Does work-rate trump possession

A few months ago I noted that Alexis tended to dribble too much or in the wrong circumstances, when he loses the ball it puts the team in a terrible position. Suffice it to say that my protestations did not go down well. How could I criticise a player that had been carrying the team.

Sanchez had indeed been carrying The Arsenal, he was scoring goals in a period when no one else was. He was taking the game to the opposition when the team couldn’t, we were a one man team. Sanchez, in the eyes of many, could do no wrong.

It wasn’t just the goals though. His incredible work rate garnered praise from all comers, game after game fans & pundits would hail him as superhuman he just does not get tired. While that work-rate is inspiring my worry was that it effectively masked his deficiencies, what will happen when his goals dry up? When his work-rate slows down? Because he is human, his goalscoring will revert to mean, and he will get tired.

The timing of this post —I haven’t wrote anything in year— has much to do with the game at Monaco, when for the 1st time I heard, and read, discontent with Alexis’ performance. Most put it down to him being tired, but I contend that excluding the goals this game was not far off Alexis average performance at Arsenal. The difference is that last night keeping possession and tempo was paramount, and whenever Alexis ran into a cul-de-sac or made poor decision it was amplified by the pressure of the tie.

I wonder if the people bemoaning Alexis’s effectiveness against Monaco would have done so if he had scored.

Sanchez gets dispossessed more than any other top attacker in the league.

Of course he attempts more dribbles than most so he you’d expect that, except dispossessed stat is different and separate from losing the ball when dribbling. Whoscored definition is “when Player is dispossessed on the ball by an opponent – no dribble involved.” You’ve probably seen it many times when a player simply dithers on the ball or can’t make up his mind whether to pass or dribble then losses the ball.

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Apart from being dispossessed Alexis Sanchez does attempt a lot of dribbles which means he will lose a fair bit of them. What worries me is that he thinks dribble 1st pass 2nd which means some of the circumstances when he loses the dribble could be avoided by giving the pass earlier.

Dribbles lost per 90 minutes Filtered by Position(attacking) more than 20 non sub appearances

Hazard 35%
Sanchez 41%
Aguero 41%
Sterling 44%
Sanchez 33%

Teammates
Ox 33%
Santi 29%

The closest player in regards to position & number of appearances to Alexis is Hazard, who attempts more 0.9 more dribbles than Sanchez whilst making less unsuccessful ones.

It’s infuriating to think that Sanchez would be so much better for the team if he simply makes better decisions as to when to dribble the ball. This is especially grating when it comes to counter attacking. Given Arsène’s current penchant for playing on the counter, it makes a huge difference when a player tries to often to run with the ball instead of letting the ball do the work.

Not a single attacking player in the league wins possession —defined as interceptions and tackles won— more than the Chilean, of all players with the afore mentioned filters only Coutinho & Oscar attempt more tackles per 90 (4.1 compared to Sanchez’s 4.0). This is not to be overlooked, if we are going to say he loses to much possession and that’s bad then we can’t not consider the times he wins possession.

Tackles won 2.3
Interception 1.1
Aerial duels won 0.8

Dispossessed 3.3
Turnover(bad control) 2.5
Dribbles lost 2.7

The raw figures says he loses the ball more than he wins it, that is to be expected. It is more important to know where those events happen —Something I don’t have time to do right now. Losing the ball while trying to dribble out of your box is a lot more negative than winning a ball you had just lost because you dithered. Conversely winning a tackle deep in the opposition’s half and going on to score or create a goal probably compensates for 10 turnovers due to bad control—unless those turnovers happen in your defensive 3rd an leads to goals.

Whether those figures are negative or positive is debatable but I am firmly in the negative camp. Simply because for a team like Arsenal keeping possession and position is more beneficial than expending energy trying to make up for losing possession.

When work-rate compromises the team

It is not always acknowledged just how much the media narrative drive fans’ thought & feelings, but the fact is many fans don’t form their opinions without the help of the media. Sometimes for various reasons I watch games without commentary, and almost without fail my thoughts on team & player performances are way off the post match discussion.

Ask any fan(who had no media interaction) what they think of the match straight after leaving the stadium & it’s always different from the fan who watched the game on television.

The British media’s well known infatuation with work-rate always overlooks the how said work-rate affect the shape of the team. I was surprised when MOTD —of all shows—in analysing Rooneys FA-cup goal pointing out that it all stemmed from Alexis trying to do too much. See the sequence from 45:27 . I’m not sure that I agree it was his fault, but getting sucked of position left Monreal alone with Di Maria and Valencia to contend with.

Apart from being brought up on MOTD, and a tactical piece I read —I can’t remember where— I haven’t seen any other analysis of Alexis’ workrate cast as detrimental. Not that I’m saying it’s is always bad, but again it comes down to the player not picking when and where to place his efforts.

Eventually then it leads to the philosophy of the coach, would he be happy to accept Sanchez negative traits if it plays into his plan for the team. At the moment it looks like Arsène is convinced that the overall effect is positive and I whilst I would agree, I hope it’s something the coaching staff is working on with the player.

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Next year…

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