Sanchez's damning views may provide epitaph for Wenger era

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Sanchez has lost his swagger this season
Sanchez has lost his swagger this season

The damning words of Alexis Sanchez may soon be used as an epitaph on another story of empty promises promoted by Arsene Wenger and Arsenal this season.

After a debut season when Sanchez was regularly given the over-used tag of ‘world class’ as he lit up the Premier League with mesmerising brilliance, this has been a campaign of uncertainty from the Chilean attacking maestro.

In fact, when the post mortem is carried out on what looks increasingly likely to be another aborted push to end the club’s 12-year wait for title glory, Sanchez’s infamous interview exposing Arsenal’s frailties may be the lasting memory.

“Sometimes we lack this hunger to believe that we can be champions,” declared Sanchez, in comments offered up before a run of games that saw Arsenal lose to Manchester United and Swansea, before they crashed out of the FA Cup against Watford on Sunday.

It was a shatteringly honest insight into dressing room that for so long has been accused of lacking the winning mentality.

This is a squad bereft of winners and overcrowded with wannabes, led by a manager who offers up reasons for their failures.

That Sanchez has become one of those non-believers after just two seasons at Arsenal is no surprise, as this is a team that has lacking bite for a decade a more.

The recurring theme throughout that time has been Wenger and while the Arsenal boss should take much of the blame for the flaky mentality of players he protects with a stream of public excuses for their flaws, players like Sanchez were recruited to change their image.

If the signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013 confirmed Arsenal were ready to return to the big-time, then their success in beating Liverpool to the signature of Sanchez a year later appeared to be a game changer.

This was a shining star that did not look out of place in a star-studded Barcelona team, a national hero who had just played a key role in Chile’s sparkling display at the 2014 World Cup finals.

Initially, he lived up to his billing. Sanchez did not disappoint in an opening season that saw him score 25 times for Arsenal, confirming that he was a class above most around him.

The expectation was that after a fine debut campaign, this would be the season when Sanchez would kick on and help to end Arsenal’s nearly men tag at last.

Instead, Sanchez has been one of the biggest disappointments in an Arsenal side that could be out of the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League title race by the time you buy next week’s edition of the Sunday World.

Arsenal could be 11 points behind Leicester by the time they face Everton at Goodison Park next Saturday, so Wenger now needs his star man to click through the gears and lead from the front in double quick time.

“Alexis has suffered more than most this season,” admits the Arsenal manager.

“Maybe he has the biggest expectation, that’s an issue for him. He is a guy who plays with risk and when that risk is not there, he is less effective.

“He needs to be confident in what he is doing for him to perform at his best and the goals against Tottenham will help him.

“I never doubt Alexis. He has had some problems with injuries and when you come back from a time out, sometimes you don’t find your rhythm straight away.”

Such were the exalted standards Sanchez set for himself last season that his comparative failure this time has been glaring.

Nicknamed “Duracell” by his Arsenal teammates due to his relentless ability to run from first to last in a game, Sanchez appeared to be a South American player who had no problem adapting to the fast-paced Premier League.

While others from his part of the world have taken time to acclimatize to the hustle and bustle of the English game, Sanchez was in the flow from the off, but the tap of brilliance has now been blocked.

Could it be that after two years at Arsenal, he has come to the conclusion that he will not realise his own ambitions under Wenger’s watch?

Taking a step down from Barcelona to sign for the Gunners didn’t affect his mindset initially, but you question whether will return to the Nou Camp on Wednesday night pining for the days when he played alongside Messi and Neymar.

“It was my dream to play for Barcelona, but it’s normal that the dream had to come to an end,” declared Sanchez last month.

“You cannot stay at one club forever in this game and when Barcelona said they were happy for me to leave, I was ready for the new challenge.

“Arsenal was the best choice for me and I have no regrets. We have won a trophy in my first season and we can win more.”

You wonder whether Sanchez’s words may have been offered up to satisfy Arsenal ears after a few months when his appetite for their cause appears to have waned.

Wenger, naturally, is was quick to dismiss Sanchez’s statement that Arsenal lack the belief to be crowned as champions as he remains upbeat ahead of the defining week in his side’s season.

“Take these comments from Alexis with some perspective,” he added.

“Until you have won the title as a team, you always have doubts, but we still believe we are in the title race.

“We do 98 per cent of things right and we have to add the two per cent of things that are down to maybe finding back our collective qualities and even put more effort in.

“As I say many times, judge this team at the end of the season and not now.”

The days of Wenger making excuses for his side’s failings may soon be over unless Sanchez and his comrades produce some miracle in the next week.

The last chance saloon is a lonely place for sportsmen who lack a winning mentality.