The transfer window opens next week and speculation over the future of Alexis Sanchez will continue to gather pace. It certainly feels like a large section of the fan base has checked out with regards to their emotional investment in the Chilean. Many supporters would counter that Sanchez has himself checked out emotionally, but I have to say that I don’t agree.
Adrian Clarke highlighted his extensive work rate in the recent 1-0 victory over Newcastle, but I think at this stage, many have chosen to selectively view the intensity with which he plays. However, it is beyond doubt that Alexis’ form has been some way below his best in the first half of the season, even if he is still producing on a fairly regular basis.
But it all leads to the question, should Arsenal countenance selling Alexis in January? Of course it’s not really Arsenal’s decision at this stage, if Sanchez wants to run down his contract, the club cannot really stop him. Also, there is the question of whether he moves to a Premier League rival or whether he moves abroad, because one of these eventualities is more palatable than the other.
THE CASE FOR SELLING
Sanchez has struggled to hit the heights of last season in terms of production rate. His desire to touch the ball often disrupts Arsenal’s build-up play and sees him wander into areas of the pitch where he is not dangerous to the opposition. Alexis’ passing style has always been high risk, high reward, but this season, the risks have been realised more often than the rewards. (Though he has still has reaped rewards, which are often too easily dismissed or forgotten).
Arsenal are about to lose Sanchez and Özil (whose ‘people’, I think, will continue to plant enough “Mesut wants to stay” stories to stop the fanbase from turning against #BrandÖzil in the way it has turned against Alexis). Cech, Monreal and Koscielny are ageing and Cazorla and Mertesacker will not be Arsenal players in six months’ time. That’s a large rebuilding job and the club won’t accumulate any revenue for those players.
Selling Alexis would raise a pretty penny, even at this stage of his contract, and Arsenal need money to rebuild. Having played so much football and in such an intense fashion, we could be seeing signs of slowdown. He is a player that probably won’t age well and selling him to Manchester City in January is hardly strengthening a “rival” at this stage.
City are over the hills and far away, so it would make business sense to cash in while we’re not in competition with them instead of just letting them having him for free when everyone is set to zero again in the summer. There also seems to be a creative tension between Özil and Sanchez, they rarely hit top form simultaneously.
Their differences are very useful to Arsenal and the players combine well, but when one dominates, it changes the emphasis of the team. The German is clearly in a better vein of form at this point in time and that being the case, it’s a horse Arsenal might as well back- even if I remain a little cynical about the media drip feeding from “Team Özil.”
It also remains crystal clear that the fans have turned against Alexis and it is unlikely he will win them back. I happen to think appraisals of him have been incredibly harsh, but it’s difficult and a little pointless to convince people to reinvest in a player that is so obviously leaving. It’s easy to imagine that Sanchez is difficult for his teammates to get on with behind the scenes too.
The likes of Ronaldo and Neymar are probably equally difficult to warm to on a personal level, but teammates will tolerate them while they are producing. Alexis’ production rate has slowed down and he’s half way out of the exit door, which could cause any wounds to fester. Even during his most prolific season, the Chilean was dropped for disciplinary reasons at Anfield in March.
THE CASE AGAINST SELLING
Even in a period of impoverished form, he remains one of our most decisive players. Most would agree that he played well below his standards in November and December. He still scored against Spurs, Burnley (albeit from the penalty spot) and Liverpool and made goals against Manchester United and Southampton. Özil’s winning goal against Newcastle was at least partially attributable to Alexis’ work rate.
In poor form, he still comes up with decisive moments at a better rate than almost every other attacker Arsenal has. It feels good to let off a bit of steam and demand that he be dropped until you size up the replacements. Nobody can convince me that they would opt for Welbeck or Iwobi over Sanchez if they were in the hotseat.
I completely understand that, in the long term, Alexis is seen as an imposition to a more fluid style of play. In the short term, I just don’t think that’s the case. The Gunners are not a liquid football team in waiting at this juncture, they are still heavily reliant on individual talent for results. Arsenal don’t have enough reliable goalscorers either.
Given a regular run of games, you would absolutely trust Alexis, Lacazette, Giroud and maybe Walcott to register double figures in a season. Giroud and Walcott are currently out of favour, which doesn’t leave you with much in front of goal. Özil and Ramsey are crucial to the team’s attacking game, but neither contributes enough goals in my opinion.
Iwobi has not refined his end product yet and Danny Welbeck might never do so. Arsenal simply cannot afford to surrender the goals and assists Sanchez all but guarantees, unless they could use the money to do something spectacular in January, which doesn’t seem especially likely. The club desperately needs Champions League football for the mammoth rebuild they are about to undertake. (Also because key sponsorship deals are up for renewal at the end of the season).
The £40m or so they will earn qualifying for the Champions League will be more valuable than the money they would garner from selling Alexis Sanchez. The biggest potential upside for Arsenal in the second half of the season is to cultivate the partnership between Alexis, Özil and Lacazette. The midfield and defence are unlikely to significantly improve.
But if Arsene Wenger can eke another 10-15% out of Sanchez and Lacazette in particular, that’s the highest potential ceiling for improvement until the summer. If Arsenal continue to stick with a back four and play an extra midfielder, hopefully Alexis will be less inclined to drop into deeper areas where he is generally more frustrating and less decisive.
Having not sold Alexis in the summer, I think Arsenal have to ride this one out until May. There is major squad reconstruction on the horizon, but I just don’t think the Gunners can lose that amount of end product and try to supplant it in the middle of the season, it would be like trying to replace the engine in your plane mid-flight.
I accept it is a waste of time to ask Arsenal fans to invest in him emotionally when he is in the checkout lounge. It’s probably not a good use of my time to plead with people to view his contribution more objectively either. But he remains one of the best players that Arsenal has, whether or not we feel like crushing a cup of wine with him right now.