Why Alexis Sanchez won’t transform Arsenal, even if he is a great signing

The Rio Report

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A genuine world-class star, approaching his peak, purchased for a vast sum of money from one of football's most powerful and successful teams. There is much to commend the signing of Alexis Sanchez.

Exactly the same criteria applied to Mesut Ozil last summer though, and the signing of the Germany playmaker from Real Madrid hasn't, as of yet, had the transformative impact Arsenal would have been hoping for.


Ozil's influence last season has arguably been underplayed: it may not have been a coincidence that for months at the start of the season, in the immediate aftermath of his morale-boosting arrival, Arsenal appeared genuine title contenders, and while his input in the second half of the season depreciated notably, he still reserved one of his best performances for a rather crucial FA Cup quarter-final win over Everton. You could make the case that Arsenal would not have ended their long wait for a trophy without him.

Admittedly, though, that may be an over-generous interpretation of Ozil's first season in English football, and perhaps his overall sense of underachievement sounds a necessary note of caution regarding the immediate impact which can be expected from a new arrival in the Premier League.


Arsenal fans can be forgiven for letting their enthusiasm run unchecked this morning though. Sanchez is a supreme player. If not in the Messi/Ronaldo/ Suarez bracket he is certainly in the one just below, and his direct approach married to his rapid pace and bag of tricks make him appear ideally suited to the Premier League in a way that Ozil, arguably, is not.

He will certainly improve Arsenal. Whether in the wide position he most often occupied for Barcelona - displacing either Santi Cazorla or Theo Walcott - or operating through the centre instead of the functional but unspectacular Olivier Giroud, Sanchez represents an upgrade for Arsene Wenger's side. He also brings an element of fight and energy which is a defining characteristic of the Chile side he leads by example.

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But there is a slight concern here, that Sanchez could be merely an upgrade; embodying incremental improvement rather than transformation. The signing of Sanchez will be characterised as a statement of intent, but may not correct some of the underlying faults which have blighted Arsenal in recent years.

Football analysis often falls down on assertions that a team lacks such a nebulous, unquantifiable thing like 'passion', whatever that may mean, so attempting to read the psychology of an entire squad is a perilous task. But to this mind at least, Arsenal are still lacking some iron in their psyche.


Wenger's three great teams - the double winners of 1997-98 and 2001-02 and the Invincibles of 2003-04 - were led either by Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira, or a combination of both. Since the latter's departure in 2005, Arsenal have had a whole menagerie of gilded young talents pass through their doors but never a personality with the requisite force or steel to give the new generation, forever in revolution, the leader it needs for sustained success and to win the league.

Indeed, Wenger has not had a great, defining captain for almost a decade now. Thierry Henry was a lot of things, but he wasn't that, while William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas also failed to live up to the task demanded of them by the example of their predecessors.

Arsenal even found themselves in the embarrassing situation last season where the man writing the programme notes every other week couldn't get in the team, and if Thomas Vermaelen does exit the club, it seems his most natural successor is Mikel Arteta, who if Arsenal strengthen in midfield this summer could end up having an equally tenuous claim on a first-team place.

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All of this is not to suggest Arsenal should not have signed Sanchez. Given his star quality that would be perverse. But it is a recognition that while you can paint the car as many times as you like, sometimes it needs a new engine.

Given their proximity, we may as well look at the two World Cup semi-finals as an example in this regard. The first witnessed a wretched performance from Brazil which would not have looked out of place in Arsenal's league campaign last season. Wenger's side, after all, were 4-0 down at half-time to Chelsea before losing 6-0, and also managed to concede four goals to Liverpool in the opening 19 minutes in February. Arsenal, like Brazil, lacked the backbone or leadership to prevent a rout after sustaining early setbacks.

Then in the second semi-final we witnessed something else entirely: a masterclass in leadership from Javier Mascherano as he shut Netherlands down, made two vital blocks in his own box and helped cajole his team-mates, and notably goalkeeper Sergio Romero, into a penalty shoot-out win over the Dutch. It was a supreme demonstration of leading by example.

For all their brilliant talents aged 25 or under, Arsenal do not have this kind of leader. Not yet in any case. Sanchez is a brilliant player, no question, but Wenger probably still needs a Mascherano to truly transform Arsenal's personality and make them genuine contenders for the title.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

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