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xGunners: Finding an Alexis Sanchez replacement

Doing some amateur stats scouting to replace Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal Training Session
Alexis leaving is just a matter of time
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Alexis Sanchez leaving Arsenal is seemingly just a matter of when, no longer if. It might be as soon as this month, with Manchester City making a renewed bid of £20 million, or might be this summer when he will be free to sign anywhere (with Manchester City still the likely favorites) as a free agent.

Arsenal fans have to a certain extent turned on Alexis, but he is still one of the few players on this team capable of winning a match all on his own. Finding a replacement that can come close to equaling his output, let alone finding a better player that could improve Arsenal, is going to be a very tall task.

To celebrate finally getting my stats database updated for the top five leagues of Europe for the 2017-18 season, I am going to search through the data and look for replacements that might fit the same statistical profile as Alexis.

First, we need to define the search parameters. For me, the quintessential Alexis skills to replace are his ability to beat a man with a dribble, the ability to get his own shot, and the ability to create for others.

Finding players that can replicate this skill is going to be tough, so I won’t worry too much about position yet and will instead look for players who can meet at least 75% of what Alexis has done this season on a per 90 basis, setting the minimum minutes played to at least 750.

So we need a player who has at least 2.2 key passes per 90, 3 shots per 90, 1.8 dribbles per 90, creates 0.2 xA for teammates and 0.3 xG on his own shots.

Alexis Replacements

Player Dribbles Key Passes Shots xG xA Age Transfer Market Value
Player Dribbles Key Passes Shots xG xA Age Transfer Market Value
Florian Thauvin 2.973815 2.524938 3.983791 0.404372 0.429518 24 16.2
Josip Ilicic 2.545757 2.321131 3.74376 0.31894 0.230878 29 9
Kylian Mbappe 3.151153 2.305722 3.53544 0.701674 0.414958 19 81
Leon Bailey 2.505155 2.690722 3.43299 0.415519 0.258425 20 25.2
Lionel Messi 5.611111 2.666667 6.055556 0.817515 0.462657 30 162
Neymar 5.942721 3.72315 3.72315 0.41594 0.471627 25 135
Paulo Dybala 3.110932 2.170418 5.209003 0.367534 0.230718 24 76.5
Philippe Coutinho 2.822581 2.903226 4.354839 0.291653 0.38177 25 81

That’s the whole list for the top 5 leagues in Europe. Alexis has a pretty special skill set that isn’t going to be easy to replace, and from this list, of course, we can go ahead and cross off Mbappe, Neymar, Messi and Coutinho.

We can probably cross off Dybala too, but if Arsenal got crazy and wanted to blow up their transfer record on a guy, he is the one of the few I would pick to do it on.

That is seriously impressive output for a player playing at one of the top teams at age 23. It doesn’t take much of a prognosticator to say he could be one of the best players in Europe within the next few years. To actually get him away from Juventus? That would probably take a situation similar to what Manchester United did to get Paul Pogba, offering crazy cash that really couldn’t be refused. And this is Arsenal we’re talking about, so that’s not likely.

Changing gears and looking at the more realistic options, I think you can eliminate Josip Ilicic based on his age.

He isn’t someone to build around, but he has been a solid bargain for Atalanta. Looking at his stats from last season I would not have predicated this from him.

Next up is Florian Thauvin from Marseille.

My last memories of Thauvin were of him briefly featuring for a very dysfunctional Newcastle side before he quietly returned to France. With that move, and with him not being a PSG player, he disappeared from American TV and my memory.

His stats profile is interesting, though, and that transfer market value is even better considering that Arsenal will not be getting a huge fee to help rebuild with.

Last, we have Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen.

I’ll admit to not knowing anything about him but his age intrigues me.

Replacing Alexis is not going to be an easy task, especially considering the necessary comprehensive rebuild required at Arsenal. Getting this right is a major priority for the future of the club.

Let me know in the comments if there are any particular favorites that you feel would be good as an Alexis replacement that I can look up in a follow up post.