possibly attenuating the fluidity of the counter attack but i don’t think so in reality. besides, in most games, arsenal dominate possession.

        giroud likes to stay higher up the pitch. when he does drop, that’s typically a tactical ploy to try and pull defenders with him. if he pulls them high enough, he makes space for the likes of theo, ox, and alexis to counter. as a center forward, giroud can facilitate the arsenal attack even when he doesn’t have the ball. alexis needs the ball.

        another problem with no giroud up top is arsenal don’t always have good penetration in central areas. as alexis drifts, there’s simply no one there. it’s nice being kinetic but the mobility needs to have balance. besides giroud, no one else wants to play with their back to goal. i think it’s imperative to play with giroud at center forward when arsenal plays teams that like to sit deep.

        i think the biggest impediment to what i’ve suggested is that alexis really likes to play with ozil. also, this may just be me, but he doesn’t seem to like to play with walcott. it seems like he would rather look for another option before playing the ball to theo. the cross that lead to the penalty on saturday; would alexis play that ball to walcott if the game was on the line?

        • I agree with your third paragraph, but that’s more an argument to buy another “true” center forward (or back Perez or Welbeck to become our star CF) than to put our faith in Giroud. We know what we’re getting with Giroud, both the good and the bad. We’ve seen it before, for several seasons in which he was the main man up top, and in my opinion, it’s simply not good enough. He’s a fantastic Plan B (I’ve always hated that term), but he’s not what we need to press on to the next level in the PL and CL (I realize I’m just making assertions not arguments, but this just seems very obvious to me).

          • i’m obviously not talking about unicorns and mermaids but what arsenal currently have available. lucas is not a center forward. welbeck might be an option but he’s not been fit. giroud is the best center forward option at arsenal right now.

          • Perez played as a centre forward in la liga last year.
            if Giroud is our best/only centre forward option, then I think our best option is to play without a centre forward…
            Having Giroud to come off the bench is great, mind.

        • If you look at the average position maps, Giroud is almost always more withdrawn on average than the wide forwards he plays with, be that Alexis, Walcott or whomever. The idea of him slowing down the counter is hard to debate. He may be able to bounce a pass off to an onrushing player but he doesn’t have the quickness to recover from that position and get into the box in time for the final ball. That’s just not who he is, but the rest of Arsenal is set up to maximize those chances. Likewise without the ball he just doesn’t have the energy to pressurize CB’s and force bad passes like Sanchez does. I do agree with the things you say he does well and I think he’s a very valuable player. I just think for Arsenal to be successful he cannot be our main center forward. Think about the Hull game and how many breakaway chances we had. Could you see Giroud enhancing that?

    • Also, comparing Giroud-Sanchez to Costa-Hazard is very unflattering for our guys: Giroud is a lamppost while Costa is extremely mobile and good with the ball at his feet for a big man, and while Sanchez is a very good dribbler, Hazard is at another level (I can only think of Messi in all of world football who’s as dangerous on the dribble; and maybe Neymar?).

      • I looked into who the most dribble happy players are. Hazard’s 4.6 dribbles per game is just obscene. The only players who better him are Neymar (5.0) and… you’ll never guess the second. It’s Adama Traore (of Middlesboro, an unsustainable 5.6), and I’m pretty sure all of those dribbles came in that one game against Arsenal.

        The PL seems to be a very dribble happy league in general which suggests teams don’t defend that well. After Neymar, the next most dribbly player in La Liga is Messi, all the way down to 3.3 per game. That’s less than Sofiane Boufal or Wilf Zaha. The most dribbly player in the Bundesliga is Ousemane Dembele at 3.5 and in Italy it’s Lazio’s Felipe Anderson, also at 3.5.

        By the way I completely agree Diego Costa and Giroud have virtually nothing in common other than playing the same nominal position.

