Alexis Sanchez has been the glittering light in a mediocre season for Arsenal. The club’s other star players have simply not shown up when they have been needed most, and now it looks like Sanchez will leave the club in the summer.
For Arsenal, this would be the polar opposite of a statement of intent. Sanchez has been voted the club’s player of the month for September, November, December, February and March, and has contributed 12 assists and 23 goals so far this season. In his two and a half years at Arsenal, he has proven to be a big game player, scoring crucial goals against the likes of Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham.
Sanchez is not just a great player, he also demands the same standard from his team-mates. “He’s definitely one of those players who will tend to bring out the best in you because he’s very demanding of himself and everyone else,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Arsenal’s weekly membership newsletter. Sanchez will not hesitate to show his frustration when his team-mates have failed to score or pass him the ball. Some critics take this as a bad attitude that is affecting team morale, but if Arsenal’s key man doesn’t show his passion and determination to win trophies, who will?
Thirteen years have passed since Arsenal last won the Premier League, and this drought has been attributed by critics to a lack of leaders in the Arsenal dressing room. How do Arsenal expect to compete at the highest level if they sell their leader and best player?
This has been one of the main criticisms of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in recent years. The last six captains of Arsenal have been allowed to join either domestic or European rivals. Thierry Henry, Thomas Vermaelen and Cesc Fábregas were all sold to Barcelona, Fábregas eventually ending up at Premier League leaders Chelsea. William Gallas moved to fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer, Robin Van Persie was sold to Manchester United to the outrage of Arsenal fans, and Mikel Arteta was allowed to join Manchester City’s coaching staff just a few short months after retiring from his playing career. Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gaël Clincy and Bacary Sagna were also allowed to join rivals Manchester City. However Sanchez’s departure would be the most disastrous of them all.
Reports this week claim that Chelsea have made Sanchez their primary target for this summer. It has also been claimed that Sanchez hinted at a move to the Premier League leaders on Wednesday 29 March while talking to the media in the country of his birth, Chile. Sanchez said he is “happy in London and I hope to finish my contract there”, fuelling claims he will move across London to Chelsea after his contract comes to an end.
Both Sanchez and key playmaker Mesut Özil have just fourteen months left on their contract. This means Arsenal could be forced to sell both their key players this summer to avoid the risk of them leaving for free in June 2018. Özil was fantastic for Arsenal last year and at the start of this season, however sickness, injuries and poor form has meant his performance level has dropped. Even though he has failed to contribute enough goals and assists since Christmas, Özil’s absence due to sickness in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on 18 March highlighted how important he is to the team. Arsenal had 76.7% of possession on the day, but failed to create enough clear-cut chances without their play-maker. Unsurprisingly, Sanchez was the only player to turn up on the day, bringing Arsenal level with a first half well-taken finish. However, he was forced off after a heavy tackle from James McClean, and Arsenal capitulated without their leader and talisman in the second half. Similarly in their last game against Crystal Palace, despite having both their alleged ‘star’ players on the field, and having the majority of possession, they looked devoid of any real attacking force.
Before the West Brom game, two planes were flown over the stadium, showing the uncertainty of the future of Arsene Wenger. One called for Wenger to be let go in the summer, “No Contract #WengerOut”, whereas another banner displayed a message of support for the long-serving manager, “In Wenger We Trust #RespectAW”. Wenger has remained coy on his own future, but stated that he is confident his two key men will stay, a prediction that we have heard before. The uncertainty surrounding Wenger’s future will do nothing but cast even more doubt on the future of Sanchez and Özil.
A fourth successive defeat on the road leaves Arsenal in sixth, seven points behind Manchester City in fourth. Arsenal should not expect world-class players like Özil and Sanchez to renew their contracts at the club if they are not guaranteed Champions League football. As shown by Arsenal Fan TV, fans are sick and tired of Groundhog Day every season. For the past ten years, a promising start to the season has faded away after injuries take their toll around November, followed by the annual exit in round of sixteen in the Champions League. Prospects of a league title slowly slip away, before a strong finish sees them finish in the top four, rendering Wenger’s position at the helm safe for another season.
Arsenal have finished in the top four every year of Wenger’s twenty-year tenure, however the race for the Champions League has never been so tight as it is this season. And with the added ignominy of having their north London rivals Tottenham, almost guaranteed to finish above them, this could prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Supporters of Wenger will point out that it isn’t all doom and gloom for Arsenal. They still have a chance of finishing in the top four, and have an upcoming FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City to prepare for. In the other semi-final are Arsenal’s two main London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, showing that Arsenal are not favourites to win the competition.
The 2016-17 season began as a promising one for Arsenal Football Club. They had managed to keep hold of their best players, even making big money acquisitions. Midfielder Granit Xhaka, central defender Shkodkran Mustafi and forward Lucas Pérez were signed to fill positions that needed strengthening. However, these three signings have taken a while to settle in the club, Chelsea look to be running away with the title and an embarrassing 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League has added substance the “Wenger Out” brigade’s argument.
Finishing the season strongly by qualifying for the Champions League and winning the FA Cup would be seen as a successful season by Arsenal’s manager and board of directors. However, qualifying for the Champions League each year has proven to be not enough for fans of a big club like Arsenal, and it may not be enough to keep hold of big players like Sanchez and Özil.