Alexis Sanchez was unfortunate to miss out on Player of the Season in 2016/17. Even with his heroics, Arsenal fell far short of their minimum Premier League target as they finished fifth after a turbulent, immensely frustrating period in the early months of 2017.
An apparent training ground strop and rumours about difficulty getting him to scribble on a new contract overshadowed the closing weeks of the Chilean’s stellar season. His importance in Arsenal’s team – regardless of the setup – was surely a concern for Arsene Wenger, and there were few teams as dependent on one individual last term as the Gunners.
Missing out on Champions League football has, bizarrely, made Alexis’ future more important for Arsenal. Decline could beckon if their best player departs and their annual last 16 date with Bayern is no more. Arsenal have worked hard in recent summers to change their reputation in the transfer market, and that could be undermined by losing Sanchez. Signing the Chilean, Mesut Ozil and other stars has helped the Gunners to shake off the ‘sellers’ tag.
The spending has continued this summer. Alexandre Lacazette – who has scored goals prolifically in Ligue 1 – and Sead Kolasinac – who is a versatile free transfer – meet two of the crying needs for this Arsenal squad. The prospect of Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette lining up in the final third together is fearsome, and will rival the best forward lines in European football next season.
The motive for leaving Arsenal is supposedly about a competitive squad. The lure of Manchester City – who are at Evens to sign Alexis – is based on a loaded attacking group, Pep Guardiola’s revolutionary management and an immediate return to Champions League football. Money would have been a decisive factor in the past, but all murmurings suggest the Gunners are willing to at least match any contract they will table.
Trophies have hardly been common at the Emirates Stadium, however. A penchant for FA Cup success in recent years may keep the medal cabinet growing in the Sanchez household, but that is not enough to retain the interest of a player of his calibre at this stage of his career. Manchester City, who finished only three points above Arsenal, are perceived as title contenders next season, while Wenger’s Gunners are not.
Whether this is an unfair evaluation or not is a matter of opinion at this stage. However, we can look at Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool’s campaigns without the burden of Champions League football in recent years as perhaps a guideline for where Arsenal could be aiming.
Wenger does, unfortunately, remain the factor that may well hold back even a squad as gifted as the current one. It’s the Guardiola versus Wenger issue that may sway Sanchez in the end. That does come with its own risks, though, given the depth in City’s attacking positions. Sanchez will be a squad member and rotated frequently, and he is not a player who takes too kindly to being on the bench.
Arsenal’s summer to date – which could yet see the arrival of another big name forward – should do enough to suggest to Alexis that they are realistic competitors next season. A move to Manchester City could jeopardise the peak years of the Chilean’s career amidst the talents of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.
He’s still at 3/5 to remain at Arsenal this summer, and it would be a mistake for Sanchez to go elsewhere. Manchester City, too, could spend the enormous fee on a player with longer left at the top, and Arsenal simply must not sell to their Premier League rivals at any cost.