Alexis’s turnovers are not the problem

I don’t know when this happened but it seems like most things in the world suddenly “divide opinion”. You have to be on one side or the other on every issue. This cuts across all the hot button issues and even silly things: Trump, Brexit, abortion, gun control, immigration, climate change, Arsene Wenger, and whether Alexis Sanchez (insert any Arsenal player) is any good at football. Like trench warfare each side is dug in a mile apart and anyone foolish enough to head out into No Man’s Land is going to get shot to pieces by both sides.

Alexis Sanchez is a great football player and this season his only flaw is that he’s turning the ball over at a rate of about 5.9 times per 90 minutes. People complain about this turnover rate and it is frustrating to watch a team build up play only to lose the ball. We fans want every possession to result in a shot. On target. And hopefully it results in a goal. 300 goals per game. Anything less is a failure.

But this turnover rate for Alexis isn’t even a career high. While at Udinese, Alexis turned the ball over 8.7 times per 90. And then there is the weird fact that while at Barcelona Alexis turned the ball over just 3.3 times per 90. So, which Alexis is the real Alexis?

 Both. None. It depends. And now I’m in No Man’s Land.

Alexis turns the ball over because of the role he’s playing at Arsenal. Wenger has Alexis attacking his opponents off the dribble. Wenger has also taken the creative duties away from Özil and handed them to Alexis. This means that Alexis has more time on the ball, more time to be dispossessed, more touches, and more chances to turn the ball over. So it has come to pass that the main critique of Alexis Sanchez is that he turns the ball over too much and that his turnovers set up opposition counter attacks.

It’s true. He has the most errors of any player on the team, 3. Three times he made a mistake and the opposition got a shot off because of his mistake. They didn’t score but they got a shot.

Another criticism of Alexis is that he turns the ball over in his own half. This isn’t one of the stock stats on Squawka or Whoscored so I actually had to comb through every single Arsenal match this season and look at the turnovers data. I found out that in terms of total turnovers in the Arsenal half, Alexis Sanchez has 45 this season. That’s 10 more than the second most player on this Arsenal team, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and 11 more than Mr. Possession Mesut Özil.

In terms of bulk numbers, Alexis turns the ball over in his own half more than any other Arsenal player. However, that number of turnovers by Ox should be a surprise to you. Ox hasn’t played that much this season and for him to have just 10 fewer turnovers in his own half than Alexis means that when he’s on the pitch he’s turning the ball over in his own half a lot.

When we adjust for per 90 stats, in other words we take the total number of minutes played divided by 90, the players with the most turnovers in their own half are…

Giroud with 1.42 per90, Ox 1.29 per90, Iwobi 1.19, Cazorla 1.16, Alexis 1.06, Coquelin 1.06, and Walcott 1.03.

Here is all of the data in a public spreadsheet:

That Coquelin number is a massive problem. A team’s defensive midfielder should not be turning the ball over in his own half once per game. Mikel Arteta in 2013/14 averaged 0.9 turnovers per 90 across the entire pitch for Arsenal. I don’t know how many of those were in his own half because I didn’t track that stat back then but my guess would be less than half.

Arsenal are averaging 8.5 turnovers in their own half per game. Alexis is 1 of those per game but that means that there are 7 other players of the 11 who are turning the ball over in their own half. And if you look at the dataset (embedded above) you’ll notice that good teams, like Liverpool, PSG, Everton, etc. force Arsenal into a lot of turnovers in our own half.

Teams know that if they press us high up the pitch, we will concede possession. And that if they press us high up the pitch we can’t get the ball out of our own half. The most frustrating games to watch this season, for Arsenal supporters, have to be both PSG matches, that second leg against Basel, the loss to Everton, both Liverpool games, and both Bayern matches. The hallmark of those contests is that they all had the most turnovers in Arsenal’s defensive half for this season.

Another trend I noticed is that in the first half of the season, when Arsenal were still riding high, Alexis wasn’t as guilty of turning the ball over in his own half as he has been in this second half of the season. In the first 24 matches, Alexis turned the ball over in his own half just 17 times. That includes 9 turnovers in just two matches: against PSG and Everton. Alexis had just 8 turnovers in his own half in the other 22 matches. In the second half of the season the Arsenal/Alexis problem has simply exploded and Alexis has 28 turnovers in the final 24 matches. That includes a match against Man City where he turned the ball over 6 times in his own half.

