Evolution always has positive and negative effects in every form. Take Orcas discovering Great White sharks can become a tasty snack. It was discovered off the Farallon islands, Orca’s ram the oceans most feared predator in the side to flip them on their backs which brings about ‘tonic immobility’ making the shark go into a state of paralysis allowing the whale to tear into it. Of course this new hunting technique has many stipulations. The great white whilst being devoured releases a chemical into the water causing all other sharks in the surrounding area to disappear for a whole seal hunting season. Great for the killer whales who now have a whole competitive feeding ground for themselves but bad news for the one of the world’s most misunderstood endangered predators which now has to venture into unprotected waters to try and find food. Obviously this isn’t a thesis on marine life in the Pacific Ocean it’s a little look at the Arsenal and more importantly a look at the evolution of our own apex predators in the form of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
At the start of this season Arsene took the bold decision to start playing Alexis up front and hasn’t looked back since. Who would have thought putting your most dangerous player nearer goal would result in more goals with the team averaging 2.3 goals per 90mins this season compared to 1.7 last year in the league? And our Chilean’s output has soared, 0.75 goals scored per 90 compared to last season’s 0.43, assists 0.31 to 0.13, 2.69 chances created per 90 to 2.07 and 2.38 key passes per 90 compared to 1.93 in the season just gone. A clean sweep in terms of his output and he hasn’t appeared to improve at any attribute. His total shots hasn’t really changed, 3.5 per 90 mins this season to 3 the last and shot accuracy 58% to 54%. Meaning the teams come a long way from having a lonely South American man waving his arms profusely for his team mates to come join him in attack while he relentlessly hunts down centre backs at Goodison Park two seasons ago.
One of those team mates is the world cup winning Mesut Ozil who’s become a very curious case this season in the league. He’s not assisting as much this season with .13 assists per 90 compared to .5 last season, chances created down to 2.47 per 90 from 4.11 and key passes 2.33 per 90 from 3.57. Meaning he’s creating at a rate of nearly 50% less than last season but the teams scoring more goals. As is Mesut averaging 0.33 goals per 90 compared to last season .17. He’s almost gone from a number ‘10’ to a second striker and the teams benefited from it by breaking the shackles of a rigid 4-2-3-1 into something of a 4-4-2. Allowing the German to run beyond the last defender more and arrive in the box averaging 1.27 shots in the area per 90 mins compared to last year’s 0.89.
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Sanchez’s evolution into a number ‘9’ has been one of the key developments in Arsenals team this season. And no doubt one of these reasons is him and Ozil being closer together and it’s been well documented on how it’s had a positive impact. They seem to like playing with each other too, in the 13 games they’ve started together in the league this season they share on average 17.76 passes per game per 90 and Arsenal have been victorious in nine of these. With the two providing 17 goals and 7 assists for the gunners so far this season.
Of course it hasn’t been all rosy in the garden of the emirates in the 13 games our two apex predators have started together we’ve dropped points in four of them, drawing to spurs, Boro and United whilst losing to Everton. With the two having minimal impact on the games bar Alexis’s deflected free kick vs Everton and Ozil’s free kick vs spurs which was nodded in by Wimmer . On average in the 9 games won these two found each other with passes 3.66 times in box per 90 mins compared to 1.25 in the four games the team dropped points. Personally I think it’s two of the pair’s strengths which are leading to the teams struggles in these games. One of Ozils attributes is his appreciation and nose for space now when the opposition is organised in defence he’s forced deeper to find pockets of space for himself to work in, which is entirely necessary for a player of Mesut’s calibre and skill set. However this coupled with a focal point that doesn’t stay on the last man but works back commendably to get involved causes problems because we effectively go from two strikers to none.
Charles Darwin once said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.’ Now I’m not for one second saying Mesut or Alexis should change their game because the two characteristics which are costing the team at times make them world class players. So the team has to evolve to them and I think our form of attacking has to become more structured. A lot used to made of Henry stood on the half way line hands on hips but it always gave Arsenal an out and a focal point now neither of our current front two for reasons mentioned can do this. So perhaps a wide player? Theo? No we’ve just got him working back. Ox? Doesn’t have the required hold up play. Iwobi and Perez? I just don’t know but one man that does fit the bill is Danny Welbeck. Whether I’ve got the answer doesn’t really matter but the team’s next evolutionary steps hold the key to our success this season.
Red member and 26-year-old engineer from Dorset. My life’s biggest regret is never going to Highbury. I try to attend as many games as possible. I’ve always had a love of Arsenal left wings, starting with Overmars, through Pires and Nasri, right up to Alexis. I don’t have an agenda: I just write about the game and club I love as I see it.