Many, including myself, assumed that Arsene Wenger’s arrogance in the transfer market had reached new depths when the Arsenal manager rejected the chance to re-sign former captain Cesc Fabregas last month, allowing the Spain international to join Premier League rivals Chelsea instead.
Quite frankly, the narrative that his position in the Gunners starting line-up was already occupied by club record signing Mesut Ozil didn’t wash; although it’s true that Arsenal have a plethora of top, top talent in the middle of the park, the North Londoners are in no position to be politely turning down world-class stars at £30million a time, regardless of where they play.
But upon news that the Emirates outfit are closing in on the signing of another surprise Barcelona outcast, Alexis Sanchez, egg and my face begin to firmly align. Sentimentalities aside, although the re-emergence of Fabregas in North London would have been an overwhelmingly emotional moment for the Arsenal fan base, the Chile international represents a far more intrinsically vital addition to the Gunners starting XI.
Suddenly, rather than a managerial relic drowning in his own stubbornness, Wenger begins to closer resemble a wise elder, convinced his club’s immediate future does not lie in its past.
Not that Fabregas would have in any way taken Arsenal a step backwards. I still believe that if finance were infinite and FFP was still awaiting it’s official introduction, Wenger would have brought the Spaniard back to the Emirates. Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are all impressive talents, but only the German international compares to the proven quality of a one-time World Cup winner and former European Golden Boy.
But Arsenal’s 2013/14 Premier League campaign came unstuck when Theo Walcott was stretched off with an ACL injury against Tottenham in January. The England international is by no means the star of the show at the Emirates, but his contrasting pace and natural penetration – in addition to his goals- have proved vital to the Arsenal game-plan over the last two seasons.
There is no one on the Gunners roster quite like him – brute athleticism in its purest sense, stretching play and providing a different kind of threat that takes just a split seconds of lapsed concentration to reveal itself. Without that added dynamic, for all their quality on the ball, technical mastery and inventiveness in midfield, Arsenal become incredibly one-dimensional going forward. Suddenly its all eye-of-a-needle stuff, especially in the final third.
There are certainly differences between Walcott and Sanchez. The England international is at his best when working on instincts, using his pace to get into advantageous positions. He is not a great thinker, at least in the playmaking sense, and is by no means one of Arsenal’s leading technicians.
The Chilean on the other hand, although an impressive, explosive athlete renowned for his speed and stamina, is better famed for his ability on the ball, which after all, is now the leading requisite if one is to ply their trade with the Catalans. In that sense, he is very much like Arsenal’s current cast.
But the combination of both is what makes the 25 year-old such an important signing for the Gunners. He shares their entrenched desire for aesthetic football, but bridges into the realms of natural physicality that the North Londoners missed so detrimentally towards the business end of last season. Tica-taca technique and intelligent movement is juxtaposed by athleticism, power and pace. Add Sanchez’s goals into the equation, 21 in 54 appearances across all competitions last season, and it’s not hard to see how the Barcelona forward will drastically improve the Gunners going forward.
The displeasure of witnessing Cesc Fabregas in a Chelsea jersey will undoubtedly tear at the collective heart of the Gunners support in the many years to come. And should the Blues, now equipped with a ferociously talented starting XI, claim the Premier League title next season, questions will undoubtedly be asked of Arsene Wenger’s decision to pass on his former captain once again.
However, not only is Alexis Sanchez two years younger than his former Catalan team-mate, but furthermore and most importantly, he addresses Arsenal’s most prevailing philosophical flaw. Cesc Fabregas, for all his undoubted quality, would only have further amplified Arsenal’s growing one-dimensionalism; Sanchez on the other hand, represents a significant step towards solving it.
I have been ever-critical of Arsene Wenger over the last five years or so, especially when it comes to his unnecessarily cautious transfer policy. But on this occasion, despite turning down the opportunity to sign a world class player who typifies Arsenal’s unique style, the Gunners gaffer has made the right decision.