By Joss Bennett
The dates 2 September 2013 and 10 July 2014 should long be pinned to the front of Arsenal fan’s minds. And squeezed in between them 17 May 2014.
Nine long years in the waiting and then in the space of less than 12 months, fans have been spoiled and finally have genuine reason to be happy and expectant, rather than searching the backs of their minds for optimism.
Two world-class talents have joined the club after having excellent last seasons at the world’s two biggest clubs, and an FA Cup trophy was even thrown in for good measure.
Of course the fees spent on Mesut Ozil (£42.5 million) and Alexis Sanchez (somewhere between £30-35 million) means that many of those who criticised Arséne Wenger’s commitment will believe they have won.
That the manager has given in to demands and smashed his dust-gathering piggy bank.
They couldn’t be further from the truth, though, with both signings emphatically Wenger in all but nationality and price.
In fact, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis prepared us all for a couple of big summers this time last year when he declared ‘an escalation in [the club’s] financial firepower’. And this is exactly what has been evident since 10 minutes to midnight on 2 September.
If the £35 million price-tag for Alexis Sanchez – or the manager’s willingness to cough it up – has come as a surprise to many fans, the quality and type of player shouldn’t. Although the first Chilean to join the club, Sanchez represents everything Wenger looks for in a player; the former Barcelona man has pace, power, creativity and, perhaps most importantly, versatility.
The 25 year old, who was Los Cules’ best player with 19 goals and 10 assists last season, is by all accounts the perfect option for Arsenal and presents an interesting dilemma for the management of how to best use him.
The most likely scenario is that Sanchez will be used as a lone striker, taking the heat off Olivier Giroud, who made a total of 51 appearances for the club last season and inevitably felt the effects. The Chilean’s average conversion rate of 30% for his three seasons in Spain (peaking last year at 31.2%) show he is more than capable of taking chances when they come his way.
Another option may be to play Sanzhez on either wing, as he was primarily used by Barcelona for most of his time there. However given Theo Walcott’s pre-injury form, and the fact that Wenger prefers to have a playmaker figure cutting in from the left (which Sanchez is not) makes it seem unlikely.
The last consideration likely to be made is whether a return to the good old days of 4-4-2 may be the way forward. Wenger experimented with it at times last season – including in the FA Cup final – and with Sanchez used to not being relied on entirely for his club it could be an interesting option but again unlikely to be what we see in the majority of games.
Wherever Wenger decides to play him, Sanchez is likely to prove himself as what may still only be the side’s second or third world class performer. But Arsenal are getting there, and with a rumoured move for Matthieu Debuchy and several world-class ‘holding’ midfielders linked, that number may well increase before Arsenal fans begin celebrating Ozil’s one year anniversary.
Whatever the reason for it, there is no doubt that this summer has seen a change in approach and must prove that good things come to those who are patient and wait.