      • my comparison wasn’t to analogize costa to giroud or hazard to alexis but to share the idea of having a dribbler behind a center forward; the idea of midfielders trying to mark/defend against alexis while there are other moving parts in the arsenal attack.

        • Sure. I guess my objection just comes down to this: Ozil and Sanchez looked like they really worked well together for most of the fall and into December, before the disastrous Everton-City week, which can hardly be blamed entirely on them (the main problems, once again, being an inability to deal with the press when we try to build from deep). This was surprising to me, because a) I was one of those who thought Sanchez could never become “our Suarez”, and b) Ozil surprised me with how well he adapted his game by making dangerous runs in behind and finishing off moves. But it worked pretty well. Obviously it’s not perfect, but it seems to me that it’s easily the best we have. We played some of the best stuff we have in years in the autumn, and while most of that was before Santi’s injury, as Xhaka grew into the team we looked similarly good in patches up until mid December. At that point Giroud came back into the team, among other things, and we haven’t really looked the same since (I’m not laying this at the feet of Giroud, as we’ve had a lot of other injuries that have disrupted the team’s rhythm). We’ve now played just two games with Ozil and Sanchez back in the middle. It hasn’t gone great, but let’s not give up so quickly on what was working really well quite recently. Also, Xhaka’s coming back, and the Ox is looking rejuvenated playing in something resembling the “Santi role” in the middle, so we may be able to finally sort out our disfunction in deep lying midfield in time for the big run-in in the league and cups. Giroud isn’t one of our very best players, so putting him back into the side in order to radically rejig the structure of the team seems an unnecessarily radical move at this stage of the season. You’re essentially saying you’d prefer to have Giroud replace Ozil in the starting lineup, which–in spite of Tim’s Ozil hate of late–doesn’t seem like a smart move to me.

          • your memory is failing you, bro. arsenal had plenty of games this autumn where they won games they deserved to draw. commentators called it “a new mental strength”. i called it luck but hey, you’ve got to make your luck. besides, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

            i’m not saying i’d prefer giroud to ozil. i’m saying i’d like to see alexis as a 10 instead of ozil. i think it could have a profound affect on arsenal’s play having alexis’ work rate and dribbling in midfield and behind a center forward compared to ozil. likewise, in the first sentence of my post, i introduced this as an intriguing idea, not a declaration of a new way forward.

            lastly, i agree that giroud is not one of the best players. however, he is the best center forward at arsenal. with respect, he’s forgotten more about playing center forward than alexis knows. last summer, every time griezmann did something good, it was because giroud did something good first; every single time. i’ve been saying arsenal needed an upgrade to giroud ever since he got to arsenal. however, he’s still at arsenal and he’s the best center forward option they have.

  6. I think many of the above comments are reducible, in essence, to one thing: Arsenal doesn’t have a clear tactical structure that consistently maximizes the strengths of its best players and minimizes their weaknesses. That’s the major difference between Chelsea on the one hand, and Arsenal and the other “contenders” on the other. Imagine a playing style that has made solid/decent players like Moses, Alonso and Cahill look quite good, and made the error-prone Luiz look stellar. That’s what a TEAM looks like. Arsenal and the rest of the chasing pack (with the exception of Spurs) don’t consistently look like teams. That’s partly down to coaching and partly down to injuries and the inconsistency in team selection that they inevitably bring.

    • I know you mentioned injuries, but it has to be more than a passing mention. And coaching. I think while that may be true to an extent, it also seems to me that it is a consequence of an attacking philosophy that a team can appear disjointed if the players don’t perform. Guardiola’s City have looked really disjointed and defensively suspect at times. But we seem to assign that to the players than a lack of coaching because of his record. Plus he wrote a book talking about his thought process so it’s clear he has a tactical plan (or 10).

      Arsenal started the season with two tactical tweaks that were widely mocked even on here. Playing Coquelin higher up and Santi deeper, and playing Alexis as striker instead of Giroud. We also bought Xhaka to provide the Arteta replacement we thought we needed to partner Ramsey, both of whom were at the Euros and so were integrated slowly (injury in Ramsey’s case) Plus, Ozil was pushing higher up and was made responsible for scoring more goals.

