As Chelsea prepare to face Arsenal at the Emirates this weekend; two of the star performers of the season will go head to head. Eden Hazard has continued to enhance his reputation as one of the best players in Europe, while Alexis Sanchez has instantly acclimatised to the Premier League and has almost single-handedly at times, kept Arsenal in the hunt for top four, or better.
Although a young striker at white Hart Lane may argue his case, between them they are probably the stand out candidates for the player of the season gong. But who has been better out the two superstars?
When the Chilean was acquired from Barcelona for a reported £30m fee, pressure was instantly placed on the forward. Arsenal, without a title since 2004 have been desperate for a figurehead and inspirational forward player, not since Thierry Henry have the Gunners had a consistently world class performer plying their trade for them.
His impact in his maiden season has been nothing short of breath-taking, his early season form was essentially the sole reason for them now having a platform to build an unlikely title challenge upon. At one point before Christmas, an Arsenal team without him would have found themselves nine points worse off.
But his first season has been about so much more than statistics, he has played the game how fans of any team wish their team to do. He has played with rawness, freshness, unshackled by tactical inflexibility and seemingly unburdened by the expectation placed upon him. As well as his, at times, farcical levels of skill, he has shown extreme levels of fitness as he has continued to press from the front and turn his side into one that presses along with the best.
In a regular season, the first season Sanchez has had in England would make him the odds-on favourite to be recognised by his fellow pros. But across the city, a Belgian has continued to put in performances that make him one of the most highly rated players in world football.
Hazard, almost the complete footballer in previous seasons has added even more to his game, his final ball and decision making seem to have exponentially improved under the guidance of the Special One, he has drove Chelsea from midfield and has chipped in with vital goals and assists. As Wenger recently stated “He can turn games when it’s 0-0 and tight. That’s the sign of a top player.”
Countless times the Belgian has dragged his team over the line and now he appears destined to drag his team over the line in the title race. His performance against Manchester United was a typical one for the winger, kept quiet for the majority of the game, on the peripheries; but when the opportunity came and it was taken with calmness and skill and represented the difference between the sides.
Almost a polar opposite to some wide men he wants the ball when times are tough, he is of course devastating in games where Chelsea are on top; but he is not afraid, to use a horrible footballing cliché, to roll his sleeves up when times are tough.
Many would argue that the player of the year should come from the Champions, so with that reasoning Hazard maybe just pips Sanchez. But the enticing fact for supporters and the petrifying fact for defenders, is that these two appear to be getting better and better and the gap to the rest of the division may be about to be widened further.