Alexis Sanchez will feel he has every right to laugh - he has given up
A woeful attempt at punishment backfired, but instead only added to the general sentiment that Arsene Wenger has lost his touch.
Vitriolic doesn’t go far enough when describing the ill-feeling around the Emirates at the moment. Arsenal’s cataclysmic decline is showing no sign of slowing down, with Arsene Wenger’s record-breaking tenure coming to a somewhat meek end.
Things reached boiling point in midweek, as the Germanic juggernaut, Bayern Munich, ruthlessly put the beleaguered Gunners to the sword. The nadir then came in the form of a concealed laugh, not from Bayern’s triumphant chieftain Carlo Ancelotti, but Arsenal’s star man Alexis Sanchez, chuckling on the bench as the fifth Bayern goal hit the net.
Such conduct sparked outrage amongst some, citing the lack of respect that Sanchez showed as unacceptable, but after the way he has been treated in recent weeks, as everything as come crashing down in north London, can you blame him?
Sanchez’s own boiling point came last week, as he reportedly walked out of training after a robust challenge on him, which culminated in a heated clash with club captain Laurent Koscielny.
The 28-year-old was then omitted from the side to face Liverpool at Anfield as punishment. Wenger insisted the move was tactical.
“The thinking was that we had to go more direct and I wanted to play two players who were strong in the air because we decided to go more direct,” Wenger said after the 3-1 defeat.
“Everybody will come to the same conclusion, but I'm strong enough and lucid enough to analyse the impact, and I don't deny that Alexis Sanchez is a great player. I bought him, I always played him. A decision like that is not easy to make, but you have to stand up for it.” Even such a wily old campaigner cannot paper over the cracks - this wasn’t tactical. When you go to Anfield to take on Liverpool, you play your best player.
Dropping Sanchez does little other than embarrass
The attempted punishment was a microcosm of the culture of mediocrity that has become commonplace at Arsenal. If Sanchez was to be dropped for such a big game to prove a point, he had to have been omitted from the entire squad, not just banished to the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson knew to administer discipline. After David Beckham missed Manchester United training in February 2000, Ferguson allowed the England international to travel on the team bus, before forcing him to sit in the stands to watch his team win 1-0.
For Wenger to then turn to Sanchez at half-time at Anfield, with his team already 2-0 down, only for the Chilean to create a goal for Welbeck and generally show his team-mates what they should be doing is simply embarrassing. This was no punishment, it was further evidence that Wenger has lost his touch.
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This acceptance that fourth is good enough is what has angered Sanchez in the first place. When the Chilean arrived at the club in 2014, he was assured the club would do all they can to become a force in English football once again.
Having been second-fiddle to other star-studded team-mates at Barcelona for three seasons, his arrival in England was Sanchez’s big moment. He was a big fish in a self-sufficient pond, with a manager who knows what it takes to play the best football while winning trophies at the helm.
Sanchez’s Saipan moment
After two almost identical, ultimately disappointing seasons, this looked set to be Arsenal’s best chance of ending their Premier League title abstinence. With Sanchez moved into a more central role, Mesut Ozil scoring goals to add to his assists, and a more solid base behind them, the stage was set.
Sanchez has done his part. No player has contributed to more goals in the Premier League this season. There has been somewhat of a mid-season dip in form, but that has coincided with the Gunners’ recent woes - the exasperated Chilean may have given up.
“In the last nine years only once have we been the worst performing English club in the Champions League,” Wenger proclaimed recently. Is that a measure of success?
It is that very reason Sanchez has become so disgruntled in training, with last week’s bust-up being his very own Saipan incident - when Roy Keane became so angry at the attitude of the Republic of Ireland camp at the 2002 World Cup that he acrimoniously was sent home from the tournament.
Keane didn’t feel the facilities were of sufficient calibre for his country, and when he got little feedback from the coaching staff, feeling that they were willing to accept less than perfect because they were “only Ireland”, he voiced his concerns, in a vociferous manner only he can.
Sanchez hasn’t been booted out of Arsenal, in fact, the Gunners hierarchy will move heaven and earth to keep the Chilean at the club, but Sanchez seems to be at the end of his tether. Laughing at your own team is not on, for sure, but when you feel like the end is nigh, then crying is the only alternative.
The Chilean’s personality is like Luis Suarez’s; he is a winner, but creates a siege mentality wherever he goes, thinking the powers that be can often conspire against him.
This was his final protest, at Arsenal’s most miserable hour. He feels his anger at being dropped for not accepting anything but the best is perfectly viable. That, for Sanchez, is no laughing matter.