Alexis is collecting the ball deeper and teams are targeting him for pressure. Why?

Those two matches against PSG and Everton early on in the season were also watershed matches in that Arsenal had a season high 19 turnovers in our own half. I suspect that intelligent managers watched those games and realized that pressing Arsenal in their own half would bear fruit. Thus we see a change in Man City and other teams, pressing Arsenal high up the pitch and forcing turnovers in the Arsenal defensive end. Especially pressing Alexis.

Alexis will get the blame here. Fans will say “he holds on to the ball too much” and they are correct. Alexis is trying to do too much with the ball. But the data shows that tactically Arsenal simply can’t handle the press. Watford forced 12 turnovers in the Arsenal half and won that match. Crystal Palace beat Arsenal and forced 12 turnovers in the Arsenal half. And Alexis had 5 of those 24 turnovers. He was 5/24ths guilty.

But Preston also forced Arsenal to concede possession 13 times in our own half. Alexis didn’t play in that match and fans will recall that was a close game, far too close for comfort.

When teams don’t force Arsenal into turnovers in their own half, Arsenal gets a result. Man U only forced 3 turnovers in the Arsenal half, inviting pressure instead of trying to win the ball back, and as a result Arsenal got their first win against a Mourinho side in League play. Alexis had a whopping 7 turnovers in that Man U match, but 6 of them were in the Man U end of the pitch.

Mourinho got his tactics wrong, instead of inviting Arsenal to attack and parking the bus, the right thing to do is press them high up the pitch. Arsenal don’t have the talent to pass their way around the opposition and haven’t had the talent for years.

Alexis is the obvious culprit. He’s the focal point of Arsenal’s attack, he gets the ball constantly, he plays more than any other player, and he is, of course, also guilty of turning the ball over. When you watch a game you will see Alexis turning the ball over because he’s constantly in possession. But Alexis is only 1/10th of the problem. There are 10 players who average between 0.9 and 1.4 turnovers in their own half per 90: Giroud, Ox, Iwobi, Cazorla, Alexis, Coq, Walcott, Bellerin, Ozil and Xhaka.

That’s down to the manager and the players. Not just one guy.

And there I am in No Man’s Land, fire away.

Qq

39 Comments on Alexis’s turnovers are not the problem

  1. Along with everything else you describe, I think you can add that he’s trying to do everything himself. Someone said a few weeks ago that when a team is performing poorly, players start playing for themselves, and with a player already as individualistic as Alexis, it’s inevitable he’s going to lose possession more / hold on to the ball more when trying to do it all on his own. With greater belief in the team, and better results, I think we’ll see his dispossession stats drop. Maybe.

    Also, Southampton. Predictions?

    • My prediction is that I’ll be watching the Champions League match. Southampton will press Arsenal high and win.

  2. Alexis has been accused of not being a team player. I can understand why. The balance between having a unique individual ability, and playing within the team is a tough one to maintain. (Often fans are guilty of focusing on the individual as well)

    But I had a good look at all his stats (except this one about our half. Thanks Tim) and my conclusion was that Alexis is carrying our offense, and needs help in attack. He’s doing too much because he’s being forced to.

    I still think it is no accident that teams are pressing us with greater reward without Santi in the middle. Until then, Alexis was playing higher up and the team could keep possession long enough to find him.

    So basically, Alexis is not the problem. It is the fact that our attack and midfield aren’t doing enough. Also, I think fatigue is a factor. The guy has played non stop football for the 3 years we’ve had him. He’s not just losing the ball. He’s giving it away on simple, easy passes, which is uncharacteristic.

    With the change in formation though, we seem to have at least better security even when we cough up the ball, and it seems to have given back some confidence to players like Ramsey and Xhaka. So maybe Alexis can concentrate more on staying higher up the field.

    • The main feature of Alexis’ game outside of goal-scoring is dropping deep with the ball and trying to pick out runners with lofted balls or through-passes, or his patented standing still in wide areas and waiting to pick out midfielders running into the box.

      So the idea that our leading assist-maker “plays for himself” doesn’t hold a solitary drop of water. It’s kind of a lazy cliche like “the defenders were ball-watching” or “he won the tackle because he wanted it more”.

      I remember Thierry Henry drawing a similar flavour of criticism. Our bigger problems are: we don’t press as a unit, we don’t offer teammates passing lanes so that we can play one-touch, and we attack with too many players who get in each others way as we saw repeatedly last night.