      I’d argue all those tweaks worked well and gave us a renewed identity. But without Santi, without Ramsey, and with Xhaka twice sent off for yellow card fouls, the midfield understandably suffered. In the time that Xhaka and Ramsey played together (the midfield plan B) I felt we looked better and more comfortable even defensively.

      What is the workaround? Since the manager has to find it. It seems that the Ox is stepping up to fulfill some of the midfield duties of both Santi (with his dribbling) and Xhaka (long passes)

      Could it have been sooner/ better planned? Sure (especially by not agreeing to send Wilshere on loan without bringing in another technical midfielder). But I disagree that we lack a clear identity. Wenger’s always focused more on teamwork than on an individual. He’s obsessed by it. In fact, I’d argue no other team absorbs the loss through injury to their players as well as Arsenal do. Santi/Ramsey/Xhaka. Take the equivalent away from Chelsea or Spurs and I reckon they’d be no better, more likely worse off, in terms of both playing style and results.

      • i don’t agree with your notion that being an attacking side perpetuates a team looking disjointed. there are plenty of attacking teams that look very cohesive. as far as blaming man city’s defenders instead of pep goes, the consensus has been over the past 5 or so years that when kompany is unavailable, their defense looks suspect. that’s nothing new.

        what else isn’t new is the tweaks you speak of. santi playing deeper than coquelin happened like two years ago and was clearly established before they both went down with injury last season. alexis playing center forward happened because arsenal started the season with giroud and welbeck injured; that change was born of necessity, not a brilliant plan.

        tochukwu is absolutely right. arsenal have no clearly identifiable style of play. it’s like they draw it up in the sand: ozil, go be brilliant- you too, alexis- everyone else, help them- on three- ready, break! arsenal are a bunch of individual operators. they’re talented and giving their all but if you say you see clear identity or direction to the way that arsenal play, you see something that i do not.

        • I didn’t say all attacking teams look disjointed. Just that an attack oriented team is more likely to look lost than a defense oriented team, if it is missing key players, or they play poorly.

          Alexis playing up top may have been borne out of necessity, not just of Giroud and Welbeck being unavailable, but also of being unable to sign a striker despite attempts to do so. So what? Aren’t tactics supposed to be grounded in pragmatism?

          Coq playing as far upfield as he did was absolutely new. As was the fact that we actually had two separate midfield combos planned.

          I agree we play of late like we have no identity. But I think injuries have more to do with that than fans are willing to accede, mainly because everyone’s tired of blaming injuries over all these years.

          But genuine question. What would you like to see as signs of Arsenal having an identity?

  7. A centre forward is basically the man who knows when and where to be in the box at the critical moment. Sanchez is not a CF though he is a good scorer of goals. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a CF and a good scorer of goals around him. Sanchez at #10 looks it to me. Giroud is a CF but outside the box, you can as well just play me. Perez too is a CF and can contribute outside of the box. He is my man at #9 with Sanchez at #10. But I hesitate.

    There are essentially two types of minds. The mind that can process only one thing at a time, and the one that is capable of processing several things at the same time. Sanchez belongs to the former, Ozil belongs to the latter. In everyday parlance this is referred to as speed of thought. Sanchez will do his thing first, create a gap, look up, see before he can lay his pass. To Ozil, it’s all one single drama.

    In the central areas of #10, time is at a premium compared to the wide areas. In the wide areas Sanchez has the time to pause, look, see and pass. Put him in the more congested central areas and he might be stuck with his twists and turns. That is my fear for Sanchez at #10. The proof of the pudding they say is in the eating. Give it a trial.

