Winners and Losers: Sanchez the steel and the silk for Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez’s late goal to confirm Arsenal’s safe passage from the third round of the FA Cup was just the latest contribution from the Chile international to the Gunners. Arsene Wenger revealed after the win over Hull City that Sanchez was insistent on playing, and the manager should be thankful he was.

Sanchez is far and away Arsenal’s top scorer this season, with 16 goals so far – more than twice as many netted by Danny Welbeck and 10 more than Olivier Giroud who has, in his defence, been hit by injury. Sanchez, who is also Arsenal’s leading points-scorer in EuroFantasyLeague, was also delivered the corner from which Per Mertesacker opened the scoring against the Tigers in what was another all-action display.

It was rumoured for much of the latter half of last season that Sanchez would leave Barcelona over the summer, with a return to Italy strongly mooted. Juventus appeared to be in pole position as the speculation rumbled on before Liverpool also entered the frame, but it was to Arsenal Sanchez ventured. In his half-season in London Sanchez has shown why he was able to command the attention of such illustrious names – but perhaps not why Barca were willing to let him go.

Sanchez has displayed not only the technical qualities so admired by Wenger but also hard work to make the most of his ability. It’s been said more than once that Sanchez is the nearest player to Luis Suarez and so would have been ideal for Liverpool, and there is validity to that. But Sanchez is also the player who most echoes the great Arsenal sides assembled by Wenger – the sides that oozed class but, when needed, would happily slug it out too.

The absence of a Patrick Vieira-like figure is the one most lamented when Arsenal struggle and it’s generally a valid point. Vieira, captain for many of Wenger’s best years, was the complete player. What is often forgotten, though, is that in attack Wenger could rely on a player who is more closely associated with great goals and beautiful technique than down-in-the-trenches warfare – Dennis Bergkamp.

Bergkamp, in 10 seasons and more than 400 appearances, was shown 46 yellow cards and four reds. That’s not the record of a shrinking violet happy to let his teammates do the dirty work. Rather, Bergkamp’s regular appearances in the referee’s notebook are a sign of his immense will to win and tendency to cross the line in pursuit of success. It’s a criticism levelled in the past at Suarez. Sanchez is cut from the same cloth – but so far it’s shown more in his displays than his discipline.

Sanchez has been booked four times this season, the same number as defender Nacho Monreal and defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin. He has a long way to go before he emulates Bergkamp but a glance back to Catalonia confirms he has settled better than Suarez, as Barca’s decision continues to go unexplained.

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