On the surface it might look as though Arsenal enjoyed a successful summer transfer window as they broke their club record to sign a prolific striker and kept hold of their best player. But in truth it was an unmitigated disaster. The Gunners finished fifth last season and clearly needed to invest heavily in the squad to challenge for the title once again. However, while their rivals spent well north of £100 million and improved considerably, Arsenal were one of the only teams in the land to record a profit on their transfer dealings. They bought just one player, Alexandre Lacazette, and sold the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel and Wojciech Szczesny. But at least they still have Alexis Sanchez and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Well, that depends how you look at it, and it depends on how highly motivated he will be now that his dream move to Man City has collapsed. Sanchez was away with the Chile team and thought the move was as good as done, but Arsenal cancelled it at the last minute because the replacement they had lined up, Thomas Lemar, rejected them. After the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool and the abundant talk of a club in crisis, you can hardly blame him. Had the move gone through it would have buoyed the club: they would have brought in a magnificent talent, who put the Netherlands to the sword that very night with two excellent goals in a 4-0 rout for France, and offloaded a wantaway star who has upset teammates and fans alike with his stroppy and diva-like antics, cashing in on a player with just a year left on his contract.
Instead, Lemar stays with Monaco, and Arsenal are left with Sanchez. He will leave on a free transfer next summer and probably join Man City then anyway. So have Arsenal shot themselves in the foot by holding him to his contract? Yes and no. Again, it all depends on the level of his performances this season. In many ways, fans should be pleased as it marks a step change from the Arsenal and indeed the Arsene Wenger of old, the club and manager that cashed in on the likes of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas when they wanted to leave. Sanchez is in that category of world-class stars: he was the Premier League’s most devastating attacking force last season and without him the Gunners would have finished mid-table.
If he can fire Arsenal back into the Champions League then the financial reward would negate the £60 million transfer fee they missed out on. That is a big if, and there is a chance that Sanchez will feign injuries and seethe on the sidelines for a season. But that is unlikely given what we know about the forward. It is a World Cup year so he will want to be in good condition going into the summer and he will want to impress his national coach, even if he is the first name on the Chile team sheet. But what is even more important than that is the very nature of Sanchez, a ferocious competitor who just loves to play football and loathes inactivity with a virulent passion.
When Arsenal were 4-0 up against Swansea and Wenger hauled Sanchez off to leave him rested for greater challenges ahead, the Chilean went berserk. When club officials told him to rest, they found him sprinting on a treadmill on maximum incline, wearing a weighted vest. It seems as though Sanchez is the type of man that would rather play for a pub team than sit still all year, so he should come good once again this season.
Teammates may have grown to dislike him, but it is good to have someone constantly challenging mediocrity and his attitude may once again spur his colleagues on. If Arsenal can get everyone fit and all guns blazing, a strike force of Sanchez, Lacazette and Mesut Ozil looks positively terrifying, even if it will only last for a season. Arsenal are already six points behind Man Utd after just three games and winning the league is far from likely: over at Sun Bets they have gone out from 10/1 all the way to 25/1 and Utd look a far better option at 2/1. But he can get them back in the Champions League and that would be crucial. Sanchez and Ozil can leave next summer and a huge rebuilding job will be necessary, as Santi Cazorla will probably hang up his boots and Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech are getting older. To overhaul their squad, Arsenal will need funds, and playing in the Champions League would bolster their coffers and allow them to strike far more lucrative deals with sponsors. If he fires Arsenal back into the Champions League, keeping hold of Sanchez would be one of the shrewdest decisions the club has made in recent years. If the sulking Chilean falls short and Arsenal finish outside the top four anyway, keeping him will just prove to have been another in a long series of disasters.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and tipster. He has been covering Arsenal, the team he supports, for many years.