On the surface, at least, Alexis Sanchez appeared to be a quintessential wide forward at Barcelona. Just like those who have shared that wide forward role- Pedro, Neymar, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Ibrahim Affelay and a range of others – there’s an almost obligatory task to take up when placed either side of Lionel Messi.
For the most part, in a conventional 4-3-3, they’d essentially be wide-strikers. Messi, as a false nine, would drop deep into midfield pulling defences into self implosion, leaving space for wide runners to exploit in behind. Alas, those range of wide players that Sanchez was categorised under had quite a simply function.
Press well off the ball, run in behind, and maintain the technical passing meticulously that any Barcelona player has to adhere to. Simple. Sanchez demonstrated those qualities with a superlative ease. He’s devastatingly quick, explosive in short spaces, and deadly in front of goal. You wouldn’t have classed him as a creator in any stretch of the imagination – he was a finisher. The creation was left to that trio of wonderfully adept technicians operating in the middle- Sergio Busquets, Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta.
And yet for all of those pre-ordained assumptions, Sanchez, away from the shackles of that super effective Barcelona machine, has proven what a fantastically complete package he is.
This isn’t a comment on his goals, it’s more on what he offers to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in a holistic way. Like we all expected, Sanchez has predominantly been used in that wide forward role, although not in quite the extreme manner that he was used to at Barcelona. Instead, his role is more reserved. Although that’s not really saying much in comparison to what was expected of him there, in that he comes deeper into midfield to get the ball, and maintains a defensive responsibility in monitoring opposition full backs.
Sanchez, whether as a result of instructions of Wenger or not, has successfully challenged the perceptions of his one-dimension nature and shown that he can operate wherever Wenger wants him. This isn’t an athletic wide poacher at all, but an individual who can fulfil a range of needs.
The stats support that notion to a staggering effect, too. As well as being Arsenal’s top goalscorer, he’s also got double the amount of assists of any of their players (6), averages the most amount of key passes per game (2.7), draws the most amount of fouls (2.2), and manages the most of shots per game (3.2). He’s scored headers, and has slotted home some incredible free kicks. This Chilean truly has it all. And then some.
While in many cases statistics of that nature can be manipulated and interpreted in differing ways, it’s unusual to see a player of any nature dominate every single offensive measurement to that extent. Sanchez is seemingly Arsenal’s best attacking player from whichever angle you analyse him from.
And that exceptional form seems to be highlighting a wider trend, that of top Premier players failing to make an impact at top La Liga teams. Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas, Luis Suarez, Alex Song and Sanchez have all appeared to be better players in the Premier League than in La Liga. If that trend continues, don’t be surprised to see an influx of La Liga superstars migrating to England to kick start their careers.
Sanchez has shown that there’s far greater glory to be found as a main man in England as opposed to a peripheral figure in Spain. Given the chance and the platform, he’s shown what a quite complete player he really is.