      • I didn’t say that criticism was correct. Merely that I can understand why it’s made. (Always demanding the ball and then losing it – often not even trying a killer pass or anything) But I guess it’s easier to dismiss an alternate viewpoint rather than try and understand it.

        As I said, Alexis is having to do it on his own in attack. Add another striker, and get Santi’s replacement in (which might allow us to go 433) and I think Alexis will end up being more efficient and effective too.

  3. Great, insightful analysis. Cheers.

    Not his fault he has been almost the only creator outlet since Christmas. Such a dreadful team to watch these days, boredom mixed with fear over how fragile we are in possession.

    Agree most people are too extreme In Their judgements of players but I maintain oxlade chamberlain is dire, as are Elneny and Gabriel. Get rid please.

    • Ox is an excellent player. Elneny is a very good one. Gabriel is a bum, but at least he’s a well-meaning bum. Alexis is a poisonous disgrace and must be dumped this Summer for whatever price we can get.

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how people will absolve Alexis for everything. He misses a sitter or loses possession, and #ArsenalTwitter is all “Unlucky Alexis.” But Giroud misses a considerably closer shot, and it’s “FFS Giroud.”

    The two worst signings Arsene Wenger has ever made, divided by hype, are Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. No two signings were more supposed to win us the League. Instead, they have given Arsene his 1st-ever season finishing behind Tottenham, and are likely to also give him his 1st-ever season (at Arsenal, anyway) finishing outside of UEFA Champions League qualification.

    Bottom line: Cech is washed-up, and is giving up goals that even Manuel Freakin Almunia, the Clown himself, would have stopped; and Alexis is a Barcelona double agent, designed, like Cesc Fabregas before him, to destabilize Arsenal, and mission accomplished. I warned people before they were signed that signing them would be bad ideas, and I have been proven right. Meanwhile, Wojciech Szczesny has AS Roma in 2nd place — 1st, if you presume that Juventus has bribed officials again.

    They, not Wenger, need to go. We need to dump Cech and Alexis, bring back Szczesny, and sign a player with Alexis’ talent but not his attitude.

    The laugh on our bench against Bayern is less forgivable than anything done by Cole, Hleb, Adebayor, Fabregas, Nasri, Gallas or van Persie. And certainly less forgivable than the letdowns given us by guys who were, at least, trying to help us, like Squillaci, Andre Santos, Chamakh and Gervinho.

    Alexis is a clubhouse cancer. Time for surgery.

  5. “No man’s land”?

    Tim, with all due respect, you’ve been banging on about how Alexis’s turnovers are to be expected from a creative, risk-taking forward, and so he shouldn’t really be faulted for them, for months now. The title of this post is “Alexis’s turnovers are not the problem.” In spite of your attempt to portray yourself as representing the only nuanced view on this issue, and those that disagree with you as about as reasonable as Trump supporters on twitter, I’d hardly describe your view as stepping bravely into no man’s land.

    No man’s land is acknowledging that Alexis’s selfishness and sloppiness with the ball REALLY ARE problems that, fairly consistently, hurt us on the pitch (you say at the end he’s 1/10th of the problem, but it’s clear from everything you’ve written here, and about this in the past, that you want to absolve him of blame as much as possible), yet also pointing out that a) the whole team has a problem with coughing up possession, especially when we’re pressed, and b) Alexis is also one of the best players in the league, and his significant offensive contributions make up for a great deal of his wastefulness. This seems like a pretty honest, balanced position to hold.

    In fact, if it’s just a matter of weighing his positive versus his negative contributions, Alexis obviously comes out well on the positive side (less so recently, as the team has struggled, though that’s true of all of them). Anyone who says otherwise is crazy. But the question is not, “does Alexis more than make up for his poor play with his good play, and is some of the former, perhaps, inevitable if we want the latter”? The question is, “could Alexis play better and/or slightly differently, and would his net positive contribution to the team’s play increase significantly as a result?” The testimony of my eyes tells me the answer to this question is “yes”.

    Of course he coughs the ball up sometimes because he’s taking risks, being creative, and “trying to make things happen,” which is to be commended. But only the most blinkered observer could claim that this explains all or almost all of his wastefulness. Here’s the thing: we’re not asking him to do something he can’t. It’s not like demanding that Per run fast or that Walcott develop great dribbling skills and awareness in tight areas. Alexis’s talent means he can be pretty much anything he wants to be on a football pitch. He’s shown that over his time at Arsenal. He surely can learn to be a little bit smarter and more careful with the ball, especially when we’re in promising attacking positions.

