Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Alexis Sanchez’s mind is one of a visionary, who is stuck in the midst of sheep, at least, that’s the image you’ll have been relentlessly given as the season has progressed. Averaging a goal contribution a game in the Premier League this season (27 in 27 games), the Chilean has mesmerised players, fans and pundits alike. Yet, in-spite of such excellence, it is the mannerisms of the 28-year-old that are holding the Arsenal board hostage, and giving media outlets an infinitude of ammunition to belittle the Gunners with. Is Arsenal’s main man simply an inexorable winner, or is there an underlying petulance to the man, that has been bubbling beneath the surface since his arrival in 2014, which has began to manifest itself this season?
Let’s rewind to the Chilean’s first few months in a Gunners shirt back in 2014. The saddening thought of what was a stuttering Arsenal side was apparent back then as it is now, with a seemingly defeated Mesut Ozil out of action injured (he was to prove his detractors wrong), the 28-year-old winger dragged Arsene Wenger’s depleted team through a troublesome start to the season. His passion for the game, and desire to be on the field every possible minute gained him applause from all cordons of British footballing society. In the midst of the frantic closing, lightning fast trickery, and ruthless finishing was a small manifestation, fighting its way to show itself to the light, wanting to be scene by the same audience Alexis found himself crafting his art for on a weekly basis. The Chilean was seemingly controlling the dangerous beast, but he escaped, at least, temporarily. Towards the latter stages of the season it frustration began to brew in the 28 year old, as he began to make uncharacteristic mistakes in front of goal, epitomised by the decline in goals scored in the second half of the season. With the beast beginning to escape his cage, the Copa America win, along with the FA Cup win did enough to tame it from being unleashed, for the time being.
The Chilean’s second season is hampered by injury, and with such absence of game-time came the gradual emergence of the attitude that had thus far been subdued. Insistence to play in the face of impending injury cost the then 27-year-old, limping off against Norwich with a hamstring injury, falling victim to his own self perception. Despite his superhuman recovery capabilities, this failed to prevent his absence from the Gunner’s side for 6 weeks, missing the crucial Christmas period. A different player returned from injury, one filled with anger, resentment almost, enjoyment took the back seat as he sought to make sense of the humiliating title capitulation Arsenal endured. Storming off against Norwich and straight out the ground epitomising such a change in attitude. Was what the Chilean was previously praised for, such as desire and commitment beginning to change, or had he set sail on his quest for the title, leaving the rest of the Gunner’s squad behind.
Alexis Sanchez 2016/17, a season you could make at least two seasons on Netflix out of. Each Gunner’s game has become spot the tantrum with the 28-year-old, whether this be his strop against Swansea, his glove throwing against Bournemouth, or his routine drop to the knees and look of dismay whenever a goal is conceded, the Chilean’s performances are certainly capable of winning an Oscar for best actor. Is this simple petulance, or does the man carrying a faltering team through a league season have divine right to act in such a way? Put simply, Arsenal have been horrendous this season, no two-way about it, at times, as Thierry Henry said himself, the shirt has looked too heavy for them. Alexis has stuck out like a sore thumb, miles higher than any player wearing the famous red and white shirt this season, but the superiority has corrupted the Chilean’s mind, with the 28-year-old failing to cover over 10km in any Premier League game this season. For comparison, the lambasted, ‘lazy’ Mesut Ozil has covered over 10km 14 times, and even Olivier Giroud has covered the distance 3 times. From the outside looking in, it appears that the Chilean feels bigger than the shirt, bigger than the team, bigger than the club. Each display of dissatisfaction merely serves to fuel speculation, yet he persists in doing so. As soon as the Gunner’s concede, the camera pans straight to Arsenal’s number 7, who on cue is knelt down, chin on hand, contemplating the meaning of life.
Am I saying that Sanchez doesn’t have the right to be furious with his teammates? No, I’m not, in fact, expression of such anger is a sign of leadership, with the Gunner’s crucially need in the midst of Arsene Wenger’s worst period as an Arsenal manager. What isn’t needed is a drama, a concoction of angered facial expressions and exaggerated arm gestures to public display his discontent. It not only creates speculation, it divides the team, and in a time when a bond is needed to be as strong as possible, the Alexis Sanchez show needs to take a back seat for the sake of Arsenal’s season.