Tired, dejected and ambivalent. These are all adjectives that could equally be attributed to an Arsenal fanbase which appears to be increasingly resigned to the club’s status as also-rans under Arsene Wenger, or the star forward who, with the major benefit of hindsight, should have been sold in the summer.
When Wenger substituted Alexis Sanchez in the 82nd minute of Wednesday’s goalless draw with West Ham there were no tantrums or hissy fits from Arsenal’s out of sorts Chilean, just a grim acceptance that his stint in north London is fizzling out with the merest of whimpers.
A lack of fight on the pitch now appears to be mirrored on the terraces where toxic protests have given way to apathy and boredom, with supporters essentially now waiting for Wenger’s contract to wind down and the board, who at least appear to be planning for the future with the appointments of Sven Mislentat and Raul Sanlleh, to hit the reset button.
The full scale of the rebuilding job required at Arsenal may not become fully evident for another 18 months with the futures of almost a dozen players highly uncertain. Whoever undertakes the unenviable task of mopping up whatever debris is left behind when Wenger eventually departs, will do so without the two A-Listers who have propped the team up over the course of the last two years.
Alexis Sanchez | PL Stats 2017/18
Shooting accuracy: 43%
Pass accuracy: 72.2%
Keeping Sanchez against his will, having agreed a deal with Manchester City on deadline day, was spun as show of defiance and a sign of ambition.
Arsenal were not going to allow a repeat of the scenario which saw Robin van Persie leave on the relative cheap and single-handedly drag Manchester United to the Premier League title, while Sanchez’s almost childlike enthusiasm for simply playing football would ensure he remain focused and motivated before being granted a lucrative free transfer.
Instead, City are romping away at the top of the table and at breakneck pace, even without the player Pep Guardiola coveted all of last summer. Arsenal, meanwhile, have been lumbered with a problem child whose value is diminishing at the same rate as his contribution to the team.
Sanchez has just five goals from his first 16 matches this season and although he had only three more at the equivalent stage last term, he was providing the razor sharp edge to an Arsenal attack that had become one dimensional and one paced with Olivier Giroud leading the line.
Much has been made of Sanchez coughing up possession on over 80 occasions during Arsenal’s last three matches, but in fairness he has never been the most economical of players, dealing in sensational, show stopping moments rather than the unfussy and understated excellence his fellow contract rebel Mesut Ozil deals in.
It was supposed to be the German who sulked his way to the Arsenal exit door as the months ticked down on a deal that enters its final six months come January.
Instead, the World Cup winner, perhaps stung by the lack of heavyweight suitors to materialise over the summer, has turned in some of the most devastating performances of his Arsenal career in recent weeks.
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It is no coincidence that on the rare occasions Arsenal have clicked this season, it has been when the former Real Madrid playmaker has been to the fore. He effectively ended Ronald Koeman’s Everton tenure with a near faultless display, earned a standing ovation for his man of the match display in the north London derby. as much for his industry and pressing than his trademark passing, while Huddersfield were put to the sword following a devastating four-minute burst which included a goal and two laser guided assists.
Suddenly, a player whose options three months ago looked likely to be restricted to signing a new deal at Arsenal on only marginally better terms, is now being talked as one of the best potential bargain signings of recent years.
As Martin Keown pointed out, there is likely to be an element of one-upmanship behind Jose Mourinho’s desire to be reunited with Ozil. Undoubtedly, however, the 29-year-old would represent something of a perfect fit in one of the few problem positions his former manager is yet to adequately fill at Old Trafford.
Barcelona and even Chelsea have been mentioned as potential destinations, while Sanchez must be left wondering where and how he would fit in a relentless Manchester City wining machine which is breaking records on a near weekly basis.
It was not supposed to pan out like this for anyone when Arsenal assumed they were returning to the elite by signing Ozil and Sanchez in consecutive summers. Fresh starts for all are now long overdue.