Alexis Sanchez’s signing at Arsenal is an indicator of a permanent move away from the club’s comfort zone in the market. If Mesut Ozil’s arrival a year ago was to act as the overture, Sanchez’s purchase from Barcelona this summer is the opening riff of a sweeping epic; the culmination of a decade’s worth of hard work that finally takes Arsenal to the summit of European football.
The excitement is tangible, infectious and absolutely fitting for the club at this juncture in their history. How many times have we used the words ‘statement of intent’ to describe a signing? It’s right out of football’s catalogue of clichés. But what a statement this is from Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez was one of the players to light up the World Cup in Brazil, helping Chile to become a favourite among the neutrals for their industrious yet exhilarating brand of football. There is unlikely to be a fan of any team in Europe who wasn’t charmed by the efforts of Arsenal’s latest signing this summer.
And that’s off the back of his best season with Barcelona, a season that really paved the way for what is sure to be looked back on as another groundbreaking signing for Arsenal.
A year ago and Alexis was out of sorts and in need of a fresh start. It came via a manager with a differing philosophy to that of what we’re used to seeing from Barcelona. Tata Martino’s focus on a direct game worked wonderfully in Alexis’ favour, even if the media and supporters weren’t exactly taking to the Argentine coach’s methods.
The Chilean forward finished the domestic campaign on 19 goals and 10 assists, with the pick of the bunch coming in the season finale against Atletico Madrid, a thunderous volley into Thibaut Courtois’ net.
Last season was the best of Alexis, the real Alexis and the player Barcelona thought they had purchased from Udinese back in 2011. Prior to the 2013/14 campaign, the Chilean had only been able to showcase his best form in short bursts, a consequence of Barcelona’s possession game, which naturally didn’t suit him, and the subsequent onset of shattered confidence, as well as multiple injuries.
But Arsenal are getting a player on the brink of his peak years. Make no mistake, Arsene Wenger has long wished to emulate the brand of football regularly seen at the Camp Nou, though obviously with his own spin. But Alexis is unlikely to suffer from the same problems that plagued him while in Spain.
The Chilean looks set to take on something of a free role, which will liberate him from the strict positional importance of Barcelona’s game. He’ll be looked to as the final piece of an attacking phase, with the club housing some of the best creators in the Premier League in Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey. Olivier Giroud, too, will benefit from what can be described as the best part of a centre-forward partner in Alexis.
But well before the season gets underway, there can be no disguising or misinterpreting of just how vital this signing is for Arsenal. It’s another colossal move across the European chessboard that does place the club closer to the targets they initially laid out with the stadium and new sponsorship deals: to match the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United in terms of revenue and spending power.
Alexis is justification that this standard of player – coupled with the excitement generated from his signing – can be achieved through organic means. It’s hard to believe Arsenal aren’t the envy of most clubs in Europe, even if it’s only for a short period. They’re no longer reliant on Wenger’s contacts in his homeland and the bargaining for something that falls within the club’s previously limited spending capabilities. There is still room for a Laurent Koscielny or modern-day Robert Pires, but the club are so much more than that now.
Arsenal have no guarantees for silverware next season. They’re closer than they were a week ago, of course. Though there is still plenty left to do in order to ensure this a squad capable of delivering.
The signing of Mesut Ozil last summer gave Arsenal supporters a taste of what was to come, but it didn’t completely make up for the disastrous summer the club had endured up until that point. It was a mix of the old Arsenal and a sample of the future.
Alexis’ signing a year on is bold, confident and completely in tune with what fans were hoping and expecting from the club. It’s not just the acquisition of a player who is on the cusp of joining Europe’s elite band of world-class forwards, it’s also the turning of a page for the club, an assurance of a permanent step forward and a promise that signings of this calibre are now the norm.