For almost everyone involved with Arsenal FC, Tuesday’s spectacular 3-3 draw with Bournemouth, after being 3-0 down in the 70th minute, must’ve felt like a victory. Everyone apart from Alexis Sanchez, that is.
— Arsenal TSN (@ArsenalTSN) January 3, 2017
The Chilean took his goal tally to 13 in 20 Premier League matches while playing with the kind of manic possession and energy that has come to define his game.
From the left-hand side of attack, Sanchez fired off three shots, created three chances and was all action over 90 minutes — this all coming after going for 90 minutes on Sunday against Crystal Palace. In that match, he recorded eight shots, five key passes and provided the assist on Olivier Giroud’s outrageous goal.
Alexis Sanchez is the first player involved in 20+ goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season.13 goals
Doing it on his own. pic.twitter.com/sbr2PcbN37
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 3, 2017
The criticism leveled at Arsenal following their last Premier League title in 2003-04 was that Arsene Wenger allowed them to go soft. In place of players like Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva, Arsenal became the frenzied home of lightweight skill merchants — apt to weave intricate passing combinations around the pitch but concede set piece goals while getting pasted by their title rivals.
In Sanchez, Wenger appeared to find the perfect mold of a footballing specimen that balanced grit with technique. He’s a joy to watch at both ends of the pitch, and with him, Arsenal seem to be on the verge of taking the next step.
But the 28-year-old’s contract expires in the summer of 2018 and no inroads have been made on granting him the significant pay raise he desires. While Sanchez’s performances on the pitch show that he is fully committed, his own answer to how he feels at the club reveals what he truly desires.
“I definitely feel like an important player and my teammates let me know every day,” said Sanchez. “I try to prove that I am an important player every day and game after game. I believe we have the players and the quality to win many things.”
This shouldn’t raise any alarm bells for Arsenal fans…yet. What Sanchez desires, above all else, is to win trophies. He’s won the Copa America twice with Chile and the FA Cup with Arsenal in 2014-15, but that solitary major achievement with his club will not satiate his ambitions for long.
While Arsenal’s ability to claim a draw against Bournemouth showed great resiliency, it also means they could be 11 points behind Chelsea come Wednesday night.
If Arsenal’s title chase is over by February, they’ll still have the Champions League to contest. Their next hurdle in that competition is the small matter of Bayern Munich.
Come March 8, the day after Arsenal’s second leg with Munich, Sanchez’s view on the quality present at Arsenal could be totally different. At 28, his time is now.
Video: Alexis Sanchez tells Aaron Ramsey to "f*ck off" pic.twitter.com/yo7C9A6tpk— indykaila News (@indykaila) January 3, 2017
Any club in the world would benefit from his services, and almost every club will come calling should he demand a move. For Arsenal fans, it’s a scenario that transpired with players like Ashley Cole, Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
But to lose Sanchez would hurt more than that. It would be a damning condemnation of “the Arsenal way”, it would throw a wrench into the idea of this club inching towards their next Premier League title.
While Arsenal build, practice economic sensibility and value continuity, it would ultimately pale in comparison to the frantic approach of, say, Chelsea, who won the Premier League, sacked their manager, appointed an interim manager, finished 10th, appointed a new manager and are now playing some of their best football ever as a club and opening up a large gap in the table in the space of three years.
This is the opposite of the Arsenal approach, but it just goes to show that change, however painful, isn't to be feared.
Either Sanchez leaves and Groundhog Day becomes the reality for Arsenal, or they pony up the cash to make him stay, entering a new era of spending for Arsenal but perhaps entering a new era of winning as well.