    That’s all us crazies in our trenches are saying.

    Otherwise, good, informative article about the team’s possession problems (agree about Coquelin being a problem in this regard). Thanks.

    • Also, I don’t think Arsene turned over creative responsibilities from Ozil to Alexis, as you’ve suggested on a number of occasions. I think in playing Alexis as a CF/”false 9″ with lots of freedom to drop deep to express himself (which was born at least somewhat out of desperation, after not buying a WC striker), this benefited Alexis more than Ozil, who had to adapt his play to make lots of off the ball runs in behind, etc. Still, it worked pretty well for the first third of the season. Alexis was getting the headlines, but Ozil was playing well, and selflessly.

      Since then, the Santi injury bit us hard, the whole team fell apart, Arsene chopped and changed and flailed around desperately looking for a formula that would bring back some good form, and Alexis more-or-less kept playing well (though not as well as some would have it) while Ozil has struggled until very recently (though not as much as some would have it; he also missed a bunch of games in the second half of the season to various ailments).

      So Alexis became the de facto “main man” creatively, but I don’t think this was intentional on Wenger’s part. It would be strange if it were. Surely a big team as starved for genuinely world class performances should be able to accommodate two top talents (whose skills are distinct but complementary) in its ranks!

    • “No man’s land is acknowledging that Alexis’s selfishness and sloppiness with the ball REALLY ARE problems that, fairly consistently, hurt us on the pitch”

      Nah, that’s your entrenched position. He turns the ball over, it could be a problem, but it’s not. The problem is that so many of Arsenal’s players are turning the ball over, especially deep in their own half. Xhaka and Coquelin are both part of that problem. But so is Bellerin and even the sainted Cazorla turned possession over in his own half, more than Alexis. Sorry if that’s not nuanced enough for you.

      • “Nah that’s your entrenched position.”

        How are we using the word “entrenched” here? If you mean, as in the article, that I’m taking up a position at one extreme, then that’s clearly not true, as I happily admit Alexis is one of the best players in the league and we’re lucky to have him, just don’t think that absolves him of all criticism. If by “entrenched” you mean I’m being overly stubborn and dogmatic, then the same could be said to you, since you’re refusing to bend at all in your position, not willing to countenance the thought that maybe, just maybe, it can be a problem that he loses the ball so much (in your article you kinda sorta do admit this, but now you’re flat out denying it).

        “He turns the ball over, it could be a problem, but it’s not.”
        And this is because, per minutes played, he doesn’t do it IN HIS OWN HALF, as much as a number of others? Doesn’t that look a little bit like you’re picking and choosing the data selectively to fit your argument? After all, who said that losing the ball in your own half is the only time it’s a problem??? Apparently because he gave the ball away a bunch against Man United in their half, and we still won that game, we should think it’s never a problem to lose the ball in the opponent’s half? (As it stands, this is not a very good argument.)

        Personally, I’ve never objected to his losing it because he does so in dangerous positions per se (though that can be a problem), just that he loses it when he need not, and that it often seems to scupper a promising attack (which, surprise surprise, typically happens in the other team’s half).

        But you know what, it’s really hard to judge when a player “should/could have prevented losing it by making a better decision” or “lost it in a way that scuppered a promising attack” because “better decision” and “promising attack” are judgments about which reasonable viewers can disagree, and at the very least you have to have watched (and ideally played) quite a bit of football to have a sense of these things. It’s not likely the stats folks are going to come up with a reliable measure of these scenarios, at least not one about which everyone could agree. We the viewers actually have to USE OUR EYES. It’s almost as if stats don’t tell us everything…

        From your article: “The most frustrating games to watch this season, for Arsenal supporters, have to be both PSG matches, that second leg against Basel, the loss to Everton, both Liverpool games, and both Bayern matches. The hallmark of those contests is that they all had the most turnovers in Arsenal’s defensive half for this season.”

        Huh??!? The home leg against PSG wasn’t great, but it was nowhere near the most frustrating, or worst, performances of the year. And we beat Basel 4-1 in the second leg, so…It’s almost as if turnovers in our own half don’t correlate perfectly with our worst or most frustrating games. I’d have put Spurs away, Man United away, Man City away, Bournemouth away (for 70 minutes), Palace away, West Brom away, and Watford home as all just as bad, or worse, performances than many of those you mention.

