Arsène Wenger was understandably delighted to complete the signing of Alexis Sanchez, and it was interesting to hear the Arsenal manager’s description of his new attacker.
“Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad and we are all looking forward to him joining up with us in a few weeks,” he said.
It’s not often you would hear both ‘power’ and ‘creativity’ to describe a footballer – often powerful players and creative players are very different beasts. But Alexis is a true all-round attacking threat.
It’s not often you would hear both ‘power’ and ‘creativity’ to describe a footballer... but Alexis is a true all-round attacking threat
Alexis' final World Cup game was a perfect example of his versatility. In Chile’s unfortunate second-round defeat on penalties to Brazil, he started as a right-sided forward, attempting to sprint in behind the opposition defence. From that position, Alexis scored Chile’s equaliser.
But after an hour, coach Jorge Sampaoli removed Eduardo Vargas, a similar player to Alexis, and put on Mauricio Pinilla, an old-fashioned central striker. Alexis' role changed, and he switched from an outside-right position to an inside-left role, collecting the ball deep, linking midfield and attack, looking to play through-balls. Indeed, his neat one-two with Pinilla led to the striker thumping against the bar in the dying moments of extra-time.
Alexis showed he can play either role - he can be the Thierry Henry, or the Dennis Bergkamp. Power and creativity.
Alexis' adaptability owes much to the fact he’s played different roles in different types of sides at a young age. He impressed at World Cup 2010 as tricky winger in a very direct Chile side which pressed high up the pitch, but the following season he was voted Serie A’s best player in an entirely different role. His Udinese team played on the counter-attack, and Sanchez was a No 10 playing behind Antonio Di Natale, powering through the centre of the pitch.
Then came his transfer to Barcelona. Now, Alexis was again a different player, forced to adapt to a side based around Lionel Messi, told to start wide and make runs in behind the opposition defence - and sometimes used as a No 9. Alexis was often a great attacking threat, but it always felt as if his game was restricted.
At Arsenal, Alexis' versatility means he can be used in very different ways. He could play on the right flank, particularly as Theo Walcott waits to return from a serious knee injury, but he’s also an alternative, or an accompaniment, as a centre forward to Olivier Giroud.
Wenger has been a master of changing a player’s role... think how Henry was converted into a centre forward, or how Kolo Toure became a top-class centre back
They are polar opposites - Giroud is tall, strong, good in the air and static with his positioning, moving towards the ball to link play. Alexis is short, quick, a mazy dribbler and extremely direct. They could form a fine partnership should Arsène Wenger use 4-4-2 as an alternative to the usual 4-2-3-1, as happened twice at Wembley in last season’s successful FA Cup run.
According to Alexis himself, it’s his style of play at Chile that will be most applicable to his new club. “Arsenal plays very well, which fits my style. That is why I moved here,” he said. “Arsène Wenger's style of play is the sort of style the Chilean national team has, so therefore I am used to it.”
Wenger has been a master of changing a player’s role upon their arrival at Arsenal - think how Henry was converted into a centre forward, or how Kolo Toure was brought back to become a top-class centre back - and he’ll be delighted by Alexis' all-round skill set, because there’s so much to work with.
Alexis has played differently for Chile, Udinese and Barcelona - who knows how he’ll play for Arsenal?