Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez: how long can the magic last?
The Chilean is fast becoming a Gunners legend – but Arsenal fans should enjoy him while they can
Arsenal's latest hero Alexis Sanchez produced another masterclass as the Gunners beat Stoke 3-0 at the Emirates on Sunday, and he is already being talked about as a candidate for Premier League player of the season.
His latest bravura performance included an assist for Arsenal's opener and then two more goals, his 17th and 18th of the season, to finish off the visitors.
Many observers thought it fitting that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was among the Emirates crowd to witness the Chilean at his best.
His first goal was "so sublimely worked and so expertly finished that even Thierry Henry, sitting high in the Emirates Stadium, was brought to his feet," purrs Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph. "Not since those heady Henry days at the start of the century has an Arsenal player delivered more consistently complete exhibitions of attacking football."
In the wake of his latest showstopper Adam Bate of Sky Sports has analysed his statistics this season. "It would be wrong to call Arsenal a one-man team. But while there have been players who overshadow their team-mates through force of personality, weight of goals, presence on the pitch or as a creative fulcrum, few do the lot quite like Sanchez," he says.
He is the third highest goalscorer in the league (behind Deigo Costa, Sergio Aguero and Charlie Austin) and is also fourth in assists (behind Cesc Fabregas, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Leighton Baines), which means that he has been involved in more goals than any other player this term.
He has also created 57 chances for the Gunners, is the third most successful dribbler in the league and made the most high-intensity runs of any Arsenal player against Stoke.
But there is an even more impressive statistic, notes Rory Smith in The Times. "The Chilean, on the back of a World Cup, in a new country and a new league, has played more minutes this season than any other in Europe — 2,476 for his club, in case you were wondering, and 265 for his country. More remarkable is that he shows no signs of slowing down."
That statistic could come back to haunt Arsenal, however. Sanchez reportedly demanded to play against Hull in the FA Cup even though Wenger offered him the chance to rest.
Given Sanchez's determination to play every minute and Arsenal's well documented problems with injury and rehabilitation, how long can he avoid the physio room?
And there is another reason Arsenal fans should enjoy Sanchez while they can - recently Gunners stars have developed a habit of burning brightly before fading away, or even moving away:
- Last year's player of the season was Aaron Ramsey, who was almost as brilliant as Sanchez, in the early part of the 2013/14 season until injury struck at Christmas and he missed three months. He returned to score the winner in the FA Cup final but rarely played at the same level this term.
- Then there is the curious case of Mesut Ozil, who hit the ground running at the start of last season before fading away badly. Few at the Emirates now know what to make of a player who looked set to become an instant legend a little over a year ago.
- In 2013, player of the season was Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard enjoyed a brilliant debut season before falling out of favour and enduring a largely anonymous second campaign, albeit capped with a goal in the FA Cup final. He has now returned to form and is reestablishing himself in the side after reports that he was set to leave. Fans will not want Sanchez's career to follow a similar trajectory.
- Robin van Persie was the top Gunner in 2012, scoring 37 goals and being named PFA Player of the Year. The Arsenal captain celebrated by walking out on the club and signing for Manchester United.
- Van Persie's decision to jump ship was hard to swallow for Gunners but could not have been unexpected, coming as it did after the defections of two other Gunners favourites Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. The Emirates faithful will be hoping that Sanchez remains true to Arsene Wenger if another club comes calling.