| 15.9°C Dublin

Arsenal relying on Sanchez to drag them out of the shadows

Close

Arsenal’s outstanding player of the season Alexis Sanchez has scored 14 of his 18 goals at home so far

Arsenal’s outstanding player of the season Alexis Sanchez has scored 14 of his 18 goals at home so far

Getty Images

Arsenal’s outstanding player of the season Alexis Sanchez has scored 14 of his 18 goals at home so far

Alexis Sanchez will arrive at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow with plaudits, compliments and comparisons to the world's very best ringing out in his ears but there is also a lingering question mark.

We can all see that Sanchez is a marvellous footballer but, after Arsenal's decade in the shadows of Manchester United, Chelsea and now Manchester City, is he the man to push them out of that darkness?

Can he inspire the sort of seismic shift in the hierarchy of English football that the Arsenal fans so crave and that manager Arsene Wenger adamantly believes is within the grasp of a squad he has now virtually rebuilt since the summer of 2011?

The next necessary step is delivery in these sorts of matches and improving a feeble recent record against the very best clubs in England. To use a cricketing analogy, Arsenal must urgently become rather more than the Premier League's flat-track bullies who themselves are all too easily rolled over when it matters most.

The statistics are well rehearsed but still damning. Arsenal suffered an aggregate 17-4 beating away from home against the three sides who finished above them in the Premier League last season. They have not defeated City, United or Chelsea away from the Emirates since October 2011.

In the last five seasons, their worst series of head-to-head Premier League records are against the four clubs that are also their biggest rivals. In 36 matches home and away against United, City, Chelsea and Liverpool, Arsenal have prevailed only eight times.

It was striking yesterday, then, that Wenger himself should note that Sanchez had not been at his peak in the two most difficult away fixtures so far this season. He also agreed that this would be a particular source of personal motivation for Sanchez at the Etihad tomorrow.

"It's true that at Chelsea and Liverpool he wasn't at his best," said Wenger. "He has had some good away games but it's maybe because the team has not been as effective as at home. When you are a striker you depend a little bit on how much your team pushes forward."

It is still early days - and Sanchez's overall form has been stunning - but it is certainly the home Arsenal fans who have seen the best of their £31million summer signing. Sanchez has not scored away since the defeat against Swansea on November 9, and 14 of his 18 Arsenal goals have been at home. As Wenger knows from managing the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira, the biggest difference between the good and the great is delivering in the defining moments.

Sanchez did score a wonderful goal against City earlier in the season and was outstanding in the World Cup for Chile but, after becoming peripheral at Barcelona, this is still what he and many others at Arsenal, including Mesut Ozil, must prove for their new club.

"Sanchez is one of the fastest to adapt in the Premier League," said Wenger. "I believe it's because he feels accepted by the other players. He feels he is an important player.

"His two assets are the quality of his runs and his reception of the ball. What everybody admires as well is that his game is always full of enthusiasm, desire to do well, to take people on and to fight to get the ball back. It is fantastically refreshing when you see the number of games he played. It's infectious."

So how does Wenger see the comparison with Sergio Aguero, a player who has been there and done it the Premier League for City? "Aguero has been less consistent because he was more injured," said Wenger. "I think in the last year Aguero has suffered from being a bit in and out but of course he is a world-class player."

Mature

In terms of the wider weakness against the very best, Wenger was adamant yesterday that his team are now "more mature" and equipped to take that step forward. There have been somewhat mixed messages, though, about what actually needs to change. Before the 2-2 draw against City in September, Wenger said that his team lacked mobility and aggression in the big matches last season. Yesterday he was encouraging the rather risky tactic of suggesting that players who lost 6-3 on their previous visit to City should perform with "more freedom".

There is certainly still doubt over whether Wenger has addressed simple defensive weaknesses. The loss for three months of both Mathieu Debuchy - who Wenger described yesterday as "devastated and embarrassed" - as well as Mikel Arteta, have deprived the team of considerable experience. The only signing so far this January was yesterday's addition of Krystian Bielik, a 17-year-old Polish holding midfielder who will come straight into first-team contention. Wenger also still wants a defender but believes this squad have sufficient backbone.

"We did not perform in the top games away from home last year," he said. "We did not win the championship only for that reason. I believe we have the potential now to be much more stable and to show that we can do it."

There is also the question of the psychological. It felt instructive to hear Wenger describe tomorrow's match as potentially "decisive" in the wider self-belief of his players. "We are going through a period where confidence is important because we have big games between now and the end of the season," he said. "We can win big games as we've done it before in the Champions League. You have many games where you know you will be judged on your potential.

"Manchester City is one of them, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are other games. You have to die and you want to win. From every big game you gain confidence when the result is good."

Wenger, then, does seem to sense that he must make people around Arsenal - whether it be players, fans, staff and maybe even himself - truly believe again that they can regularly go to toe-to-toe with teams like City.

In the battle for a top-four finish, Arsenal could of course do with the points tomorrow. Yet the club are also in desperate need of something more than that in a match of this magnitude. They need to make a statement; they need to shed what has looked like an inferiority complex against the very best. And Sanchez, who is largely untouched and unburdened by past failures, is their best chance to make this happen. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Manchester City v Arsenal,

Live Sky Sports 1, tomorrow 4.0

The Daily Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk