Having spent the last few years seeing their best players leave, the cheers that greeted the arrival of Chile’s World Cup star shows Arsène Wenger has more silverware in his sights
It was around this time last summer that Arsenal’s players began dropping hints about how hopeful they were that progress could be made with some welcome major additions. The names of Gonzalo Higuaín and then, infamously, Luis Suárez dominated Arsenal thoughts, but neither of them materialised, and a summer of transfer angst was only relieved when Mesut Özil arrived with a late flourish.
This is different. Alexis Sánchez, one of the outstanding performers of this World Cup, has been snapped up before the tournament in Brazil has even finished, and it is a serious statement of intent that in the transfer market Arsenal intend to be more aggressive than they have been since the early days of Arsène Wenger’s tenure.
A measure of the stature of the signing is that Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Flaimini and Mikel Arteta all cheered when they were told the news at yesterday’sThursday’s official unveiling of their new Puma kit. If Özil felt like something that fell in Arsenal’s lap, a sudden opportunity as Real Madrid looked to recoup a chunk of the Gareth Bale fee, what is interesting about the Sánchez deal is how there has been much more of a plan, and it has been expertly executed.
Sánchez was a player who had long been on Wenger’s radar, and became the No1 attacking target shortly after the end of the season. This was a deal Arsenal had been working towards even before the World Cup, where Sánchez enhanced his reputation with some thrilling displays.
Although Liverpool had been hopeful of including Sánchez in any potential deal with Barcelona over Suárez, Wenger had been in direct contact with Sánchez in Brazil, where he has been commentating on the World Cup. That meeting was decisive as Sánchez made it clear to the powers that be at the Camp Nou that he wished to join Arsenal if he was to be sacrificed as they seek to raise funds for a new transfer offensive of their own.
Following on from the club record transfer of Özil last summer, this is the second time in less than a year Arsenal have operated in the highest spheres of the market, something they had previously felt was beyond their reach after the move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.
It was a happy coincidence Arsenal confirmed Sánchez’s arrival on the same day they unveiled one of the most lucrative deals in European football. It was almost doubling the message. Arsenal want to show they mean business on and off the pitch. The club are aiming to build on what they believe to be a promising squad by adding experienced quality.
Sánchez fits that bill. One of the most eye-catching performers at the World Cup, he comes with a record of 39 goals from 88 appearances at Barcelona. It is the combination of technique and a vivacious work rate with sheer pace that is particularly enticing for Arsenal. “Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad and we are all looking forward to him joining up with us in a few weeks,” said Wenger.
There were times last season when the passing game Wenger preaches became too predictable, too ponderous, particularly with the absence of players able to make runs beyond their front man, Olivier Giroud, when Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey were suffering long-term injuries. The idea of Sánchez and Walcott darting at speed, giving Özil moving targets to aim for, could have a galvanising effect on Arsenal’s front line.
Although Sánchez will take a post-World Cup holiday, at least he will have had some time to adapt to his new surroundings and begin to develop a rapport with his new team-mates before the season starts. This makes a change compared with recent summers, where deals have often come on deadline day a few weeks into the campaign.
Other signings are expected, with Mathieu Debuchy due to arrive from Newcastle to replace Bacary Sagna. A defensive midfielder with physical stature is also in Wenger’s sightlines. The Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell should join the squad after several seasons out on loan, following his impressive performances in Brazil.
When Wenger’s future at Arsenal was ambivalent as he prevaricated on a new contract, and there was considerable debate among supporters about whether he should stay on or make way for a fresh face, one of the most sensitive topics for debate was whether or not he was the man to spend the money the club anticipated as new revenue streams kick in this summer. Sánchez’s arrival gives a powerful answer.