Last summer Daily Cannon turned seven and to celebrate, we released our very first ebook looking at the seven greatest players to wear the famous number 7 shirt across Arsenal’s history.
From Joe Hulme through to Tomas Rosicky, we painstakingly discuss our favourite men – and women – to pull on the red and white.
My personal favourite was the love letter Mr Paul Williams penned about the legendary Rocky Rocastle, in a fitting tribute to the man. It was heartfelt and moving, but I digress.
With this week’s announcement that there’s a new number 7 on the block, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s a good job Alexis’ move came this summer rather than last, for if it had been announced pre-publication, we’d have had to reconsider our list.
After all, our new 7 is surely likely to force his way into any discussion of the best players to represent us with that number, whether or not we count his exploits as a number 17 towards his greatness.
Everyone’s favourite Cameroonian, Lauren, recently gave an interview to Goal.com, where he claimed that our explosive Chilean is a player who would have made the squad the Invincibles and it’s certainly hard to disagree (although I wouldn’t like to be in the position of deciding between which one of Alexis or Bobby Pires should be entitled to their shirt of preference in such a circumstance!)
I thought it might be fun, given that assertion, to look at our dog-loving forward’s Arsenal career to date, and reflect on how he stacks up.
Statistics are everyone’s favourite tool to confirm or deny their observations, so that seems as good a place as any to begin.
In 30 league appearances this season, Alexis has 13 goals from 107 shots (54% accuracy and conversion rate of 12%), four assists, created 62 chances and 101 successful take-ons.
In 35 league appearances last season, he netted 16 goals from 121 shots (62% accuracy and 13% conversion rate), nine assists, 79 chances created and 115 successful take-ons.
On the face of it, he has suffered from ‘second-season syndrome’ following a stellar first campaign.
Curiously enough though, the element of his game that has so irked Arsenal fans the world over this year – his persistent running down blind alleys – is somewhat belied by the take-stats.
When you look at the numbers per 90, he has more successful take-ons this year, and at a higher success rate of 61% (compared to 59% last season).
Additionally, this season six of his goals came in the final eight games of the season, a rate of scoring which, if extrapolated, would see him score 23 goals from his 30 games, or 29 goals from a full 38.
However, prior to that he scored just one goal, albeit a very important one against Spurs, in 13 games. It was a run which lasted from October 17th to April 2nd, then 6 goals in 3 games (a hattrick vs Leicester, a brace against United, and a solitary goal vs Watford), and then before that zero in six again.
In short, he was spectacularly streaky for us last season, whereas in 2014/15 he never went more than four games in a row without scoring.
His consistency has been harder to replicate this year through a mixture of injury, returning to match fitness and, of course, the form of the side.
If you compare Alexis’ numbers to those of the legendary Pires, who, at his peak, was hitting 2 goals every 3 games, he comes up short, but it’s also worth factoring in that Pires was playing in the greatest Arsenal team my generation has seen.
It was a team which scored 87 goals in his best season, a whopping 34% more than the 65 goals this year’s team managed. Indeed, Pires contributed 16% of his team’s goals that year, yet Alexis managed 20% of our goals this year.
Statistics only tell part of the story though.
One of the reasons Lauren gives for his admiration for Alexis is his effort. As he puts it, the way he “gives 110% in every single game.”*
*Footballers really need to learn that 110% cannot actually exist in this context, even for someone as superhuman as Alexis.
Our Chilean endears himself to the fanbase, not just because he works himself into the ground, but also because in doing so he demands the same effort from his teammates.
Paul and I spoke on last week’s podcast about how Theo Walcott’s effort can sometimes be lacking, but this is exactly the kind of situation where Alexis’ attitude is infectious, and raises the level of those around him.
Not everyone can be a leader, but they can allow themselves to be lifted by those around them. Alexis is certainly someone who lifts his colleagues.
It’s in much the same way that so many of us hope for a bit of Granit Xhaka’s ‘steel’ to rub off on some of his teammates next year.
I don’t think many would try to claim it’s been Alexis’ best season, and the hope is that he gets back to his best for the 2016/17 campaign, even if that means we need to give him a bit of a rest in August after his summer exertions.
Who knows, maybe we’ll even buy a striker and be able to give him that time off without resorting to a situation like West Ham on the opening day of last season, when he was forced into action despite clearly being unfit and, more importantly, rustier than my memory.
However, even if he continues at the current level, he’ll still hit numbers than would make him a shoe-in if we were ever to redo our list of greatest number 7s.
Here’s hoping his number change invigorates him, for who know where that will take us!