        Look, here’s my main point: I completely agree with you that we have a MASSIVE problem getting out of our half against high press teams (this is helped, but not solved, by Cazorla’s presence, and most definitely hindered by Coquelin’s). This is not Sanchez’s fault and he is certainly not the main culprit. There are several much worse offenders (though it’s not exactly their fault that many of them just aren’t that great on the ball, and certainly not nearly as good as Alexis, who therefore has less of an excuse). But the biggest offender is Arsene Wenger, who has consistently failed, for over two years now, to come up with a viable response to this strategy. More and more teams are finally catching on that this is the best way to screw with us. BUT THIS ISSUE IS ALMOST ENTIRELY INDEPENDENT OF THE QUESTION OF WHETHER ALEXIS COULD AND SHOULD DO A BETTER JOB OF TAKING CARE OF THE BALL ALL OVER THE PITCH. TO RESPOND TO THIS SECOND QUESTION BY ARGUING THAT OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS GIVING UP THE BALL IN OUR HALF TO HIGH PRESS TEAMS, AND THAT’S NOT ALEXIS’S FAULT, IS A COMPLETE NON SEQUITUR.

        (Sorry about the inherent rudeness of the caps. If I could use italics instead, I would. And you did invite us to fire away…)

  6. This was a terrific read.

    My theory on the trend of Alexis’ dispossessed stats is that he went from one club (Udine) that told him: here, take the ball and see what you can do with it. You and Dinatale are our offense. So, Alexis went straight at the opposition, and got it right enough times that it was successful.
    Then at Barcelona, it was the polar opposite. Suddenly he was the 5th-6th best player in Guardiola’s hyper-regimented buildup where losing the ball could get you shot by Carles Puyol’s cronies. So, he played a more disciplined game. Also, it’s pretty easy to keep the ball in Pep’s Barca. They as a team had it close to 70% of the time.
    Here at Arsenal, it’s been a mix of both but as results get worse, he trends closer and closer to that Udine brand hero-ball, trying to win games on his own. He’s our best player but that type of play is destructive not just in terms of the opportunities it leaves other teams but also in terms of how it affects our buildup and the type of football we want to play. He wants to win, passionately, and we need that kind of player on the roster, especially when that player has that kind of skillset. So it comes from a good place. He is not a “cancer.” But he does need to channel it better and that’s all mental.

    • In theory, yes, but notice how many turnovers he had in all of his seasons at Barca. There were a number in there where he was loose with the ball. But yes, Wenger is asking him to do more with the ball this season than others. Interestingly, his turnover numbers are DOWN from last season!

      • Agree wholeheartedly with both Doc and 7am on this one – best way to talk about Alexis’ turnover is assessing his development in Italy and Spain.

        He’s definitely missing Cazorla’s presence, looks a little heavy-footed after three years of non-stop football, and I think the biggest transfer mistake we made last summer was not getting a reliable wide man which would have allowed him to focus 100% on the no.9 role.

  7. Pfft.. with goals like that, who cares about giving the ball away?

    Just kidding.

    But seriously.. one of our players wrong-footing two defenders to score is always so much fun to see.

    I understand the problem with Sanchez but I still think we should keep him. I think he will be a better team player when the team is functioning better. We haven’t gotten the best out of him yet.

    • I think we’ve gotten the best out of him at times, but I think he can hit that level and stay there more often. Then he’d be in the rarified air of the likes of Suarez, Aguero, etc. We should keep him unless he absolutely throws a terrible fit to leave (and even then, maybe not…) or we get a silly offer (if he’s not going to sign, then 60+ million would be hard to turn down for an almost-29-year-old with one year left on his contract).

  8. Wow, the running narrative of Ozil bashing on the US broadcast (the village simpleton Davie Provan and the excruciatingly obnoxious Jon Champion) really had to be heard to be believed.

    Case in point: he slightly misplaces one simple pass at the beginning of the second half (I wasn’t counting, but I’d wager it was practically his only misplaced pass of the half), which, from my viewpoint should have been kept in by Welbeck anyway, and Provan launches in on the all too predictable rant about how he’s such a frustrating player, his pass was lazy, he’s only world class in world class conditions (or something inane to that effect), blah, blah, blah. I’m pretty sure if any of the other 21 players on the pitch had misplaced ONE PASS (just like they in fact did at times throughout the match) there’s no way they go on a rant about everything that’s wrong with that player.