    • fair point about alexis perhaps struggling playing in a central role. you have to consider whenever he’s assumed positions in central areas, he doesn’t look overwhelmed. conventional wisdom says he’s more likely to shine and be more effective than as a center forward/false nine. there’s only one way to find out.

      as far as lucas at center forward, i’ll have to take your word that he can play center forward; i didn’t watch him play at depor. he looks more like a striker to me than a center forward.

  8. Ozil is a unique player. Exquisite, top class but……. Other players of his ilk are able to drag their teams up. Ozil is in perfect synchrony with the quality around him. Give him sunlight and he starts blooming. Shut him up in a dark room, and he goes anemic. The first rays of the sun is accepting Ozil for what he is. Don’t try to change him, and don’t expect him to change others or the team. Don’t ask him to score more goals. Don’t tell him to engage in areal battles. He demands… no, no, no… he does not demand, he craves for only one thing, intelligent technical players around him. That’s his habitat. Give him that and just let him be.

    • ozil is an exceptional talent, indeed. that poses this question: should his talent give him carte blanche to do whatever he likes? after all, this is a team sport. ozil defends for germany so he can defend for arsenal as well. you can’t just do random, though. if he’s struggling, he needs direction and that duty rests with the manager. the other options are change the team to cater to his strengths/weaknesses or to drop him. that’s on the manager, too.

  9. Tim, I enjoy your work a lot but I often get the feeling that you do have your favourites and ones you aren’t that smitten by. I get that. I do too. But why this attempt to dismiss some players and what they do? I didn’t comment when you went hard on Elneny because I felt he was just a limited player with a great heart. Not his fault. But when you are trying to dismiss Ozil, it just becomes ridiculous.

    “So, I guess what he does is recycle possession, occasionally pick out the nifty pass, and take set pieces. Cool.”

    Is that all you can find when you watch Arsenal play with Ozil? I expected something better from someone who often produces extremely good content.

    To start with, Ozil has had an average season. And that’s down to Wenger. He wants Ozil to play a no.10 role and dovetail with Sanchez upfront. Ozil is not a natural runner off the ball but when you have a possession hungry striker like Alexis, Ozil’s been forced to adapt his game. And rightly so because Alexis gives us such attacking threat upfront. But Ozil isn’t doing what he does best and that has an effect.

    But he still provides a lot of efficiency in the attacking third that very few players in the world are capable of. It was the main reason he played almost every minute of Germany’s WC campaign. He was played out wide as Low went for a midfield trio but still wanted Ozil’s efficiency upfront. he had only 1 goal and 1 assist that campaign but he was just so vital to how they functioned as an attacking unit. And Low was able to get him to do his defensive work without it creating a problem for the full back.

    All I get when I see Arsenal play now is that we have two attacking players who are given almost free reign. I don’t see the tactical instructions for Alexis and Ozil. The onus is on our wide players to work hard and help out the midfield duo and I’ve noticed we often have a very simple 4-4-1-1 defensive shape. That would work if we had the two players at top playing with clear instructions. Both Alexis and Ozil defend when they want, when they make a mistake but the game just passes by them as we don’t have an organised press as well.

    So when you have our front two without detailed instructions both in attack and defence and add the fact that Ozil is also playing a game that’s not natural for him, there has got to be a drop in performance. Alexis has benefited from this and Ozil has suffered. We can’t deal with a press as well and all these problems negate what Ozil does. Ozil at Chelsea often had to protect the ball for long stretches as we had no plan to create passing options for the player in possession. The few times Ozil successfully evaded defenders, we were stationary without any runners. How do you expect him to succeed when we are tactically unprepared to deal with opponents as well as implement our own plans.

    Both Alexis and ozil have the talent to overcome all this when playing against mediocre opposition. Come the big games and neither is able to impact games. You see all our good performances against big teams recently and you’ll see that both Alexis and Ozil have good games. And in most of our poor performances, both have below par performances. Alexis’s hustle and style makes it more palatable that ozil’s languid style which often looks like a lack of effort.

