Alexis Sanchez hasn’t failed at Barcelona, even though he didn’t turn out to be that viable alternative to Lionel Messi the club thought they were buying when the Chilean made the switch from Udinese in 2011.
Alexis’ time at Barcelona – and this is speaking with the assumption that he’s played his last game for the club – will be looked at differently after the season he’s just had. It was a season where the forward completely turned around his game. His value became more apparent under Tata Martino, though sometimes it was inadvertently done by the former coach due to his benching of Alexis (or Pedro) in favour of the generally frustrating Neymar.
It wasn’t just that Alexis’ production in front of goal increased – and that he looked like he knew what he was doing – it ultimately came down to the old cliché of rediscovering his confidence.
The season before last he was an easy target for the Camp Nou faithful, with many attempting to force him out the door after a host of dire performances. And while clubs in England were said to be interested if he became available, his old stomping ground of Serie A looked the best and safest destination for a player completely down on his luck.
But a lot can change in 12 months. The perception of Alexis now is that he is a high-end forward with a lot to offer. He’s versatile and his numbers in La Liga for the season were fantastic – and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Barcelona have gone stretches either without scoring from open play or creating clear-cut chances.
The Chilean has already been heavily linked with a move to Juventus, though with Barcelona said to have rejected the Italian champions’ bid, it does open the door for others, especially in the Premier League.
Arsenal’s pursuit of a striker is well-known. It’s also known that they need a world-class acquisition and that most fans won’t settle for a half-hearted effort to address the shortcomings in the team’s attack.
Alexis, despite playing on the right for most of his time at Barcelona, would be an ideal centre-forward target for Arsene Wenger this summer. He fits all the club’s needs: he’s exceptionally quick, provides width, goals, assists, and is capable of playing in tandem with Olivier Giroud or in place of the Frenchman through the middle. Alexis is a completely different player to Arsenal’s current first-choice, and in a season where the team were exposed for their lack of variance, a player with the qualities of Alexis is very much needed.
Mario Mandzukic and Karim Benzema have thus far been the two main individuals talked up as addressing Arsenal’s need for an upgrade at centre-forward. The problem with the former is that he may be seen as too similar to Giroud, despite being a far better finisher, while Benzema’s availability isn’t 100 per cent clear at this stage. He may be available, but Arsenal should be looking to get major business done as early as possible. Beyond them, it’s difficult to pin point where the available targets are, and those who are of a high enough standard to improve Arsenal’s fortunes on the pitch.
As for Alexis, there are no doubts. Barcelona want to sell and Arsenal have the money. Admittedly, I was one who couldn’t advocate the idea of the Chilean moving to the Premier League a year ago. But he’s turned a corner and looks far more assured of himself, far more capable of making an impact elsewhere in Europe.
His 19 league goals and 10 assists could comfortably be matched and even bettered at Arsenal – and think, that’s a total of 29 goals produced from the wide position. Alexis is everything Arsenal are looking for this summer. He won’t hold the ball up in the way Giroud can, but to be dissuaded for that factor and for the qualities he doesn’t share with the Frenchman would in a way be to say players like Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil are too one-dimensional to profit from a different type of centre-forward.
Arsenal need a winger to go along with the signing of a striker, and while Alexis can operate as both, to bring him in as the team’s first-choice ahead of Giroud would be big step in the right direction and another promising statement of intent.