Five years ago I wrote a series of articles which served as a warning to the Arsenal supporters who wanted Luis Suarez at Arsenal: he’s a ridiculously talented player who will score loads of goals and who creates for his teammates but you will eventually hate him, I said, because he’s so selfish and because he turns the ball over so much.
Suarez stayed at Liverpool the summer that Arsenal tried to buy him for forty-million-and one Pounds and Liverpool had their best season since 1990, finishing 2nd in the Premier League. The complaints from Arsenal supporters rained in: if only Arsenal had Suarez in
2012/13 2013/14- we would have won the League.
It took Wenger two seasons to nail down his own version of Luis Suarez and that player came in the form of Alexis Sanchez. From the moment that Alexis scored his first goal for Arsenal – taking the ball off Wilshere’s toes – you could see that he was different from anything we’d had at the club. He was aggressive, he demanded the ball, he took on his opponents, he created for his teammates, he tried to get his teammates to press with him, and he was hustling up and down the pitch.
Alexis reached peak Alexis in 2016/17 – he scored 24 League goals and created 10 assists – but more than just goals and assists, Alexis was everywhere.
In my original series of articles (which are still on my old server and which I can’t import into this new site for some reason) I measured the offensive output of a large number of strikers, including Higuain, Messi, Ronaldo, van Persie, and of course Suarez. In those comparisons, I looked at all of the positive things that these players do for their teams and all of the negative things. Suarez, I said, would drive you all NUTS because he turns the ball over 24-25 times a game! He’s a ball hog! No one likes playing with a ball hog!
And now Arsenal have Alexis. And he’s almost exactly the same as Suarez. And some supporters hate him for it.
Let me show you, though, all of the positive and negative that you get with Alexis. First, here’s all of the attacking actions that I included in my original matrix.
Note that I didn’t include tackles and interceptions, which if I did would just make Alexis look even better. He had 81 tackles and 25 interceptions in 2016/17 – another 106 actions. Suarez had 58 tackles and 18 interceptions. First, look at how many actions per90 Messi was making at Barcelona that season. Almost 1 thing every minute. But notice how many things Alexis and Suarez were doing per game.. Almost exactly the same. These were players who loomed large for their teams: they wanted the ball all the time and they got it.
Alexis passes the ball as often as Messi while also dribbling and shooting like the Suarez that Wenger bid on (2011/12). Seen in this context, Alexis’ 2016/17 season is hugely impressive. And he’s only picked up where he left off, this season he’s trying just as hard, if not harder, and demanding even more of the ball.
And when we look at all of his positive actions per90, Alexis is getting a shot on goal, a key pass, a successful dribble, or making a successful pass, once every 2 minutes or so. Not quite as impressive as Messi, but I mean, no one is/was.
But it’s the failed events that drive everyone crazy. The bad passes, the missed shots, and the times he is dispossessed.
Suarez’s faults were that he over-dribbled. The reason his “dispossessed” number is 0 is because he actually lost possession through dribbling more often than the opponent took it away from him while he was in possession. Alexis, you’ll note, is a good dribbler but has the opposite problem; he tends to dwell on the ball too much and gets caught. Interestingly, he gets caught about as often as RvP did in his best season with Arsenal.
But there it is in number form: Alexis in 2016/17 was basically the same in terms of negative possessions per90 minutes as Luis Suarez. And he was actually also slightly better than Luis in terms of positives. But they are remarkably similar.
And Arsenal finished 5th that season when Alexis was peak Alexis. So, I think that even if Arsenal had gotten Luis Suarez in 2012/13 we would have seen him play just about like Alexis did in 2016/17 and I think given Arsenal’s well documented structural problems in midfield and defense, we probably would have seen Arteta eating grass in the final game of the season rather than Steven Gerrard.