Pacemakers play peacemakers

Ah Alexis Sanchez. How many times have we said all those words in the same breath? He continues to impress yet frustrate, the will-he won’t-he saga threatening to overshadow much of Arsenal’s season. It is best they deal with it as fast as possible, and in this it might be better if he were released in January, rather than the Gooners holding on to a toxic asset.

The Arsenal striker’s skill has been clear for all to see in recent weeks. Against Liverpool, he led a fightback by scoring a goal from a header he should have had no business in winning. Hector Bellerin whipped in a cross, and Sanchez sprinted ahead of Joel Matip to nod the ball through Mignolet’s legs. The goalkeeper, who has been blamed for Liverpool’s struggles and may be slightly relieved to see Virgil van Dyke in front of him now – although it may mean he carries more blame if goals get conceded – absolutely had no chance with Sanchez’s goal. Yet while he may have been at fault with Granit Xhaka hitting his belter from far, there is no denying that Sanchez did inspire a comeback of sorts.

Sanchez also inspired a win over Crystal Palace, a 3-2 grab at three points. He scored two of the goals, but as many have noted, a few of his team mates refused to celebrate with him. The refuseniks – mainly the Arsenal defence – were Saed Kolasinac, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Kosicleny and Calum Chambers which may lead us to believe the training ground bust up after the game at Burnley’s Turf Moor last month may have been about Sanchez voicing his displeasure about a leaky defence. If that were the case, then it is not good news, considering that a division between attacking players and defensive players is not one you wish to have.

So the real question is why Arsene Wenger continues to hold on to Sanchez. See what happened at Southampton with Virgil van Dyke? The protracted discussion about his future with the club caused them to play under a cloud and go on a slide. Now that he is gone, watch for Southampton to play better with a better sense of team spirit.

Arsenal have managed to do well with Sanchez in the squad but Wenger is playing a dangerous game. Arguably his best player, Sanchez is increasingly becoming an influential but divisive figure. Arsenal have had a good run of results on the back of their out-of-contract players, Ozil and Sanchez, but Wenger needs to weigh up the results with the team spirit. Favour Sanchez, and he risks losing the faith of the eleven other players. And by the time Wenger lets Sanchez goes, he may find he may need to earn back the respect of the other players. If anything, having Sanchez around for the moment deflects from the Wenger Out cries, and turns attention away from the team’s results and performance.

Another fortunate event has been the form of leaders Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men have so dominated the league that it is a case of will they win it or will they lose it. It is them against the chasing pack of teams traditionally in the top six. But this means Arsenal no longer have the expectation of winning the league, and are not expected to by their fans, and are not being blamed by them for every poor perfomance because they are still in the same boat as high spending Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Arsenal fans this year will be content with a top four finish, a return to Champions League football, and the Kings of North London football crown; their fans will be happy as long as they beat Tottenham after 38 games.

It should make for an interesting transfer window when it opens on Jan 1 2018. And one player pleased to see the new year will be Adrien Silva, the signing that Leicester tried to make previously but ended up a mere fourteen seconds late. Fourteen seconds! It was a high price to pay, those fourteen seconds. It meant he remained a Sporting Lisbon player even though he had also disengaged from the team, but could not train with Leicester. In a bit of limbo. A bit like Alexis Sanchez.

And so, with the transfer window opening again, it should make for an interesting start to 2018. And you can be sure all eyes are on the Alexis Sanchez situation. Will City sign him now and risk losing their chemistry? Will they wait for the end of the summer when his value drops? It may make better sense but waiting may mean other teams may start to consider him, as his affordability would drop to theirs. It is likely that Manchester City or some other team will sign him first to snap him out of the others’ grasp.

But for now, while Sanchez lingers at Arsenal, and the rift between him and the defence continues, the midfielders, the engine room of the team – the pacemakers – have to play the peacemakers.

Win two and you’re out

The gap between 11th place and 20th place in the Premier League is currently six points after 16 games.

If a team wins two it could potentially end up in the top half of the table!

Crazy world isn’t it? It’s all packed at the bottom. It should make for an interesting January transfer window.

You might see more players giving good performances not just to attract interest by escaping from a relegation-bound club, but also to escape being relegated to the lower leagues themselves.

Coutinho goes, Wilshere stays

Is it time to get excited about Liverpool and Arsenal yet? Both teams recorded large wins against Europe’s top teams in the Champions League. Liverpool recorded a thumping 7-0 win on Tuesday, while Arsenal, not to be outdone in the glory stakes, recorded a 6-0 win against BATE Barisov at the Emirates stadium.

Both performances were notable for various reasons. Philip Coutinho, the Brazilian long on the radar of top teams such as Barcelona, scored a hat trick for the club, recording yet another brilliant performance to match the one on the previous weekend against Premier League opposition. Jack Wilshere, previously on loan to Bournemouth and recalled to Arsenal second string, in what is Europa League competition, produced a man of the match performance and had social media pundits reflecting on his performance. During the game there was even talk of taking him to the World Cup in Russia, over established players like Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson. Some even dubbed his performance in the match as The Jack Wilshere Show.

Some viewers did exercise caution though. Both Liverpool and Arsenal are attacking minded teams, good at scoring and creating chances, and the general opinion was that against tougher opposition, or teams that prefer to clam up against team to frustrate them, then blitz on the counter and set pieces, they might be found wanting. Arsenal’s win, obtained despite fielding a team of youngsters, made it clear that there is still a gulf in quality despite playing teams that finish in the top three of their own leagues.

And what should we make of the play of Coutinho and Wilshere? Should we judge the invigoration of Coutinho’s play as a statement of intent to stay at Anfield? Unfortunately it appears not. As I have discussed in the previous post, players peak before the transfer window opens in order to attract interest from other teams, or leverage offers from other clubs to force a wage rise. Could it be that Coutinho is trying to attract the great Catalan club into making a move for him? They tried so hard to get him in the summer, and it is fair to say apart from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez, no one else created more transfer interest.

Should Jack Wilshere stay or should he go? Yesterday’s performance may be enough to secure a loan move to a club tempted enough to take a punt on an injury prone midfielder. Yet while Wilshere may have done enough to spark off some interest, and he would if he continues that form, his fate really depends seemingly on what happens to Mesut Ozil. With the midfield cramped with Hector Bellerin, Saed Kolasinac, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, Wilshire’s place may hinge on whether Arsenal decide to go with a 3-5-2 shape, spearheaded by Lacazette with Alexis Sanchez or Olivier Giroud or even the forgotten Danny Welbeck. If Mesut Ozil, the assist king departs for another team or is sold, the combined creativity of Ramsey and Wilshere may be enough to compensate for that loss. So bet on Coutinho going and Wilshere staying in January.