Thursday 25 December 2014

Sanchez central to Arsenal hopes after dazzling on debut

Tom Peck

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez jumps clear of Manchester City defender Matija Nastasic during the Community Shield tie at Wembley. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez jumps clear of Manchester City defender Matija Nastasic during the Community Shield tie at Wembley. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

There was palpable excitement each time the flash of Alexis Sanchez's orange boots – which almost matched Arsenal's new, rather off-red Puma kit – touched the ball here yesterday.

And although he played only one half in the Community Shield, the Chilean had his share of touches and there was plenty to get excited about, as he carried the ball forward, laid it in to feet, and raced goalwards with real pace.

Sanchez's nickname in his impoverished youth in Chile was 'La Ardilla' (The Squirrel). No tree, apparently, was too high for him to climb to retrieve his precious football.

"Without football, I'd be pushing a wheelbarrow around on a building site," he said in a recent interview. "My great virtue is that I had one chance and I took it."

No golden chance came for him to take or miss yesterday, but his virtues are wider in any case – showing the 25-year-old is every bit as much a maker as a taker of opportunities. With his first touch he cut inside and played the ball through to Yaya Sanogo, creating space, opening up the pitch, rather than going one on one, a part of his game he claims to have learnt in his three years at Barcelona.

Though it is not explicitly what Arsene Wenger paid £30m for, Sanchez still had a significant role in Arsenal's first two goals, playing a short pass in to the feet of Sanogo, who crashed – with the ball never really under control – through enough of the City defence to set up Santi Cazorla.

DIAGONAL

The second was a similar story, except this time Sanchez carried the ball down the flank before playing a diagonal pass in to the feet of Sanogo, who in turn offloaded the ball for Aaron Ramsey to fire across the face of goal.

Wenger admitted in his programme notes that the Chilean will begin this season on the flank while Theo Walcott continues to recover from injury.

But if Arsenal are to improve on last season and, who knows, go the whole way in something more illustrious than the FA Cup, it will surely have to involve Sanchez playing through the middle at some stage or other.

Not least because Sanogo, for all his goals in pre-season, appears far from up to the job.

On the stroke of half-time, Sanchez almost scored himself, as he raced clear and on to Sanogo's just-too-heavy pass, but Manchester City's on-rushing goalkeeper got there first, and that was that.

More important, in the more crucial games to come, will be how well Sanchez combines with Olivier Giroud, who replaced Sanogo at half-time, but for that Arsenal fans will have to wait and see.

On the right hand side of defence, new signing Mathieu Debuchy has replaced Bacary Sagna, as he has done in the France team, and he started brightly when his early cross was met by Sanogo's header, which nearly found the net.

If Debuchy and Sanchez are to form Arsenal's right flank for many games to come, the Frenchman clearly knows already how much the Chilean will look to cut inside and carry the ball towards goal.

And as he does so, Debuchy is clearly happy – and more than able to get to the byline and put in the crosses.

When Laurent Koscielny went off at half-time, to be replaced by Nacho Monreal, Debuchy found himself, in his first competitive match, probably the senior figure in the Arsenal back line, and promptly played Stevan Jovetic in on goal with a heinously misjudged back pass.

PRESSURE

That sort of stuff only puts pressure on Arsenal's young defence and, though £16m 19-year-old Calum Chambers from Southampton has quickly been labelled as one for the future, footballers very rarely get faster with age, even ones as young as this, and the ease with which Edin Dzeko sped past him down the right in the first half will be cause for concern.

The second-string defence this might have been, especially in the second half, but the scoreline flattered, and question marks certainly remain over whether it can be relied upon.

At the other end, that on-rushing City 'keeper who denied Sanchez his debut goal was not Joe Hart, but Willy Caballero, the second of the City manager Manuel Pellegrini's "two No 1 'keepers", as he described the pair before the match.

The newly arrived 32-year-old Argentinian played under Pellegrini at Malaga for several years, yet another reason Hart has much to be nervous about.

Though Caballero won't have enjoyed the match, there was in reality little he could do for any of Arsenal's goals, but he did show awareness in beating Sanchez in that race to the ball, and is evidently more than up to the job.

The £12m Portuguese defensive midfielder Fernando started, though he is likely to remain lower down the pecking order than Brazilian Fernandinho.

The captain Yaya Toure is the only truly irreplaceable part of City's breathtaking squad, but should the most unfortunate injury of all happen, it will be Fernando's job to replace him.

He looked comfortable on the ball, and fired in a powerful shot on the half-hour mark, but if he is the kind of player who can control a match from the deep-lying position, he did not show it at Wembley. (© Independent News Service)

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