Arsenal's signing of Alexis Sanchez made huge headlines when it was announced. Signing a very good attacking player in his prime from Barcelona coming off a strong World Cup performance will do that. When he appears to be exactly what the club needs to take it's attack to the next level, it becomes that much more exciting for supporters and fantasy managers. Before we dive in though, let's take a clear-eyed look at what we can reasonably expect from Sanchez and how his addition might help or hurt the fantasy prospects of some of Arsenal's other players.
As readers of this page are likely aware, I am a passionate Arsenal supporter but I do my best to never allow that to cloud my judgment when it comes to how a player is likely to perform. You don't win in fantasy by picking the players you HOPE will do well, you win by picking players who are LIKELY to do well for the right price. I will do my best to keep what I HOPE will happen (the second coming of Thierry Henry) out of this analysis and leave in what I think will happen (the arrival of a better, more durable Theo Walcott).
What to expect from Sanchez
The obvious elements that Alexis Sanchez brings to Arsenal are his speed, power, goals and assists. Perhaps even more importantly to the team and this analysis, he brings the ability to play all three attacking positions that Arsene Wenger favors. He will certainly be rested himself given his summer exertions but for Sanchez to play something close to a full Premier League schedule it doesn't mean that a single current player will have to be relegated to a consistent bench role. It is easy to see Sanchez starting out the season filling in for the still-recovering Theo Walcott wide on the right with Olivier Giroud in the middle and either Santi Cazorla or Lukas Podolski on the left. It seems reasonable that this might total a minimum of 10 matches given Walcott's need to recover and his sketchy injury history. Presumably, Wenger will learn his lesson with Giroud from last season and spell him at least occasionally which would present the opportunity for Sanchez to get a handful of starts (maybe six in PL matches) for Giroud. In the long term, it is more likely that Sanchez's permanent home in the line-up will be on the left side of the attacking three in place of Podolski/Cazorla. Both players are aging and there have been rumors about both leaving the club this summer. While neither may leave this summer it doesn't seem likely that either has a long future as a starter with the club.
What sort of production should we expect?
In 34 La Liga matches last season, Sanchez managed to total 19 goals and provide 10 assists. That's Yaya Toure territory from last season if he can replicate it for Arsenal. Even the pessimistic view that Sanchez was the beneficiary of all of the attention paid to Lionel Messi at Barcelona still casts a favorable view on Sanchez's likely contribution at Arsenal. I'd say that the absolute downside for Sanchez next season (assuming good health) would be Jay Rodriguez's 15 goals and 3 assists from last season. The more likely outcome is somethiing closer to 17 goals and 8 assists (approximately Wayne Rooney's season last year). The upside is something on the order of 24 goals and 10 assists which looks a lot like Robin van Persie's season from 2012-13. None of these are bad outcomes but there is reason to think that it could trend toward the higher end of this spectrum than the lower.
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Positive impacts on other players
The biggest fantasy beneficiary of this move is going to be Mesut Ozil. Early on in the season, before Walcott got hurt, Ozil was exceptional for two reasons. He was given the freedom to play fairly centrally and roam in the right and left channels just off the center of the pitch. This is where he is at his best. When Walcott went down, Ozil's positioning switched to being much more oriented to the right side of the field and generally much wider. At the same time, Ozil lost the thing that makes him his best which was a speedy runner to latch on to the through balls that he can deliver like few others on the planet. Early in the season Ozil will have a speedster available again (likely on the right) in the form of Sanchez which will drive his assist total back up and allow him to come into the attack after his entry pass which will also lead to goals. When Walcott is healthy again, Ozil will become even more deadly as he will likely have two speedy players to thread passes to with Sanchez moving to the left and Walcott returning to the right. Look for a big season from Ozil that reminds everyone why there was so much excitement around his capture last summer.
Sanchez's arrival will surely have negative impacts on a mutliple Arsenal attackers' fantasy production. Once Walcott returns to the line-up, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski will both likely see their playing time reduced. Podolski had already started to fall down the pecking order in favor of Cazorla but with Cazorla's role likely reduced Podolski may find it hard to get any minutes at all. The next player who may see his time reduced is Jack Wilshere. With Aaron Ramsey having emerged as a star playing a deeper lying role alongside Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Sami Khedira, William Carvalho, or whomever Arsenal plugs into the holding midfielder role, the question is where Wilshere fits. With Ozil playing out wide in Walcott's absence, Wilshere played a central attacking role in front of Ramsey. With Sanchez and Walcott the likely starters out wide Ozil will likely move infield to that central attacking role. This leaves Wilshere without an obvious place in the starting eleven.
Olivier Giroud is the final candidate to be negatively impacted by Sanchez's arrival. I question whether this will actually be the case or not. If you just do some straight arithmetic and estimate that Giroud will start 15% fewer matches (say 30 instead of 36 in the league) and make a 15% deduction from his fantasy total as a result then the impact is clear. If you watched Giroud last season however, you will realize that there were at least 15% of his matches where he shouldn't have been starting because he was exhausted and he didn't produce much in those matches anyway. It isn't unrealistic to suggest that he could play fewer minutes and be just as productive if his rest is doled out in a strategic way. He won't be as sure a bet to start when healthy which is always aggravating to fantasy managers but it seems unlikely that his production will be diminished that greatly. Ultimately, Giroud is a very nice supporting player and I predict that he will thrive in the presence of an additional feature player to play off of. If you recall how well he performed with Ozil, Ramsey, and Walcott at their best at the beginning of last season, things could be even better for the French international with Ozil, Ramsey, Sanchez and Walcott drawing attention and providing opportunities for the center forward.
So there you have it. Alexis Sanchez is a worthy fantasy buy in his own right even in the event that his production doesn't change significantly from what he produced last season. The real upside here is the potential of Mesut Ozil whose second half slump depressed his price and the estimation of his value in the eyes of many. The risk is real that Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski will all be of only marginal fantasy value for the upcoming season unless you're in a Capital One Cup or an FA Cup fantasy league (do those even exist?).
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