    • Interesting theory that Özil is getting less of the ball now that Alexis is ball hogging. But… His passes per game are down just 3 from last season and just 1.6 from the season before. It’s basically looking like he’ had one good season with Arsenal. Actually, one good half season with Arsenal. I don’t agree that this is down to Wenger. This is down to Ozil, he hasn’t consistently produced greatness at Arsenal the way that others have.

      As for me not knowing what Ozil does, I know exactly what he does: he’s the kind of player who vacates space when needed, and occupies space when needed. He’s also incredibly good in possession and has an eye for the incisive pass through. But what he’s best at is crossing the ball. Last season 9 of his 19 assists were from crosses and an additional 5 were from set plays. Now that Giroud is no longer there as a target man, Ozil isn’t producing as much. (By the way, Ozil actually IS a natural runner off the ball, it’s one of his most prodigious talents.)

      So, my analysis is spot on. What he does is recycle possession, make the occasional spectacular pass (which is magical to be fair!), and take set plays.

      I’m sorry you don’t like that I don’t appreciate Ozil enough for you. I just think he’s replaceable. There are a glut of young attacking midfielders in the world right now. We can get someone in there who does what Ozil does (plus a little more) fairly easily.

      Anyway, thanks for suffering through my writing that you don’t like. If you prefer, ignore my comments, I tend to sort of “Trump” ideas in the comments because I don’t have anyone else to talk to about these things.

      • Tim…

        He goes out of his way to tell you he likes your writing. His reply is thoughtful and considerate and he makes good points with which you more or less agree. Where you disagree is how “good” all of this makes Ozil which to me is irrelevant because it’s basically an argument about the value of his contract. Whatever you may think about what he is “worth” financially, I tend to think the notion of replacing him with any number of up and coming talents is outrageous and, like Vivek, I’m constantly surprised by, despite your nuanced understanding of the game, how reductionist you can be at times. Following that up with lines like “So, my analysis is spot on” doesn’t exactly reinforce the image of someone who differing opinions of others. After that, telling him not to read your blog if he disagrees is downright offensive.

        • I feel like every now and then something that’s been bothering Tim or has been on his mind for a while sort of reaches a breaking point and Tim will write something that seems overly cynical and a bit angry. They’re usually still backed up with stats and examples and aren’t just gut feelings but Tim does seem a little less willing to compromise on those occasions. It’s almost like a different Tim appears for a while.

          And I think that’s fine (though Tim doesn’t need my approval or anything). If there’s stuff Tim wants to just have a good moan about on occasion and be a bit cynical (about football, ha) then I can accept that because it’s so rare and it often still leads to interesting debate amongst the comments even if Tim himself seems less open to be swayed by positives on those occasions.

          Even this article has led to interesting thoughts and perspectives on Ozil being discussed and clarified.

          I don’t want to change the topic but I didn’t see the game and I’m curious. What led to Barcelona’s heavy defeat last night?

          • It was rare before the Chelsea game. Since then he’s been on a bit of a tear. First Wenger, then Mustafi, now Ozil. I think the Chelsea game was a real gut punch for all of us but he took it especially hard.

            I saw bits of Barca vs PSG. It was like many Arsenal defeats I’ve seen; the other team was nippier and faster, they hassled Barca (notably, Messi) into coughing up the ball in dangerous areas, then created high leverage situations in transitions. It was a 4-3-3 with Matuidi-Veratti-Rabiot and it was the best game I’ve ever seen Rabiot play, by far. Also I didn’t realize PSG had bought Draxler. He scored the second on a breakaway after Messi was caught on the ball and Alba had gone too far forward on the overlap, which left Barca’s left flank completely unguarded.

  10. I agree with you Joshuad in the sense that if Ozil cannot be provided with his right environmental he should be treated as any other player. But give him what he needs and he would give the best when he is trusted with a blank cheque.
    This is also agreeing with you Vivek that in the final analysis it’s down to Wenger.

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