Manchester City vs Arsenal preview: Can Alexis Sanchez turn the tide that has flowed against Arsenal for so long?

City wanted Chilean striker but Wenger has him and will hope he can lead his side to a rare victory in Manchester

Click to follow
The Independent Football

At last, a player who escaped Manchester City’s clutches and only had eyes for Arsenal. Arsène Wenger has seen Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Touré, Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna – collective cost £72m – lured away from the Emirates to the Etihad on the promise of Abu Dhabi gold in the last five years, but Alexis Sanchez is the one whom City missed out on twice before he said yes to the Gunners.

City’s interest in Sanchez last summer – and the very significant reason for them not pursuing him – came into sharper focus yesterday when their manager Manuel Pellegrini said, in response to the question of whether he had tried to sign the 26-year-old, that “it was not easy” back then because the Chilean had been “a very expensive player in that moment”.

There can be little doubt that City knew they would be one striker down when Sanchez came back on to the market, because internal conversations about their Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo’s desire to go back to Spain had already started (chief executive Ferran Soriano was initially not so sure it was a good idea; Pellegrini assured him it would be fine for him to leave for Valencia.) But money was an issue like never before for the Premier League champions, because of the £49m net spending limit imposed on them for failing Uefa’s Financial Fair Play test.

They have paid heavily for their necessary summer timidity in the goal-scorer department. Though there is no doubting the quality of Wilfried Bony, on whom City this week committed a fee that will probably rise to £28m, for a mere £7m more they might have been the owners of the man who has become Arsenal’s supreme talent in the space of five months.

Who knows? Perhaps City would have received the same message Liverpool received, having been strung along by Sanchez’s representatives for weeks: that he only wanted to play in London. But their frustration will be compounded if Sanchez delivers for Arsenal against them tomorrow, because he slipped through their fingers in 2011, too. That was when the Chilean topped Roberto Mancini’s wish-list of strikers, sending the club’s player-acquisition staff into hot pursuit of him until the trail started to go cold, Sanchez’s agent stopped returning calls and, with second-choice Sergio Aguero’s agent more receptive, they called off the search. City signed Aguero for £38m while Sanchez went to Barcelona, the club he had always wanted.

 

The past few weeks might not have done much to prove City’s transparency in complying with FFP. There has been something very unsettling about their latest exercise in shrewd accountancy, hiving off employees into subsidiary companies to remove them from the football club payroll and help compliance with the Uefa financial regime, when most of those employees’ work is undertaken for the club, in any case.

Yet the non-pursuit of Sanchez reveals a determination to adhere to FFP which is far more robust than the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho suggested yesterday, when he effectively accused City of cheating the system by signing Bony. “Good striker. If they have the money and no problems with FFP, well done. Rules are different for City,” Mourinho said.

The Portuguese’s talk was Machiavellian and the moral outrage false. He wants to wind up Pellegrini and get at his squad, based on his own private calculation that the Chilean will not respond when his players will expect him to. In fact, Pellegrini did respond. “I don’t think this club or this team is just money,” he said when Mourinho’s comments were put to him. “It’s not money… Maybe [some] in the media say it’s just money – it’s not money. We have good players.”

Arsene-Wenger-2.jpg
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's win over Stoke

Even as he spoke, new evidence was surfacing of how the days when it was all about money for City created a mercenary streak. Yaya Touré’s incredible £200,000-a-week salary was needed to lure him to the club from Barcelona and though he has repaid them richly on the field, his repeated public indifference to the club when he is away suggests no love of the place. City deserve far better than Touré’s reply, when asked yesterday about whether he will be at the club beyond next summer. “That’s a big question and that’s an easy question as well, and you have an easy answer... we’ll see,” he told CNN. Pressed on the subject, he added: “I don’t know. I’m at City. City is a great club where I’ve achieved lots of things.”

Pellegrini said there could be no certainties about Touré’s future. “I don’t think any of us know what will happen in six months’ [time].” This feels increasingly like the Ivorian’s last season in Manchester.

Considering that his side overwhelmed Arsenal 6-3 at the Etihad 396 days ago, it was odd to see Pellegrini dodging all these pre-match bullets. He will also be without Nasri for three weeks, he announced. Though Wenger will do without the injured Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta for three months, he could reflect on the renewed availability of Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil tomorrow, notionally allowing him to push Sanchez further forward.

There’s no disguising what a pitiful place for Arsenal the city of Manchester has been these past years, though: one point from a possible 21 in the place; 28 goals conceded in the last seven meetings and six men sent off in nine games.

Wenger claimed there were exceptional, extenuating circumstances about that 6-3 defeat: missed chances and a Champions League tie in Naples three days before the lunchtime kick-off. But that’s not really how it was. Arsenal looked how they seemed almost every time they have entered the city in these past few years: cowed and lacking in self-belief. Even David Moyes’ Old Trafford proved too much for them last season. When a team does not even believe it can win, then it will not.

Bony-2.jpg
Wilfried Bony signed for Manchester City this week

“Yes,” Wenger said to the question of whether that lack of belief had been the biggest weakness over the last few years. “For many years it was our strength and in the last two years it is true that it has been a weakness. I think we are mature enough now to rectify it.”

How often has he said that? So many false dawns. But for once as he faced up to City, Wenger did not feel the need to resort to that phrase he coined for the club – “financial doping” – even though recent events had provided some ammunition. That tells us something. Sanchez has fortified Arsenal. He has altered the flow of transfer traffic into Manchester. Now he needs to help Wenger make the scoreline a little different, too.

Comments