Welcome Alexis Sanchez And A New Age For Arsenal

July 12, 2014

The Özil transfer took a long time before it felt real. And now this. Sanchez Signs. One big transfer can be – not that it should – dismissed as a freakish happenstance. More so because some of the other reported big deals (strikers) never came to fruition. With Alexis arriving though, I’m convinced Arsenal have taken a big step up towards the elite (in the financial sense) clubs.

In the past the big players moved between the great Italian clubs and those in Spain or Bayern Munich. Oil money has had some influence on that in recent years but very few truly world class players have moved to England in their prime or just as they were entering their prime. The likes of Henry and Bergkamp, of course, were big players and had massive careers but they didn’t really come to Arsenal with impressive numbers/form for their former club.

Obviously, the Gunners aren’t still at a financial level where they can spend absurd amounts we’ve seen lavished on Bale and Suarez, but I, for one, have this belief that Wenger will now be able to compete for many of the top quality players that were outside the club’s reach not too long ago. Given that this growth is organic and seems sustainable, everyone at Arsenal FC deserves commendations for their role.

This might be premature but I also get this feeling that the Financial Fair Play rules are having an effect. I’ve always believed this can only succeed if all the wealthy owners want to bring some order to the chaos of the transfer world. And while they will inevitably find creative ways of getting some things done, we are unlikely to see a few clubs hoarding all the big players even if they don’t truly need them.

Put it all together and it seems we are moving to a new age for Arsenal FC. What happens on the pitch will still be down to the performances of the manager, players and the staff (that’s a big, separate discussion) but we can say they have a fair shot now. In a way, even the detractors should be happy because one of the main excuses should soon be off the table if it isn’t already.

Time will tell us more, as it invariably does, so now let’s shift focus to the reason we’re all so excited.

Alexis Sanchez – How does he improve the Gunners

I enjoyed reading some critics, or haters as they’re amusingly labeled, belittling the significance of the transfer by saying the Chilean wasn’t a starter for Barcelona or that he was a discard/reject. Would you call a player whose 27 League starts were bettered by only 4 members of the squad a fringe player? Is a guy who is fourth in La Liga when counting goals and assists a failure?

At a club with a complex dynamic, the world’s best player, and many other exceptionally talented individuals vying for a handful of attacking spots, it’s understandable that Sanchez didn’t always get to play when or where he wanted. The arrival of Suarez – as Barcelona succumb to the tendency of signing a superstar or the demands of their new manager – would undoubtedly make things even more difficult for Alexis.

I also believe he hasn’t quite hit the heights his potential at Udinese promised. The Chilean is more composed and tactically aware now but he hasn’t hit the ceiling as far as the quality and quantity of his output goes. At least in part, this seems to be down to the fact that he couldn’t complete express his skills when Messi was the main man (understandably).

The fact that he has understood his position and took a swift decision is a big positive in my opinion. As with Özil last season, I think Sanchez comes to Arsenal as a world class player who can still get better.

Alexis already has many attributes that make him standout.

His finishing is exemplary, touch and close control are superb, dribbling is a joy to watch, pace and power can be terrifying for the opponents, tenacity and fighting spirit will be appreciated by fans of English football, and his selfless style will suit Wenger’s plans perfectly.

The fact that he is comfortable with both feet (scores most of his goals with the right foot I believe) and has played various roles at different clubs and the national team already means Wenger will have good tactical flexibility.

I can visualize him starting on the left in some games with Walcott on the right and Giroud (or another striker) in the center. He can go down the line to supply the other two, cut inside to shoot or slide a pass for Walcott, join the striker to offer another attacker in the box for attacks developing down the right, and make runs in behind if the space is available.

Sanchez could also start centrally or move there late in games if Arsenal are playing a more conservative game. The Gunners chose to sit on a lead many times last season and he could thrive on the space available if the opponents have to push forward.

Alternatively, Cazorla on the left and Sanchez on the right could give the Gunners good balance and opportunities for combination play in attacking areas. It’s not hard to imagine them interchanging positions seamlessly with the likes of Özil and Ramsey. On occasion, the Chilean can also play off the lead striker if Wenger wants to leave two up front.

This flexibility means Wenger can also rotate his players more often, assuming most stay fit. It would be great to have one or two players getting a rest in a rotating manner when the team is playing every three days. Last season one could pretty much predict the injuries to Ramsey and Özil from their early workload. Hopefully, this time Wenger will be able to offer most of his players a balanced distribution of work. It could be the single biggest decisive factor in what they can achieve but details of this probably belong in a different article.

Some Caveats

Sanchez has a good disciplinary record but he is an aggressive player and will have to be careful with his reactions to some of the gratuitous fouls and physical challenges he will undoubtedly receive. He’ll also have to quickly adapt to a different approach to refereeing where remonstrations, exaggerated falls (not that he is a serial diver), or waving of imaginary yellow cards could lead to him being vilified very quickly.

I’m not sure he is used to playing with his back to goal, a trait important for any central striker in Wenger’s team, so if (when) he does play down the middle, either he’ll have to show a very steep learning curve or the team will have to adapt. These things don’t always work out as smoothly as some of us imagine.

As a wide attacker, Alexis is more a striker than a midfielder. That means he won’t see as much of the ball as someone like Cazorla does, for instance, in that role on the left. Retaining the ball and circulating it is extremely important to the way Arsenal play. Losing it more frequently (Sanchez also has a relatively high rate of losing possession) can make the game stretched and uncomfortable. Furthermore, the strength of collective defending can be severely tested if Özil, Walcott, Sanchez, and Giroud all start together. In that situation, both wide players would be capable of surrendering possession cheaply (Even Giroud’s touch is not consistent) and neither will consistently track their opposing full back. Sanchez is a fighter and a hard worker (better than Walcott in that regard) but I think he would prefer to do more chasing in the opposition half than his own.

In that sense, Wenger will have a tough job in identifying the right balance for his starting eleven. It is not unthinkable that he might not know what his best eleven is at the start of the season and some trial and error could be needed. Hopefully, that phase will not have enough errors to cost the team vital points.

Bottom Line

I think Alexis Sanchez is a fantastic acquisition for Arsenal that gives further evidence that the work done to build the stadium and with the new deals is beginning to pay off, and promises to fill some of the vital gaps that led to dropped points and disappointments last season. Hopefully, this signing is only the start of good things to come this season as much of work remains to be done on and off the pitch.

P.S Here is a quick stat comparison that I’d done using the Squawka tool. The quality of each players’ teammates, opponents, etc. is different but it still feels like useful data. You can visit the link and compare the players on other stats if interested.

Sanchez Stats Comparison