After an impressive World Cup, Alexis Sanchez’s reputation could scarcely be higher and yet the Chile forward is on the move.
With Arsenal securing a deal to take him from Barcelona to the Premier League, we take a look at what Sanchez will bring to Arsene Wenger’s side…
Goals seem the obvious place to start after a season in which only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Diego Costa found the net as many times in La Liga. Despite being sold by Barca, Sanchez boasts an impressive scoring record and leaves Spain having needed just five more goals to claim a one-in-two record from his 88 Primera Liga appearances. Capable of composed finishes and well-struck shots, Sanchez also has a reputation as an architect of mayhem in the opposition area with a knack for making something happen from a nothing situation. That will be needed given that Arsenal’s goal tally of 68 lagged some way behind the century-hitting top two last year.
While Ronaldo and Costa scored more goals, Sanchez provided more assists and this highlights the fact that he brings more to a team than just the killing stroke. Indeed, he was one of only nine players to reach double figures for assists in La Liga last season. Sanchez’s assist count doubled from his debut campaign and saw a year-on-year improvement through all three seasons in Spain as his understanding with team-mates grew. He certainly won over Tata Martino. “Alexis is an exceptional player who is able to create and win games,” said Barca’s coach for the 2013/14 season.
The absence of Theo Walcott through injury robbed Arsenal of pace and movement in attack during the decisive period of the title run-in and it proved a problem. Olivier Giroud is not at his most comfortable running in behind defences and a lack of midfield runners from deep exacerbated the issue when Aaron Ramsey was missing. Sanchez is a threat in behind as Per Mertesacker can attest after facing him at international level. “You cannot catch him,” the German defender told Arsenal’s website in March. “It's unbelievable how quick and how good with his feet he is. If you get one against one with him, it's nearly impossible.”
Despite his limitations, Giroud has proven his worth to the Arsenal team and Wenger has expressed reluctance to seek an out-and-out replacement. In January, the Gunners boss told reporters: “Last summer I looked for a striker that could play with Giroud and without Giroud. In my mind it was not absolutely to replace Giroud, it was to play with or without him.” That man might have been Luis Suarez but Sanchez can fulfil a similar remit having been used as a centre forward for Barca as well as a wide man or No.10, the roles in which he earned his reputation at Udinese.
The signing of a big-name player for a huge fee can have an impact on the dressing room dynamics but Wenger surely has little to fear with Sanchez. The Chilean is notoriously shy off the field with an impressive work ethic on it. Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola spoke of how Sanchez ‘stole his heart’ after one particularly gutsy display against Real Madrid in 2012, adding: “He sacrificed himself a lot. He is a very humble person.” Humble was also the word also used to describe Sanchez by the late Tito Vilanova after the player surprisingly gave himself a 5/10 rating for his contribution. Antics leading to unrest at Colney would seem unlikely.
At the age of 25, there is a strong argument to be made that despite his fine reputation we’ve yet to see the best of Sanchez. “In Barcelona, with the teammates he has, he’s not valued,” claimed Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli. “He is one of the best in the world.” Barca’s style might have been an issue as Sanchez, an instinctive player who thrives on space, was frequently faced with packed defences. It is telling that his impact increased when Barcelona took a more direct approach and while Arsenal are a passing side, life in the Premier League should suit his talents better. In fact, after three years at Camp Nou, it could be the perfect place to fuse the skill set he’s acquired.
There was understandable frustration in north London after allowing Cesc Fabregas to move to Chelsea but those concerns will fade with the signing of Sanchez. The Chilean can give Arsenal something different and beating Liverpool to the transfer as part of a chain that sees Suarez leave Anfield significantly shifts the balance against one of the three teams that finished above the Gunners last term. Following on from the acquisition of Mesut Ozil last summer, it is also further confirmation that the days of the statement signing have returned at Arsenal.
Watch Alexis Sanchez in Champions League action on Sky Sports 5 next season. Activate our brand new channel by clicking here.