Alexis Sanchez proving to be Arsenal's answer upfront

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© Getty Images

Alexis Sanchez proving to be Arsenal's answer upfront

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Abhinav Kini

12/16/2016

After struggling to make an impact spearheading the Arsenal attack and then becoming predictable on the wings last season, Alexis Sanchez has been a revelation for the Gunners this season in his newly found No.9 role. After all these years, Arsene Wenger has found the striker he needed.

When Arsene Wenger bid £40 million plus £1 for Luis Suarez in the summer of 2013, it incited a lot of ridicule and jokes from everywhere. However, the Frenchman was definitely serious in his bid to land the Uruguayan to bolster Arsenal’s attacking options. As harsh as the critics have been on Olivier Giroud, it was no secret that Wenger felt an upgrade was required. And it would only be one year later when Wenger would seal the signing of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona for £35 million, a player who was the next best alternative to Suarez.

“There are similarities there. Both can play on the flanks and through the middle. Both are very quick to close you down when they lose the ball and both go at you always. They always want to go forward with the ball -- very similar qualities,” Wenger said when asked about the similarities between the two South Americans.

It did not take long for Sanchez to win over the Arsenal fans, not only with his technical ability, but his tenacity and will to chase down every ball like an energizer bunny. It was no wonder that Wenger compared him to Suarez. However, Sanchez was unable to emulate Suarez’s Liverpool performances up front. Sanchez initially started a few games spearheading the attack and few more during the Christmas period of his first season at Arsenal. Despite chipping in with a couple of goals, he never really looked comfortable there and even admitted that he prefers playing on the left hand side.

 © Getty

Sanchez is very effective no matter where he plays but his movement started getting predictable on the left, often cutting in from the flank, in which he has lost his fair share of possession too. Along with this, the injury to Danny Welbeck, resting of Olivier Giroud due to Euro 2016, and Arsenal’s lack of a major first team striker signing, meant Wenger would give his little Chilean another go up front, in the 2016/2017 season.

And four months into the latest season, it is fair to say that Sanchez has officially settled as a striker for Arsenal. At the time of writing, Sanchez has 14 goals and 8 assists in 21 games in all competitions -- a total goal contribution of 22.

It’s not a purple patch either as Sanchez has virtually been in form for the majority of the season, always involved in the buildup, yet also able to put the ball in the back of the net with the coolest of finishes. Like Suarez and a certain Thierry Henry, he is also creating chances and assists for others, with his false nine role terrorizing the defenses.

Arsenal have stopped relying on Olivier Giroud's layoffs this season ©

It is also understandable why Arsenal have been better with Sanchez up front this season. His frenetic pace and understanding with the likes of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott have meant that Arsenal have finished off their opponents with exhilarating speed this season. This is highlighted by how despite his scoring antics, Sanchez dropping deep doesn’t leave Arsenal without an outlet as his teammates are more than capable of providing a threat, Ozil especially this season.

No longer are Arsenal depending on the age-old strategies such as Giroud's layoffs, slow build-up and working the ball into the box. Now, it’s one touch, pass and go football -- which is also helping Arsenal counter devastatingly this season, as seen by Ozil’s goal in the Gunners’ 3-0 demolition of Chelsea, assisted by Sanchez.

Another aspect to consider is that Arsenal don’t need to rely on Sanchez’s abilities out wide as Iwobi has shown remarkable progress as a wide playmaker while Walcott has shown signs that he can keep improving and becoming a consistent threat on the right-hand side. Ozil of course, has benefited from this as well as he is now taking more responsibility in the goals department with Sanchez occasionally dropping deep or playing creator.

Other than all this, the simple fact is that Sanchez is a better pure striker than Giroud, with more qualities such as being able to run in behind the defense, press defenders into making mistakes and superior finishing, as highlighted by the audacity of his chipped goals against the likes of Chelsea and West Ham. Sanchez is also just 10 goals behind Giroud’s best-ever season tally for Arsenal with 24, and with more than 25 games left in the season, it is hard not to see him get better of that total. 

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For years, Arsenal fans have been begging to get an upgrade for Giroud. And now with Alexis leading the line with such aplomb, at times the Frenchman felt like a third-choice striker in the team. Such has been the impact Alexis has had up front, that Giroud and Lucas Perez have only achieved a combined total of one league start this season. And yet, Arsenal’s three leading men have scored a combined tally of 11 goals in the last seven games in all competitions.

Many pundits have predicted that Arsenal need a world-class striker to finally end their 13-year drought to win the Premier League. They came close with Giroud at times, but with the Frenchman now resigned to being (an excellent) squad player, Arsene Wenger has three good strikers now along with the impending return of Welbeck looming in.

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