A little man from Chile is proving to be a red-hot find for the Gunners this season.
After leaving Barcelona for Arsenal in a £35million move during the summer, Alexis Sanchez has left the crowds at the Emirates Stadium as breathless as a daredevil dumb enough to take a bite out of a Trinidad moruga scorpion (for those of you who aren’t aficionados of spicy food, look it up), with a number of stand-out performances leading him to score ten goals in his first 16 appearances for his new club.
The lightning-quick speed with which Sanchez has adapted to Premier League football aptly complements his on-field rapidity – a trait that fans of Barcelona, Udinese and the South American clubs of River Plate, Colo-Colo and Cobreloa are all too aware of – and the sight of the fleet-footed forward leaving Premier League defenders trailing in his wake, Road Runner-style, will leave the fans of one top flight club in particular wondering what could have been.
Liverpool were strongly linked with Sanchez throughout the summer, and saw him as an ideal replacement for the Barca-bound Luis Suarez. Nevertheless, swapping the Catalan club for the city of the Cavern Club – as a fellow South American went in the opposite direction – never materialised for Sanchez as he favoured a move to the capital over Merseyside, and judging by the way that the Reds and the Gunners have begun their campaigns, one can see why the two sides were so desperate to secure his signature.
Arsenal may be sitting in fourth in the league table, yet theirs has been a largely stuttering start to the season. The recent home draw against Hull City – in which the Gunners needed a last-minute Danny Welbeck goal to rescue a point – saw criticisms levelled at Arsene Wenger for his failure to adequately strengthen the side’s defence, and an equally late comeback against Anderlecht in the Champions League disguised the fact that they are not finding things too easy on the continent either. Were it not for Sanchez’s all-round brilliance, Arsenal would currently be in the midst of one of their worst crises under Wenger – he had a hand in both of Arsenal’s goals against Hull, finding the net once and assisting Welbeck’s equaliser, and has scored four of the Gunners’ last five Premier League goals. Without the Chilean’s pace, incisiveness and supreme technical ability, it is hard to see where the goals would have come from for Arsenal, with Olivier Giroud a long-term absentee through injury and Welbeck still adjusting to life at the North London club.
As for Liverpool, their failure to lure the Chile international to Anfield precipitated the signing of Mario Balotelli, and how their fans must now yearn for a player of Sanchez’s industry and goalscoring prowess in what has been a pretty depressing few months for the club. Balotelli has been subjected to unfair criticism since his £16 million arrival from AC Milan – as has been the case throughout his career – yet he was never going to be as relentlessly mobile nor even as prolific as Suarez, which makes Brendan Rodgers’s decision to sign him seem more illogical with every passing game. On the other hand, Sanchez’s style of play is far closer to that of Suarez, and the signing of the Chilean would have led to a significantly smoother transition to post-Suarez life for the Reds. Balotelli is a talented footballer, yet his lack of pace has been a major reason behind Liverpool’s attacking impotence in Daniel Sturridge’s absence. What is a deficiency in the Italian’s game is one of Sanchez’s key strengths, and the Chilean would have been a much better fit for the Reds as they sought to cope without Suarez whilst also building on the success of last season. As it stands, Liverpool look a long way off doing this.
Fans of Arsenal and Liverpool will expect Champions League qualification as the minimum requirement for the campaign. However, with competition at the top of the table more fierce than ever – and Chelsea and Manchester City more or less guaranteed to secure the first and second spots – it may very well be the case of one side achieving their aims at the expense of the other. In this regard, Alexis Sanchez gives Arsenal a key advantage.