The expectation that greeted the arrival of Alexis Sanchez in the summer was huge, and he has delivered so far with 18 goals and seven assists this season. He is on course to beat the tally of 21 that he notched up for Barcelona last season, a club where he was consistently criticised and ridiculed for not offering enough on a consistent basis. The reaction from Arsenal fans is much different; he is idolised not only in terms of his output, but also because of the enthusiasm with which he plays the game. He is just as willing to track back 50 yards to win the ball as he is to gracefully dribble past a few players and score – and that is why he is so fervently admired at the club. His versatility has also helped Arsenal. Arsene Wenger often likes attacking players to be able to do more than one job, or perform more than one role and the Chilean has offered this flexibility. He has been just as effective as a ‘false nine’ as he has been attacking from either wing and should the Gunners win anything this season, Sanchez will surely play a vital role in that.
Thierry Henry summarised it brilliantly when he said that Arsenal’s recent renaissance has been down to deploying Santi Cazorla in a deeper position. After the Manchester City game which Arsenal won 2-0, Henry said: “He controlled that midfield. To come and play the way he did here at the Etihad Stadium was outstanding. What a player. I said before the game that people were focusing on Sanchez but at the moment, Cazorla is the guy that makes the team tick”. The Spaniard doesn’t have great strength and isn’t really known for his tackling abilities but he has adapted his game fantastically in the last few months. Against City, he put in the complete performance controlling the midfield with his passing, breaking up play and communicating with other midfielders around him. His performances have been the catalyst for the Gunners recent good form, which has seen them win five out of the last six games. Despite not playing in the number ten role, he has still managed to influence proceedings and had almost become a deep-lying play maker initiating attacks from midfield that will often result in a goal.
The Frenchman has endured an injury-hit campaign, but he has still scored goals against Liverpool, City and Manchester United. There were question marks surrounding whether Olivier Giroud could deliver in the biggest games, but he has emphatically answered those. It is not only his goals which aide the team, his pivot role is vital in the functionality of Arsenals attacking football. He will often drop deep offering the midfielders an option, they can also hit the ball long to him and he can hold the ball up and bring others into play, and his movement is also good inside the penalty area. When Danny Welbeck and Sanchez both played number nine they would often drift out wide to stretch defences or look for the through ball in behind the defence. There tended to be a lack of options in the penalty area but since Giroud has returned a lot of Arsenal’s goals have come from inside the box. He offers something completely different to other players in Arsenal’s squad and his return from injury has coincided with their improved form.
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