Alexis Sanchez the final piece to complete Arsenal
Chilean attacking midfielder may be transformed into a striker by Arsene Wenger
Alexis Sanchez challenges Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko during their Emirates Cup game. Arsenal paid Barcelona €39 million for the player after he starred for Chile at the World Cup finals in Brazil. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
In his early days at Barcelona Alexis Sanchez was given the nickname “Cachai?”, which translates loosely into English as “do you understand what I’m saying?”. The point being: no, they didn’t. Sanchez is from Tocopilla on Chile’s far northern seaboard, a place where the locals speak in a brogue so thick with slang and grammatical oddity that Sanchez basically had to learn to speak Spanish in order to communicate properly with his new team-mates.
While it is tempting to see a favourable Arsenal-based omen in this – Patrick Vieira was given the nickname “What?” in his early days at Highbury – then it must be said Arsenal’s €39m summer signing already looks entirely in tune with his new surroundings. This is perhaps unsurprising given the obvious tessellation between player, manager and club.
As Sanchez prepares to take part in his first competitive Arsenal fixture against Manchester City at Wembley tomorrow it is hard to imagine the tactical demands of his relocation to north London have been cause for any great culture shock.
This is, after all, a club where the only real fluency required is a command of the international language of the attacking midfield, and where Arsene Wenger’s obsession with his ever-fattening roster of inside-forwards has gone from an exasperated in-joke to a point of endearing late-career eccentricity.
The signing of Sanchez from Barcelona has pushed Arsenal’s spending on nimble-footed midfield attackers to €188m in the last five years, while in the same period Wenger has spent just €16m on functioning centre-forwards – albeit Sanchez could yet end up redressing that imbalance a little given the early uncertainty over where exactly he might end up playing.
Obviously needsAlready there is a suggestion Wenger intends to convert him into the kind of pacy, hard-running central striker his team so obviously needs, just as Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie were both ushered in from the left wing and transformed into refined and thrillingly complete central strikers.
Sanchez has the speed, close control and finishing ability to suggest he might thrive as a cutting edge. His goals in Chile’s 2-0 defeat of England the last time he played at Wembley were evidence enough: the first a severe little poacher’s header nipping in front of Leighton Baines at the far post; the second a finish of real craft, racing in on goal and dinking the ball over goalkeeper Fraser Forster with a delightful sense of ease.