When Arsenal signed Mesut Özil in 2013 some fans partied on the streets outside the Emirates Stadium, celebrating the fact their club had a world-class footballer again. Özil’s time at Arsenal has been affected by injury and adjustment but, one season on, Arsenal supporters certainly do have a global star to call their own, but it is last summer’s arrival, Alexis Sanchez, not the German.
If Özil’s contributions are subtle and artistic, Sanchez’s are glaringly obvious. He is punchy, direct, individualistic and decisive. Özil still needs time to settle in, Sanchez is perfectly adapted to the English game. The Chilean is halfway through his first season and has 12 Premier League goals, 18 in all competitions. He wins games for Arsenal by himself – on Sunday against Stoke he was brilliant again, making the first and scoring the next two in a 3-0 victory. The striker is the best player at Arsenal since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012.
There are only two others who could claim to be the signing of the Premier League season, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa at Chelsea. But while they play for a very strong side, Sanchez is dragging Arsenal along with him.
Arsenal’s Chilean and Costa, who was born in Brazil, are the latest in a new breed at the top end of the Premier League: a ferociously competitive South American forward. Ever since West Ham United signed Carlos Tevez in 2006, some of the best forwards in England have shared that relentless energy, that imagination and that same thirst to find any way to goal they can. In 2011 Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero arrived, last year it was Costa and Sanchez.
Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, worked with Tevez at Manchester City and on Sunday night he agreed that there was a comparison between the Argentine and Sanchez. “They are similar,” he said. “South American players do have this passion and drive, that willingness to work and make things happen. He is a world star and he has shown that.”
Sanchez is quicker and more skilful than Tevez and against Stoke he was playing on the left wing. But they have the same appetite for work, which makes them so successful in the Premier League. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke about Sanchez after the game and pointed out how his work rate off the ball made him the perfect fit for the English game.
“You have to give him so much credit for the way Alexis has settled in so quickly,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “He is not afraid to get tackled and put himself on the line, work back and work hard. If you come from a foreign league people may think that’s not a part of their league at all and you have to get used to that. But he’s come to England and he’s more English than anyone I’ve ever seen in the way he plays and in his approach. The rest of it takes care of itself.”
It helps that Sanchez played for Barcelona, where winning the ball back quickly is so important, but as he has shown for Udinese and for Chile, it is an innate part of his game, – and an inspiration to his team-mates. “When you see someone working hard from the front, when they close through players and you’re not there to back him up, you have to look at yourself and think: ‘Why wasn’t I there?’” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “It sets the tone for the rest of the team. It’s something we work hard on and Alexis does it better than anyone I’ve seen. he’s come from Barcelona and that’s a strong philosophy that they play. We have been learning from him.”
Sanchez has started 29 of Arsenal’s 32 competitive games so far this season but he does not want to be rested and treats every game the same. “He loves it, he absolutely loves it,” added Oxlade-Chamberlain. “He’s like a Duracell battery. He never stops and never gives in. Whether it’s a cup competition or times where it’s maybe a chance for a rest, he’s the first one to say he wants to play.
“From his attitude and the way he approaches training you wouldn’t think he’s tired. The way he’s playing you wouldn’t take him out either.”Reuse content