There are reasons one can point to for Arsenal’s unprecedented collapse since the new year. Top of the league to almost out of the title race behind both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, out of the FA Cup to Watford and most likely out of the UEFA Champions league at the hands of Barcelona are where Arsenal currently stand.
Many have blamed long-tenured manager Arsene Wenger, the board, players such as Mathieu Flamini, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, all of whom deserve some part of the blame. One player, in particular, who has not been himself since the new year, Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean superstar was one of Arsenal’s best players last season but has faded since his injury. He has failed to contribute significantly since his return in January, scoring just one goal. The real question is what has gone wrong with Arsenal’s main man.
The main thing that seems to have gone wrong with the ever dangerous winger, is opposition have seemed to figure him out. Tactically his playing style is being stopped. This has much to do with the fact that his movement has become very predictable. It is clear to all when he touches the ball what he is going to do. When he receives the ball on the wing, he is all too regularly cutting in onto his right foot, rarely going down the line, making everything just a bit too obvious. His movement is often complimented by an overlapping run by Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal. Other teams have figured out that all it takes is a midfielder to come and crowd the space on the edge of the box that Alexis desires to come into. This frees up the opposition right back to cover the overlapping run. With nothing to do now, the 27-year-old is either forced to put a cross in or play the ball backwards. By preventing him from doing what he does best, opposition stop Alexis from making dynamic runs and making the Gunners’ attack all the more fluid.
The Chilean has been impacted by lacklustre performances around him. Especially from the midfield spots. In order to counteract opposition tactics, Alexis needs people to make runs inside of him, instead of the usual overlap; these runs need to come from midfield. These types of runs will pull defenders out of the space that the ex-Barcelona winger values most, thus allowing him to drive at defences and shoot or pass at his choosing.
In addition, lack of movement from the centre forward spot, mostly Giroud, has negatively impacted Alexis. When he is at his best, Giroud, or the other centre forward playing, finds pockets of space and allow Alexis to play two-touch of them. This provides double effect. It allows the overlapping run to be more dangerous as the opposition right back and center back have a choice to make and it forces the centre midfielder to follow Giroud, thus opening more space for Alexis to cut into. More dynamic and intelligent movement and stretching of the defence ahead of him is necessary for Arsenal’s superstar to return to his best.
Since his reintroduction into the team, Alexis has shown flashes of his old self in the Manchester United match and the North London Derby. Still, he needs to string a few of these performances together to be back at his best. Alexis needs to introduce some variety into his play as well as needing more dynamic movement ahead of him.
Wenger and the rest of the team can only hope that the Chilean reclaims his amazing form for last year, as he will be a vital part if the team is to make any sort of title challenge.