    This was one of, say, half a dozen times throughout the match where they said something derogatory about Mesut (often with an almost mocking tone), who, as far as I could see, had a very good game. The overwhelming impression I get from the English media is that the majority of them (yer Carraghers, yer Redknapps, yer Scholes’s) actually DESPISE Ozil. That you would display an attitude of such contempt to a fellow professional, who most of them probably have never met, is just sad and bizarre to me. The non-ex-pros are no better. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but based on the way they single him out, game in, game out, for criticism (often for doing things a) he rarely does, and b) that plenty of other players do too), contempt is an accurate description.

    In other news, I thought we played as well tonight as we have in a while, against a pretty decent team (unlike, say, West Ham a few weeks ago, or an utterly unambitious Man United at home). Defensively we missed Koscielny and looked a little ragged at times, but we held firm (Cech’s kicking remains in the toilet though!). In midfield and attack I thought we were largely superb–smooth, patient, but incisive when we needed to be–and this was the case for most of the match, despite the idiot commentators trying to convince us that the game was horribly, horribly dull until the first goal. (At one point around the half hour mark Champion offered as proof of this dullness the fact that there had only been one shot on target, as if shots, any shots, in and of themselves, are the only thing entertaining about a football match! Philistine muppet!!)

    • And a shout out to Aaron Ramsey, whose performance was perhaps less flashy than the one against Man United, but at least as good. And it was full of more of the things I love: not just good runs into the box and hard running, but crisp, simple, clever passes, even quite a few incisive line-breaking ones to Sanchez and Ozil, and lots of good decision making and positional awareness.
      If he keeps it up (still don’t have total faith that he will) then the Xhaka-Ramsey partnership looks the real deal, and, dare I say it, the 2013-14 Rambo, or something near enough, may be just around the corner. Shame about the season ending…

      • I hate the runs in the box. He is a CM not a forward. He is often in positions which take the ball away from goal-scoring forwards, he did this three times today, and this kind of play encourages Alexis to drop deep to collect the ball and then look for Ramsey in front of him. In an ideal world I’d switch those two but Ramsey is a mediocre passer and can’t play the role of creator. He’s also not a great goal scorer, unlike Frank Lampard, his hero.

        • Yeah, ironically, the runs into the box are not my favorite part of his game at all, and kinda get annoying when he does it too much. But then again, it was his run and clever header that made the second goal, and I’m not sure the one where he volleyed Bellerin’s cross against Welbeck when Alexis was in a slightly better position behind him can really be a point of criticism, as the ball came pretty much directly at him at a good height.

          I think these runs have their use (we often struggle to have enough runners in the box), and I think he will start scoring goals again a la Fat Frank if Arsene keeps playing him and he keeps his confidence up. But I also know I would happily trade him in for an energetic, intelligent center mid who could cover Xhaka defensively but was also properly good on the ball in a way that Rambo’s not, and who saw that as his most important contribution to the team, rather than trying to score goals all the time.

  9. In football, turnovers are correlated to how high up the pitch you play. Also whether you’re the spear of the attack, or the main creative force, i.e., the risk taker.

    Per or Koscielney sweeping it out of defence will always have much lower rate of turnovers than Alexis, Giroud, or attacking wingers like Walcott. No one on central defense or midfield stopper should should be high up on the turnover list, so Coquelin coughing up the ball is less forgivable. As Thierry says, he’s our policeman. That’s his job.

    I’ve noticed that Alexis loses the ball a lot in dangerous positions, and against Middlesbrough recently it cost us a goal. But that’s part of the package. His play is high risk, high reward. But he does his share of tackling and winning. It’s about striking a balance.

    Ramsey is an interesting case study. His play has changed in recognition of this. When he was not playing particularly well at the turn of the year but given license by Arsene to go forward and attack, he was trying to force the issue, and committing too many turnovers. Oddly, though the 352 is meant to be more liberating, he has actually (it seems to me) become more conservative in his passing, and if anything is too safe and lacks incision. When you’re wide right or wide left in the flow of the play and two opposition players confront you can, if you’re Ox drive past them, or if you’re Xhaka, find an offensive pass over the top. Ramsey can’t do either — at least not as well. He’s played better of late, but not as well as he could. He has the twin challenge of increasing the risk (and therefore potentially the reward) in his passing, while contributing goals. He’s not there yet by either measure, though his defending, tracking back, tackling and all-round team play have improved. That may partly be down to Coquelin’s absence, where he has to take on more responsibility, be more defensively secure, be tidy and take fewer risks. It’s a hell of an ask doing all that STILL being expected to join the attack. It’s why he plays in every Wenger First XI, if fit and with a run of games.

