In A Game of Two Halves, former Arsenal players and bloggers address either side of the argument. This month’s debate: Is Alexis Sanchez Arsenal’s Player of the Season?
Adrian Clarke is a former Arsenal midfielder who represented the club between 1989 and 1997.
On the day we signed Alexis Sanchez last summer you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was buzzing. Now, as I think back to some of the moments he’s produced in his debut season, I’m still grinning from ear to ear.
At the time of his arrival I was hoping the Chilean’s pace, energy, movement, finishing and skill would give the side an added dimension, perking up the potency of Arsenal’s attack. I think it’s safe to say that has happened.
"Not every superstar forward will sprint 50 yards towards his own goal to retrieve the ball, but he does that without thinking"
The goals have flowed nicely. To net well in excess of 20 for a new club, in a new country, in a totally new football environment takes some doing, but he’s made it look easy. To manage it when you’ve spent most of the season out wide is even more impressive.
Some of Alexis’ strikes have been incredibly important, too. We shouldn’t forget he bagged precious late winners against Besiktas in the Champions League play-off and at home to an in-form Southampton in December.
He scored screamers in big matches at home to rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, and at Wembley on a day when the Gunners were short on inspiration he delivered a brace that steered us to the FA Cup final.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence he was so prolific when the likes of Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud were out injured early on in the campaign. When his team needs him most, Alexis tends to step up to the plate.
He’s not especially refined and he will give possession away more than most of his team-mates, but Alexis makes up for that by being a team Alexis showed his class against Man City player. Not every superstar forward will sprint 50 yards towards his own goal to retrieve the ball, but he does that without thinking. At the other end, he presses with such enthusiasm that everyone around him has infectiously followed suit.
I wasn’t surprised his fellow pros voted him into the PFA Team of the Year. Everyone loves a tireless worker but when you combine that with world-class skill too – then you’ve got a proper player on your hands!
There was a slight dip in his form just after Christmas, but over the course of the season Alexis has been consistently sharp. At the time of writing, no other Gunners star has had more shots, created more chances, or scored more goals.
Back in July I thought Arsène Wenger had recruited the right kind of game-changer, and nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. We’re not short on worthy candidates as the campaign draws to a close, but it would be a travesty if Alexis Sanchez wasn’t Player of the Season, wouldn’t it? I think he’s been awesome.
James Root is an Arsenal supporter of 25 years and the editor of wearethenorthbank.com.
Many Gooners would be correct in feeling that this season has been like a game of two halves. The first half was very much a continuation of the gung- ho, carefree, holding-midfielder-less Arsenal we’ve known for many seasons now, led by a new hero – the electric, swashbuckling Alexis Sanchez.
And the second half of the season was when Arsène Wenger happened upon Francis Coquelin – instructed to focus on his strengths of breaking up play and distributing to our attacking fleet – and the ability to find the right balance between attack and defence that saw us shoot from sixth to second, and to another FA Cup final.
"If Coquelin is the shield, then Santi Cazorla is the sword – razor sharp, incisive and with a new-found edge to his game"
The surprise emergence of Coquelin has allowed protection for Arsenal’s expansive attacking play to flourish without exposing a high line, as we saw so often last season. So if Coquelin is the shield, then Santi Cazorla is the sword – razor sharp, incisive and with a new-found edge to his game.
The two-footed magician has adapted to a deeper role almost effortlessly, providing quick transition from back to front – something Arsenal lacked in Mikel Arteta’s absence. His quality has always been unquestionable but playing further forward hampered his all-action abilities, so the switch to the centre has been a Wenger masterstroke.
Santi’s quick feet allow him to not only get out of trouble in deeper positions and kickstart attacks, but also allow him to nick the ball from the opposition, and perform his signature skill: the solo-one-two, right foot to left foot (or vice versa) to get us quickly on the front foot.
Performances away at Manchester City and Hull City, in particular, were about as complete as you could see, with Cazorla, in my opinion, the driving force behind our impressive second half of the season.
Of course, Alexis has had an exceptional debut season, scoring great goals, incessantly on the move, ghosting past defenders at acute angles and at lightning pace, like a lightweight boxer. But at times he has been inconsistent and wasteful in front of goal, so for me Santi Cazorla has been Arsenal’s Player of the Season.
Notable mentions must go to Nacho Monreal – consistent even when thrust into an unfamiliar centre back role – as well as the early season turbocharged performances of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
And finally to Hector Bellerin, a season debutant who has acquitted himself better than most would’ve expected, with rapid forward bursts complementing the more defence-minded Monreal on the opposite flank.
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