Simon submitted this blog before the Chelsea game and we think he makes a pretty compelling case for Alexis as Arsenal’s Player of the Season. – OG
There was a sense of inevitability about Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Reading. It wasn’t the fact that the Gunners reached their 19th final in the competition’s history, but instead that Alexis Sánchez was once again the difference.
Simply put, the Chilean has been a revelation this season.
The semi-final win over Reading was just another indication of how important he has already become to Arsène Wenger’s side. When needed, the forward is seemingly able to lift Arsenal by the scruff of their neck and drag them over the finish line.
Time and time again, Sánchez has bailed Arsenal out. Particularly his influence was felt at the start of the season as the squad struggled with injuries.
The 26-year-old may have taken five games to score his first goal in the famous red and white, but after that he smashed 13 in his next 16 appearances.
In fact, Sánchez’s first goal for Arsenal was the first time I saw him in the flesh. Beşiktaş were in town and Wenger’s side had to win to ensure Champions League qualification.
A familiar trend began. Arsenal won, Sánchez scored the winner.
But more than that, supporters were able to appreciate everything about the Chilean’s game. Perhaps the most striking element of which is not the goals Sánchez brings, but his phenomenal and at times ludicrous work-rate.
I can remember in those first few fixtures, other members of the squad looking on in bewilderment at Sánchez’s hunger and desire to win the ball back.
It is a trait Arsenal have ignored, despite many of Europe’s top sides all adopting a high-pressing strategy. If you glance back at the most successful teams in recent Champions League seasons – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund – they all employ a high-pressing strategy.
Win the ball high up the pitch, and punish your opponent for their error.
However, Wenger has never seemed to follow such a trend. Instead for many seasons Arsenal have favoured a half-pitch press, allowing opponents time to build from the back.
Sánchez, though, clearly didn’t get the message.
Engrained with the Barcelona DNA, the forward from day one was hounding full-backs and defenders. Not allowing them to rest or settle, even for a minute. In his enthusiasm you would often see Sánchez waving his team-mates up with him, urging them to join in.
The waving has now stopped, the players have got the memo. ‘If we work as hard as Sánchez, then results will follow.’
And the results certainly have followed. Wenger’s side is the most settled it has been since the start of the decade. The starting 11 picks itself and nine wins on the bounce is a testament to the hard work which has been done.
And for me, Sánchez has played a fundamental part in the transformation of Wenger’s side.
In the same way Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival in 1995 sparked a revolution, a similar scenario can be told by the purchase of Sánchez.
Bergkamp’s style and philosophy rubbed off on his team-mates, they were in awe of his ability and he spurred them on to greater heights.
A few quotes sum it up better than I ever could…
“If Ryan Giggs is worth 20 million, Dennis Bergkamp is worth 100 million.” — Marco van Basten
“He’s the messiah. We told him to get us into Europe when he joined and that’s exactly what he did.” — Ian Wright.
“Dennis is the best player I have ever played with as a partner. It is a dream for a striker to have him in the team with you.” — Thierry Henry.
Now I am not saying Sanchez is the new Bergkamp, of course they are too very different players, but their impacts on the club are comparable.
Sánchez’s style and mentality is rubbing off on the players – just like the non-flying Dutchman’s did.
The squad is buying into the Chilean’s high-intensity work-rate, never giving up and always fighting for any cause – no matter how lost it seems.
Santi Cazorla best summed it up earlier this season, and once again I will allow someone else’s words to truly mark the point of how a player can influence a squad.
“He’s the best signing in the Premier League. There were plenty of good signings this summer – like Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas – but Alexis Sánchez has been huge for us,” said Cazorla.
“He’s ambitious, he wants to get better with every training session, and it was positive for him to leave Barcelona. He’s now playing with another mindset and he’s playing fantastically.”
“Alexis is as intense and annoying [laughs] in training as he is on the pitch. He’s so into football that he doesn’t want training to finish.
“Sometimes the manager is calling it off because training is over and Alexis is always kind of sad, because he loves to play football. His work ethic is a really positive influence for all of us.”
It is that last line that really hammers it home – His work ethic is a really positive influence for all of us.
That is what Sánchez has done. He’s transformed the mentality of the squad, taken them on to new heights – just as Bergkamp did in 1995.
It is why I have Sánchez as Arsenal’s Player of the Season, even though there are certainly other candidates. Nacho Monreal has been a true unsung hero, Héctor Bellerín has developed beyond many fans’ wildest dreams and Olivier Giroud has led the line superbly once again.
But, there is only one Sánchez. As we have discussed his influence on the squad has been sensational, but even from a purely individual point of view he must claim the prize.
He already has 22 goals, six more than Bergkamp notched in his first season. And if Sánchez scored five more then he would beat Thierry Henry’s opening campaign’s tally.
But even with the goals and assists, it is still the immeasurable impact of his influence on the squad which makes Sánchez the Player of the Season.
He has transformed Arsenal and I for one cannot wait to see what happens next.
Simon Collings is a Regular Columnist here at #ABW – check him out on Twitter at @sr_collings. He is also part of a Premier League Podcast called All About the 3 Points which we definitely think you should check out.