    Ozil’s issue is that outside of the creative risk, he contributes little else to team play. He may well be the most indifferent tackler in our team.

    • I say all this having not seen the Southampton game. My cable provider brought me the all-Madrid CL semi, a game (thanks to the awful away goals rule) that was dead at halftime..

      Killed off by a moment of magic from Benzema. Go find his piece of skill to set up Kroos, then Isco for the tap-in from the save.

    • It’s funny you mention this bit about Ramsey, and then admit you didn’t see the game today, because I basically agree with you but I actually thought he passed the ball better today (and more incisively) than he’s done in ages.

      Over the past two years or so he’s seemed to me to swing wildly from forcing lots of passes (not just in playing a pass that isn’t on, but in trying to play too quickly when calm would be better), on the one hand, to being incredibly ponderous and uninspired with his passes, on the other hand (4-6 touches to received the ball, pirouette one way, pause, pirouette back, play ball sideways or back; at least when Elneny plays lots of simple balls he does it quickly with 1-2 touches!).

      But today it felt to me like he was getting the balance right. Simplicity, but that doesn’t mean always conservative. The most important kind of pass in Arsene’s Arsenal’s arsenal (very clever, I know) is the early line splitting pass on the ground from defenders or “low midfield” to the likes of Ozil and Sanchez in “high midfield”. And Ramsey was pulling that off quite a bit today, if memory serves. But his decision making in general was good.

      Overall, our four person midfield “box” of Sanchez, Ozil, Ramsey, and Xhaka were really cohesive and balanced and looked like they’re getting comfortable playing with each other in this formation. I like Welbeck, and his mobility is an asset, but one can’t help but think: if only we had a truly top class center forward! I’d be tempted to move Sanchez back up there and bring in Iwobi, but I know Wenger won’t change a winning team now unless he has to.

      Now all we need is for West Ham to do us a favor on Sunday.

      • We need to win at Stoke with Mike Dean in charge before that.

        Agree about the ‘box 4’ today, and the need for a great CF. Or even a better one.

        I think Ramsey’s issues have been a lack of fitness and confidence. He’s gradually building up both, and it’s helping him to have the 3 CBs, and Xhaka next to him.

  10. Nice win at a very tough stadium for us to win in.
    I thought the MOTM today was our tackling by everyone except Özil. Please, Özil step away from the tackling attempts. Those 2 ‘efforts’ looked dreadful, had me embarrassed for you and you could have hurt yourself.
    Vital 3 points but I won’t jinx us by looking ahead to what that can potentially mean come the season’s end. It is 3 games too soon to have hope about the elephant in the room.
    The only thing today’s announcers didn’t throw in about Özil was that he was “nicking a living”. Bring back Stewart Robson, please.
    Today’s game shows why we need to re-sign Özil and Sanchez because they were our difference makers today. Difference makers don’t grow on trees and lord knows our transfer dealings are more miss than hit.
    I really hope the Ox went off because of caution over what look to be a hamstring injury. Hopefully it is just a twinge and not 3 weeks on the mend which is season over.
    Should Wenger consider Perez as a wing back if the Ox can’t go? Maybe a crazy idea but so was this 3-4-3 formation change a couple of weeks ago.

  11. Great read and an interesting finding. I’m not sure what it means though.

    I agree normalizing Alexis’ turnovers to create a rate statistic is necessary. I’m not sure that time is the best variable to do it against. I doubt that the players are receiving the ball the same number of times despite the same number of minutes, I would instead normalize vs touches.

    Even then I’m not sure the comparison is meaningful. I assume they are receiving it in different positions (i.e., flanks vs middle of field), in different tactical situations (build up vs fast break, being pressed vs playing against the bus), with different goals (drive up field vs pass forward vs lay off while you run up the pitch), with different players showing for them and different players pressing them as well. This means the actual situations may not be directly comparable.

