Alexis Sanchez is the best player under contract at Arsenal Football Club. I don’t think there are too many people who would argue otherwise. Sure, maybe a few shouts for Ozil would be heard. Perhaps a couple of over excited fans would even say Alexandre Lacazette. But they are wrong, don’t even argue with these folks. It’s Alexis Sanchez, and it has been for a few years now.
However, Arsenal find themselves in a tricky situation. Alexis is out of contract after this season and he hasn’t exactly been himself as of late. Take away the one impressive performance against FC Koln and Alexis is sitting not-so-pretty with 0 goals and 0 assists. Not exactly what you’re hoping for from your star player. What should Wenger do with an underperforming star who will surely be moving on from the team after this year?
Some would say “sit him, he doesn’t even deserve to wear the shirt”, and to that I would kindly reply, “pipe down”. If Wenger were to sit Alexis Sanchez in important matches, then what exactly is the point of having him on the team? If that is truly what you believe then surely you must’ve wanted him sold in the summer. However, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who wanted Alexis sold if you asked them before August 31st. The mess on deadline day forced a lot of people to quickly change their stance on the Alexis situation.
The other option that Wenger has, is to play him until the wheels fall off (and they will fall off sooner rather than later). Alexis is 28 years old and has played all year around since 2014. Whether it be the World Cup, Copa America, or the Confederations Cup, Alexis has been busy every summer since he joined Arsenal. This will continue to be the case if Chile qualify for the World Cup coming up in the summer. So, by the time Alexis joins another team, he will be almost 30 years old…coming off of FOUR straight seasons without a summer off. His age alone doesn’t count him out…do you recall a certain 29 year old who left Arsenal and went on to not only win a title…but also a golden boot? I’d rather forget too, but it did happen. That being said, RVP was not pushed to the limit like Alexis.
Well, good thing football isn’t binary because the ideal solution to this Alexis problem lies somewhere in between these two options. Not playing your best player is irresponsible. Relying heavily on a player half way out of the door is also irresponsible. Although I disagree with Wenger often, he is an incredibly smart man, so he is aware of this fact as well and I think we are starting to see Alexis, as well as Ozil, take more of a back seat this season. Take a look at the match against Chelsea. The starting XI featured Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck in the positions where Alexis and Ozil would typically start. This proved to be a tactically sound decision. Iwobi provides more pure athleticism than Ozil, and Welbeck provides more defensive capabilities than Alexis. I believe that this decision was made to inspire Iwobi. Although fans will be clamoring for a new signing to replace Alexis, the most obvious in-squad replacement for him is Iwobi. This would’t be the first time that Wenger sat Sanchez to make the “we can do this without you” point…remember how well that went?
BUT, it didn’t go horribly this time and that says a lot. That’s what we need as a club. The man who has bailed us out of plenty bad situations will not be there for us next year, so we need to start giving our players with potential some time to shine.
We also saw a similar situation in the 2-0 victory over West Brom last weekend. Aaron Ramsey was more of the de facto number 10 for the match, taking on a role similar to the one he occupied before Alexis came to the Emirates. For the last two years Ramsey has been more of a box-to-box player than primary playmaker (which we all now he prefers). I said on the Two Yellows podcast earlier this week that Ramsey may start to shift more upfield to fill in an Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil sized hole that will be left behind next season.
I support these decisions that Wenger has been making, it shows that he is forward thinking. But I understand if others disagree. It all depends on what you expect the team to accomplish this season. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have any hope for the league this year…I fully believe that trophy will end up in Manchester one way or the other. But, if you do have hopes for the title, then I’m sure you are screaming for Alexis to start every game, and I wouldn’t hold anything against you for having that opinion. I think we have a shot at pretty much everything else, and should try to win every piece of silverware we can…but the most crucial thing for me is a Champions League spot. We need to throw everything at Europa while being able to maintain a top 4 finish in the league. The weaker opposition in Europa allows us to either steamroll the competition or rotate the squad…and I’m fine with both. They key is stability and having something to grow for next season. A change is coming and we need to be ready to cope with these key departures. Playing our high upside players with supporting roles from Alexis and Ozil might be the way to go.
My colleague Tim wrote about Arsenal’s upcoming “easy fixtures” and I think right now is a perfect time to try new things with this squad. Don’t get too crazy. But I would be hesitant to start Ozil and Alexis together at all this year. They, themselves, can not be the core of this team anymore so the duo should be used sparingly.
Let me know what you guys think about this. Comment below or take it to twitter. @jasonbaranowski or @afcstuff.