We all know about the guys who made the move from Arsenal to Barcelona: the Hlebs, the Songs, the Overmarss, the Petits, the… uhh… Sylvinhos, and that guy whose DNA was so powerfully Catalan that he now plays for Chelsea. And while Arsenal have bought a number of teenagers from Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez is the first senior player to make the move from Barcelona to Arsenal since… well I can’t find anyone.
Regardless of whether he is the first or simply the latest in a long line of players, signing Sanchez has sent a wave of euphoria through the Arsenal fan base. And for good reason, Sanchez is exactly the kind of signing that Arsenal need to compete for the League title, a goal scoring forward.
It’s almost trite to say it but scoring goals wins championships. As we found out with Holland and Brazil, teams will find it difficult to win games when they don’t score. And as we have seen over the last 4 years, the top teams are scoring more and more goals every year, culminating in this season’s record where for the first time in recorded history (since the start of the Premier League) two teams scored more than 100 goals each in a season.
Arsenal, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a downward slump in terms of goals scored per season (Premier League data only). Since 09/10 Arsenal have scored 83, 72, 74, 72, and last year 68 goals in a season. The shots numbers (shots are usually what create goals, don’t ya know?) have followed a similar trajectory: 560, 595, 585, 546, and this season’s eight year low of 523. The difference between Arsenal’s attack and the other top four teams was so stark that people, in desperation, wanted Arsene to buy “any forward” last January.
As you can see from the chart above, Arsenal were the worst in the top four in goals, shots, and shots on goal. Wenger knew that he needed to get a player in who would not only get goals but also generate shots for himself and for his teammates. That has to be why he tried to buy Suarez last summer.
Suarez led the Premier League in shots per game for two years running now, averaging 5.6 shots per game over both seasons. Not only did Suarez lead the League in shots he also created 88 shots per season for his teammates over the last two seasons, led the League in attempted dribbles, and was either first or second in successful dribbles per game both years. Arsenal needed a player like Suarez who would turn on the offense and hopefully not bite the hand that fed it.
I should mention here that Arsenal missed Theo Walcott last season. The season prior he had found it hard to get into the first team early on but had come on strong after signing a new contract. He finished as Arsenal’s leading scorer with 14 goals and second leading provider with 10 assists. He also took 87 shots for Arsenal and created 38 for his teammates, mostly from a wide position.
You’ve waited long enough and you know what we need so what about Sanchez? Well, first I have to be clear that I’m not making any predictions for how he will play at Arsenal. The reality is that Sanchez has been relegated to a secondary role, mostly wide, at Barcelona and before that at Udinese. Wenger may think it is time for him to play more centrally and/or be more of a focal point for the team. We also know that Wenger has spoken many times about how important it is for forwards to cut their teeth in the wide positions, where they have more time and space, before moving in to the cramped quarters in the middle of attack. A move from wide to center could be a major reason why Wenger was able to convince him to sign for Arsenal over Liverpool.
But out wide, what Sanchez offered at Barcelona and Udinese was a nose for poaching goals and the patience needed to score inside the box rather than rush shots from distance. Something we have also seen from him in this World Cup. Fans may love a poke and hope from 30 yards by Crouchenstein but the reality is that scoring in the box wins you championships.
Last season at Barcelona, Sanchez took just 66 shots but 56 (85%) of those shots were inside the 18 yard box. Sanchez also scored 16 of his 19 goals from inside the 18 yard box. Basically, Sanchez made the most of the chances that fell to him converting a ridiculous 29% of his overall shots. To give you a sense of how ridiculous that is here is a chart of Sanchez, Messi, Suarez, and that Ronaldo guy:
|Goals in the box||16||24||25||21|
You’re not reading that wrong. Among the elite goal scorers in the world, Sanchez has the best conversion rate and the best conversion rate in the box. Don’t get too hung up on his conversion from outside, yes, it’s high but the sample size is small — he has only taken 10 total shots from outside the box in the last 2 years.
|Shots on goal||36||46||43||30||32||51||53||36||32|
|% of Team’s goals||28%||26%||45%||27%||30%||35%||31%||45%|
|% of Team’s shots||10%||14%||19%||12%||11%||25%||22%||17%|
|% of Team’s KP||9%||11%||13%||6%||20%||8%||9%||20%|
|Goals + Assists/90||1.10||0.85||1.07||1.18||0.65||0.78||0.64||0.81||0.73|
What kind of player is Sanchez? I think it’s really hard to tell from his Barcelona stats. We know he’s a good finisher. He’s a Clinical Finisher, in fact, because he’s a “fox in the box” type of player — the shots in the box numbers show that.
But looking at the chart above, you can also see that he hasn’t created much for teammates (37 key passes) and he’s not a very efficient dribbler (35% is poor). He also isn’t putting up huge shots numbers. Though, like everything else on that chart, you have to temper that with the knowledge that he was second fiddle behind Messi at Barcelona.
Still, looking at that chart you can see that even given the limited touches that he got at Barcelona he contributed a goal or an assist every game. And his “successful events/90” numbers (goals+assists+key passes+successful dribbles) numbers were on par with a player like Rooney who played second fiddle to a disinterested Robin van Persie last season.
He’s not been a stats stuffer like Suarez and I don’t think we’ll see him get 190 shots next season. But I have to think that regardless of where Wenger plays him Sanchez is adding great quality across the front line at Arsenal. And if he can keep his efficiency at around a goal or an assist a game Arsenal will have a real chance to win the title next season.
Here’s his chart compared to Walcott in 12-13 before the injury:
|Shots on goal||36||39|
|% of Team’s goals||28%||33%|
|% of Team’s shots||10%||15%|
|% of Team’s KP||9%||9%|
|Goals + Assists/90||1.10||0.95|
Last season I felt that Theo was ready to become a star. He scored or assisted 24 League goals two years ago, his numbers have gotten better every season (especially dribbling, which people usually put him down for), and he made himself indispensable to the boss with sterling performances despite being benched.
|Goals in the box||16||14||24||25||21|
If Walcott can return healthy and hasn’t lost a step we have a mouthwatering prospect/selection headache in the forwards department.