    Finally, assuming we grant the validity of turnovers per unit time and ignore all the qualitative differences I pointed out above, you are still dealing with a very small n. So small that the largest difference that you found, Giroud with 25 in 1589 min and Sanchez with 45 in 3814 min, yield rates that are not statistically significant. (2 tailed Fisher exact yields a p=0.3043)

    I’m not going to do a Bonferroni, but comparisons of Alexis vs Ox or Ozil have even higher p values (0.46 and 0.63).

  12. 1) Sanchez scores
    2) Ozil’s control causes problems for the opposition- always
    3) Turnovers cause your team to exert more energy
    4) Stats can be used to prove anything- sometimes useless things!

  13. Arsenal handling the press from other teams, how do they do that?
    The fact that Alexis has had an increase in number of turnovers in the second half of the season shows a lot of onus for taking on the opponents has fallen on his shoulder.
    A second attacking focal point may be the short term solution. Alex Iwobi, someone like him who can attack the opposition mid field and back line. The concentrated effort on pressing Alexis then subsides a bit.

    In the long scheme of things, we need better/quick passers in the middle of the park, something you mentioned in your article Tim. Brings us back to the Cazorla debate, we miss him as his awareness, dribbling ability and passing range are beyond comparison to any of the others in the team.

  14. A very good insight on the common misconception (Guilty..I was one of them too). It wont hurt that much now when I see Alexis lost the ball again. But when the opposition plan to press us high is so obvious how did AW counter acted against it?? or did he??

  15. A more fair assessment would be: Sanchez’s turnovers are part of the problem. In every other sport, athletes get butchered when they have a too high turnover rate. There are two things missing in your piece. First, what’s an acceptable turnover rate for a striker? How does Sanchez compare to similar players? My gut feeling says 4 or 5 per game is OK but 7 or 8 is too much. And second, the stat about losing possession in one’s own half can be misleading. If it’s near the halfway line, there are still enough players and enough time to intervene. But if it’s on the edge of the Arsenal box, it’s like giving away a scoring chance. I don’t mind Sanchez losing possession while dribbling in the final third but to do it when the defenders are clearing their lines is suicidal. To sum up, Sanchez is hands down Arsenal’s best player. The club would be completely out of the Top 4 race without Sanchez’s goals and assists. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve some parts of his game. And yes, there are more urgent things to fix in the team (the number of goals conceded, the poor job in stopping dangerous crosses, Ozil’s dreadful work-rate, the inability to press high up the pitch like Spurs or Liverpool, the lack of defensive protection from the midfield, etc…).

    • I think comparisons can be good but you have to find like for like and I can’t think of another team like Arsenal (who can’t get the ball forward) and rely so heavily on one player for the majority of their goals and playmaking. I’m open to suggestions, but the combination has to be similar number of shots, dribbles, goals, assists, and key passes. He’s fairly unique in all of that.

      The simple comparison is Diego Costa who turns the ball over more. Lukaku turns the ball over a little less.

      • By definition, every player is unique. But just for the sake of comparison, I took the top 10 scorers in the Premier League this season and had a look at their turnover rate on whoscored.com (https://www.whoscored.com/Regions/252/Tournaments/2/Seasons/6335/Stages/13796/PlayerStatistics/England-Premier-League-2016-2017). Guess what, only 1 of them has a higher turnover rate than Sanchez! By adding number of times dispossessed and bad controls per game, here are their numbers: Lukaku 4.5 turnovers per game, Kane 4.5, Costa 6.6, Sanchez 5.7, Aguero 4.8, Alli 4.2, Ibrahimovic 3.4, Defoe 2.9, Hazard 3.7, King 5.4. And keep in mind that Lukaku (0.86) and Kane (1.00) have more goals+assists per game than Sanchez (0.83).

        • I did that as well last week. I still think it’s flawed. Kane and Lukaku are nothing like Alexis, they dribble about half as much and create shots for others 0.8 fewer times per game. Kane gets just 20 passes per game on average and many games has almost no touches. Alexis averages 44 passes per game Lukaku 26.2.

          Sanchez is a unique player who sees a shitload of the ball and excels at one-v-one attacks against his opponent like an attacking mid, scores like a true forward, and creates like a #10. He’s a combination of Firmino and Aguero, Bergkamp and Henry, Fabregas and Adebayor. Really, his only analog is Luis Suarez at Liverpool. And that man was a turnover MACHINE. Far more than Alexis.

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