On the eve of the Premier League season I wrote that on paper, Alexis Sanchez has all of the technical attributes to flourish as the focal point of Arsenal’s attack—the only thing holding him back is his positional discipline.
Two months later, Wenger’s decision to persist with Alexis at center-forward appears to be a masterstroke. At first a makeshift solution due to Danny Welbeck’s long term injury and Olivier Giroud’s late return to the squad from Euro 2016, Alexis’ deployment at striker has transformed the Gunners’ attack.
Although it’s still early days, the Chilean already has five goals and five assists from nine starts up front—an incredibly productive return. He’s constantly looking to get involved and ask questions of opposition defenses, too, with three shots, 2.6 key passes, and 2.4 dribbles per game.
With Giroud being Arsenal’s starting striker for the past four seasons, it’s a breath of fresh air to watch another player lead the line. While the Frenchman’s average of over 20 goals per season during his time in North London proves he’s a much better player than fans give him credit for, his lack of pace and ability to beat a man often stunts Arsenal’s attacking play. Giroud’s constant inclusion in the side last season (he played 54 games in all competitions) left the Gunners looking exhaustingly predictable, leading to results like 0-0 draws with Sunderland, Stoke, and Southampton.
Alexis’ deployment at striker, on the other hand, gives Arsene Wenger’s side a real verve and unpredictability going forward. The front three of Alex Iwobi, Alexis, and Theo Walcott looks better and better with every game they play together, already providing 22 goal contributions so far this season. Whereas Giroud in the side often requires intricate passing and elaborate flick-ons to come off perfectly in order to get the ball in the back of the net, the current pacy front three means Arsenal are much more direct and imposing in attack.
In Alexis, the manager has found an internal solution to a problem that desperately needed addressing. After a summer in which Arsenal were expected to sign *the* striker and eventually failed to do so due to a combination of insanely inflated transfer fees and a dearth of truly world class striking talent, trying out Alexis up top was a sensible gamble to take. The season may be young, but it’s looking like a gamble that may very well pay off.
All statistics via WhoScored.com
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