I was as happy as all of you when Alexis Sanchez signed for Arsenal on Thursday. We managed to get a world class signing over the line, in a position we really needed to strengthen. For me though, it was not the position, but the type of pedigree we captured in Sanchez, which impressed me most. He’s skillful, quick, direct and a workhorse. Most importantly he’s a winner, and a player who can make the difference, something we lacked too often last season.
Making a signing of this calibre just 10 days into the transfer window, and before pre-season kicks off shows our intent. We are back amongst the big boys now and ready to compete. As well as the armoury of incredible young talent at the club, we are now starting to complement them with proven world-class players. It’s brilliant.
Let’s start with Sanchez because, after all, that is the only signing we’ve officially made (at the time of writing) so far this summer.
Whether he plays upfront or out wide, Sanchez is not a possession player. That’s the major difference between him and most of our midfielders. He’s more direct and willing to take a risk. These traits are shared not only by our best player last season Aaron Ramsey, but also by transfer target Sami Khedira. Arsene is adapting.
In the last few seasons Wenger has experimented with wide midfielders like Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. This has not seen much success. It is a suffocating style of play, especially when two central players are played out wide. It restricts what the team can do, makes them predictable and blunts the attack. There is often no outlet, especially when Giroud played as the striker and it makes us look depressingly dull. Arsene knows it and that is exactly why he identified Alexis Sanchez as the man to morph us into a new dimension.
He is a hard working forward, a rare, but important attribute in the modern game. Arsene Wenger himself listed this as one of the reasons he signed the Chilean. If Arsenal want to play the high pressing tactic they experimented with on occasions last season, they need to press from the front. Signing Sanchez will give Arsene the opportunity to permanently implement this system. He puts defenders on the back foot and forces them into decisions.
Sanchez might not be as tidy in possession as someone like Santi Cazorla, but he is much more productive. Averaging a goal every 0.72 games last season for Barcelona, compared to Santi’s 0.14 and an assist every 0.38 games compared to the Spaniard’s 0.28. Another supporting statistic worth noting, Sanchez averages half the amount of passes per game compared to Cazorla. As fantastic as Santi Cazorla is, Sanchez will add an exciting unpredictability to Arsenal’s game.
Sanchez will add skill, power, urgency and pace to an Arsenal attack which was deficient in these areas so often last season.
According to reports Arsenal are now making signing Khedira a priority. He really would be a game changing signing. With Abou Diaby returning to fitness and Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey and Wilshere already at the club, I did fear that Arsene Wenger would choose to once again ignore revamping this area of his squad.
Sami Khedira will add top-level experience to the midfield and bring a whole new level of power that the team has been lacking since Vieira. Watching him destroy the Brazilian midfield in that 7-1 mauling proved just how valuable he would be in big games for the Gunners.
Khedira’s game is built around his powerful frame and his huge presence alone would create a new dimension in Arsenal’s midfield. He’s also very energetic. He can press and pass well, but again, is not as tidy as the normal Arsenal midfielder. He will create room for others, scare opponents and be strong and accurate in the tackle. Wenger had opted to covert Arteta to a defensive midfielder and sign Flamini rather than bring in someone of Khedira’s ilk, but now he has identified the need for such a player, after watching our midfield get bullied in the big games this season.
Even if Khedira were not to arrive, the likes of Lars Bender and Morgan Scnheiderlin would be players that would still provide a significant improvement on Mikel Arteta.
What both players will bring to the club is an incredible amount of top-level experience. Sanchez has been playing for Barcelona and just starred for his country in a World Cup. Khedira has gone one step further; he has just won the Champions League and World Cup in the last two months, despite having bad luck with injuries this season. This shift in criteria for experienced signings is not new this summer, with the likes of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil being acquired in recent windows. But, Ozil aside, Sanchez and Khedira would be another step up in experience and quality. It’s exactly what Arsenal need to add to not only make them a powerful force domestically, but to make them serious challengers for the Champions League.