2016/17 was always going to be an interesting season from Alexis Sánchez. After a disappointing 2015/16 Arsenal campaign Alexis had to remind the world of his ability to lead a team to glory. He did just that in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, where Jorge Sampaoli awarded him the luxury of playing more centrally. Him and Vargas became a nightmare partnership for defenses which culminated in a championship campaign and an iconic 7-0 slaughtering of Mexico that will become a moment forever remembered in the history of Chilean Football. His performances were highlighted by deadly finishes, prodigious dribbles and the odd Hollywood pass. He’s as much of a superhero to the Chilean people as he is to Arsenal fans and taking down the “best player of all time” in a cup final whilst being widely agreed upon as the best performer of the campaign is a hallmark in Alexis Sanchez’s career that he can look back upon with pride.
Sampaoli’s management of Alexis drew attention and the switch to a central role is something which undoubtedly raises his game and something Arsène Wenger took note of in 2016. Wenger built his offense around Alexis this past season playing him as a central forward regularly for the first time in his Arsenal career. His effective finishing, ability to get into tight spaces and improvisational skills made defenders draw to him to open space for his offensive partners Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil who all saw their offensive outputs improve during that time. It was a fluid front 4 in which Alexis became a vacuum to central defenders causing havoc amongst them. The 3-0 demolition of a then struggling Chelsea side showed all of Alexis’ weapons as a forward as he applied pressure and finished calmly for the opener and set up Özil’s goal later on with a brilliant counter. Throughout the season his performances at time transcended the idea of a “team game” and quickly became a one man showcase and somewhat of a clinic on creating your own goal scoring opportunities.
One standout performance he had for Arsenal was away to West Ham when he scored a hat trick in 14 minutes with one goal being a contender for goal of the season as he pulled off an insane step over feint that left the Hammer’s defense frozen. He also pulled off a miraculous chip against Ludogorets that was reminiscent of Arsenal’s own chip shot king Ian Wright. It’s accents to his game like these that make Alexis so dangerous. Things individuals normally can’t even fathom trying in a professional match he seems to pull off with purpose and efficiency, his improvisation is an extra gear he can unlock to simply break open defenses. This was a theme throughout the season and up until the halfway mark of the season Arsenal looked a team ready to contend as they finished top of their Champions League Group and kept themselves in the race for the Premier League title. However as we’ve grown accustomed to with Arsenal, team form waned throughout the course of the season and it ended up being an awful year to be an Arsenal fan as they crashed out of the top 4.
Alexis’ critics may say this is because he became a bit more disruptive to the overall flow of Arsenal’s game with just a 73% pass accuracy. However, that small blemish isn’t indicative of his real effect on this Arsenal team as he went on to score 30 goals and assist 15, with 24 of those goals coming in the Premier League. Something to note is that 15 of his goals came away from home, it is just a testament to his professionalism and mentality how consistent he is no matter the circumstance. When the season came to a close he went on to score in an FA Cup final for the second time in his career, with a goal that illustrated the essence of Alexis Sánchez as he refused to give up on the play and buried a dead chance. Individually he can keep his head held high as he was for the 2nd time in 3 years Arsenal’s best player. As Arsenal and Arsène Wenger gave the fans a season to forget Alexis Sanchez made sure it was still entertaining and and greatly influenced their trophy triumph at the end.
Now we enter a defining summer for the player in which he could potentially be deciding his last stop of an honorable career. Europe’s elite are chasing after his signature offering insane sums of cash even though he has only one year left on his deal. Pep Guardiola, the man who brought Sanchez’s career to the big stage at Barcelona seems particularly obsessed with the Chilean. Wherever he ends up, no one can doubt his commitment, technique and explosiveness. Alexis Sanchez is a real life super hero for the young football fan in all of us that wants to see the exciting and unpredictable side of football. He’s got fireworks in his boots and a fire in his belly that takes what he’s already great at and makes it unstoppable. El Niño De Maravilla.