Something is rotten in the state of North London… and I’m not talking about the 10-2 tonking from Bayern Munich.
Their humbling Champions League result only adds to a growing list of problems for the Gunners. In amongst the rumours of Arsene Wenger’s imminent departure, and the constant chatter of words like “Fam” and “Blud” from the official merchandise covered bodies on Arsenal TV, lies a far more worrying issue.
Could Arsenal’s best player, Alexis Sanchez be heading towards the exit, like most Arsenal fans do around the 85th minute to “Beat the Traffic”?
The phrase “Want-Away” and “Player Power” is so often linked with negative connotations. Players demanding more money. Trying to move to a bigger club. Attempting to force a board’s hand and sacking an unpopular manager. This time however Sanchez is NOT the villain. He’s the hero and that is a far, far more worrying scenario for Arsenal football club.
There have been whispers all season about the future of Sanchez beyond the end of his current contract, but in recent weeks those whispers have become shouts, as subtle as a Zlatan Ibrahimovic elbow.
For months Sanchez has looked like a frustrated man on the pitch, embodying the feelings of the Arsenal faithful as, once again the North London club look to be settling for their almost inevitable fourth place finish but things took a sudden twist recently when boss Arsene Wenger dropped the Chilean star for the clubs game against fellow ‘Top Four-ers’ Liverpool.
The Frenchman claimed that the decision was down to tactical reasons but unless those tactics were “trying not to score goals”, “having Liverpool as the final team in your Acca” or “Trying to really piss off everyone that supports your club” it’s hard to see how that would really be the case. He suggested that he wanted to play a more “direct” game which would almost be believable if Arsene Wenger playing long ball football wasn’t considered to be one of the signs for a forthcoming apocalypse.
The tabloid back pages suggested a far darker reason for Sanchez’s spell on the bench. Rumours spread of a training ground bust up stemming from Alexis’ displeasure with the effort levels of his teammates on the pitch. An event which Wenger responded to in the most Wenger-esque way possible: by claiming he had not seen or have any knowledge of incident talking place. (If Wenger is ever called up for This Is Your Life it’ll be a real eye opener for him, as he’s apparently missed every key moment of his career).
Instead Arsene condemned Sanchez for showing “Excessive commitment” on the pitch. In other words: he tries too hard, he cares too much. He actually wants to win games and trophies instead of kicking a ball around aimlessly for 90 minutes every week and picking up a massive pay check at the end of it. HOW DARE HE?
When players seek to deliberately disrupt the harmonious atmosphere in a club it can often see them on the wrong end of public opinion. In this case it certainly should not. Here we have a player who believes his squad are good enough to do better and wants the world, and his team mates, to know it. Even if that is by waving his arms around on the pitch and storming out of training.
Sanchez is not a disruptive force. He is a player who has realised that Arsenal are failing, once again to fulfill their potential. He doesn’t need more money, he doesn’t need to be loved, he wants to win something. The question is: Can Arsenal FC convince him that they mean business?
I think the answer is no. Sanchez’s hidden chuckle caught on TV as he sat on the bench whilst Bayern Munich dismantled Arsenal piece by piece was taken by some as a sign that he had already signed a contract elsewhere. I’m not so sure it is. To me it looked like a man laughing at the futility of it all. A realisation that he wasn’t playing for a team of winners. A wry shake of the head and a mental resolution that his future lay elsewhere. A decision made by a player and notes Wenger suggested would be the case, made by the football club.
On Tuesday night Arsenal were given worse odds on progress though the Champions League than the chances of finding Martian life in 2017. Well, I’d give you better odds on Sanchez pulling on the shirt of Planet Mars FC next season than the Red and White of the Gunners.
You can hear more of Jim’s thoughts on the beautiful game in the weekly satirical football podcast On The Left Side.