Last night Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 3-2, a close game that was decided by two moments of brilliance by Alexis Sanchez. But more than just the two goals that he scored, from the very first whistle, Alexis put in a scintillating performance on Arsenal’s left flank. How so?
He took a season high 101 touches – more than any player on the pitch and the first time as an Arsenal player he’s demanded the ball that often. Even in his other man of the match performance this season against Everton he only had 77 touches.
Of those touches, he attempted 11 dribbles, 8 more than his season average. He completed 82% of his passes, 10 points higher than his season average. He attempted 61 passes, 1/3 more than his season average of 41. And he completed 50 passes: where he normally completes just 30/40 passes, he went 50/61.
It wasn’t just passing the ball around, he also shared the ball. He was only credited with one key pass, but he created three big chances by my reckoning – two for Ozil (one Ozil passed to noone and the other he shot into the keeper), and one delicious cross in to a dangerous area that Bellerin failed to control. With better finishers, he could have had a hat-trick of assists to go with his two goals.
And his goals as well were unusual. This season Alexis has mostly settled for mopey shots from outside the 18 yard box – taking a career high 1.8 per game and for the first time in his career taking more shots outside the box than inside. But yesterday he was found by a brilliant ball from Wilshere, who looked up somewhat stunned to see an Arsenal player running in behind the defense, and probably even more shocked that it was Alexis. Wilshere picked out a pass which Alexis perfectly controlled and coolly slotted home for the goal.
And Alexis even chipped in on defense. He tracked back to help Kolasinac out with 1/3 tackles and (more importantly) 3 interceptions. Alexis has only made 6 interceptions this entire season, three of them last night. I don’t have to tell you that his interception rate is the lowest of his time at Arsenal, nearly 1/3 of the number he got in his first season when his all action displays endeared him to some supporters.
Running off the ball, starting and finishing fast breaks, pouncing on loose balls, picking out deadly crosses to his teammates, carving open the defense with his dribbles, making himself available for passes, tracking back to help out his fullback, and pressing the opposition in defense. This was the Alexis Sanchez that we love. This was also the Alexis Sanchez that hasn’t shown up at Arsenal for nearly a year and a half.
Alexis Sanchez is out of contract this summer and starting on Monday is free to sign a pre-agreement with a foreign club. Wenger forced Alexis to stay at Arsenal this summer – denying him a move to Man City in the hopes that keeping Alexis would “pay off” in the form of a Champions League berth. The dangers of foolishly keeping Alexis became abundantly clear last night.
The math for that decision was always wrong. Keeping a player who City offered to buy for £50m made no sense. Arsenal were never going to touch Man City for the Premier League title this season. If you looked at the underlying stats from last season, you could see that it was actually City’s defense which were going to carry them easily to the title. Alexis wasn’t going to be the final piece in their title push and they have proven that even without Alexis they are the best football team that England has ever seen.*
Wenger pulling the rug out from under that deal at the last minute because he couldn’t persuade Lemar to join Arsenal will go down as one of the worst decisions of his career. Not only are Arsenal out £50m but Alexis hasn’t been giving his best as Arsene Wenger suggested he would. And it looks like Arsenal are going to struggle to finish top four, which would be something of a consolation prize.
According to his WhoScored rating, this is Alexis’ 2nd worst season as a professional footballer. And you just have to watch him play to see that he’s not into it, that he’s going through the motions. Though even an Alexis going through the motions is a pretty damn good player, 14th best in the League (he was 2nd behind Hazard last season).
But I wonder if last night was his farewell to Arsenal. He was given a few days off around the holidays and instead of going home to Chile, he met his family in Paris, where one of the richest clubs in the world and one of his suitors happen to be based. Meaning that Paris Saint Germain are probably ready to sign a pre-deal with him. Maybe even as soon as Monday. And last night he showed us why he’s wanted by nearly every big club in the world; he can create and finish, he can play hard for his team, he can be a demon on the pitch.
I should be angry but I’ve seen this movie before: Arsenal land a world class player, Arsenal fail to win anything meaningful with that player because the club refuses to build a complete team, that player leaves Arsenal, and goes on to win the League. I’ve seen this movie so many times that I could write the script for the next one: Arsenal episode IV – A New Hope.
*They are better than the Invincibles, even if they don’t go undefeated.