Tuesday 25 June 2019

Arsenal brace for nightmare scenario of Sanchez exit

Alexis Sanchez won’t be short of tempting offers to leave Arsenal this summer. Photo: PA Wire
Alexis Sanchez won’t be short of tempting offers to leave Arsenal this summer. Photo: PA Wire

Jason Burt

Alexis Sanchez's nickname as a boy was 'Dilla' ­ from the Spanish ardilla, squirrel - because he was so quick and nimble as he climbed the roofs of his hometown of Tocopilla, 1,000 miles north of the Chilean capital Santiago, to retrieve the ball while playing on the streets.

But there is another interpretation of 'Dilla', as locals argue that it is a shortened version of pesadilla - nightmare. With the distinct likelihood that Arsenal's final Premier League match of the season, against Everton, today will be Sanchez's last appearance at the Emirates - there is still the FA Cup final to come ­- supporters are facing up to their own nightmare. Losing him.

While the debate has raged as to whether Arsene Wenger should remain as manager after another 'Groundhog' season of disappointment, which is likely - unless Liverpool slip up at home to Middlesbrough - to end without qualification for the Champions League, the consensus over Sanchez has never wavered. He has to stay.

Except that he has just 13 months left on his contract and while talks stalled and then stopped, until after next weekend, a host of Europe's leading clubs have been negotiating with his agent, Fernando Felicevich, who can present his client with a number of lucrative, tempting offers.

Felicevich also represents Sanchez's fellow Chilean Arturo Vidal, the Bayern Munich midfielder. The Bundesliga champions have indicated that they would be prepared to pay €65m for Sanchez and that they would meet his wage demands. The finances are also not a problem for Paris Saint-Germain, and Sanchez figures prominently on their list of targets.

Juventus have also expressed an interest and then, of course, there are Chelsea and Manchester City. While Arsenal have indicated that they would want Sanchez to go abroad if he left them, the striker may not be willing to agree to that.

The level of interest contrasts sharply with that over Mesut Ozil, who shares the same contractual situation as Sanchez. For, while his German international team-mate Julian Draxler has spoken about wanting Ozil to join him at PSG, the fact is that so far the only strong interest shown has come from China - where Sanchez is also wanted, pushing his 'going rate' even higher - and Turkish club Fenerbahce.

Publicly, Wenger and Arsenal insist Sanchez is going nowhere. In fact, they say they are prepared for him to run down his contract and leave for free next season, but that will be a hard position to maintain given the interest in him and the fee, or if he pushes to go and refuses to sign a new contract.

In fairness, that new contract goes beyond the financial remuneration for Sanchez, even if he is demanding an extraordinary £300,000 (€350,000) a week.

Arsenal have gradually edged closer to that figure and know others are prepared to pay it. They also have to weigh the extraordinary outlay against the cost of replacing Sanchez.

The problem for the player is that while he would prefer to stay - he likes the club and living in London - he is 28 and this deal should be the biggest of his career in terms of where it takes him and the competitiveness of the team he joins. Which brings us on to Arsenal and the Champions League. Missing out could be the clincher and would enable Sanchez to sell his departure to Arsenal supporters.

When Sanchez left Barcelona in 2014, he chose Arsenal ahead of Liverpool, who desperately wanted him to replace Luis Suarez. Four factors persuaded him to choose Arsenal: London; the belief that Arsenal were better placed to qualify for the Champions League regularly; the chance to play with Ozil; and the intervention of Wenger.

Three of those factors still hold - although Sanchez's relationship with Wenger has been strained this season there is no great conflict - at least until the manager decides his own future. But Arsenal's lack of competitiveness has frustrated and angered Sanchez, who has clashed with team-mates and publicly shown his petulance. He was dropped by Wenger - who then had to turn to him at half-time - against Liverpool at Anfield in March. There were also incidents against Bournemouth and Swansea City.

No one doubts Sanchez's talent, or his competitive spirit - he has far more edge than any other Arsenal player and attempts to drive them on. There were, however, murmurings from inside the club this year that his contribution - in terms of running, sprinting, work-rate - was not as impressive as was being assumed and that he was playing too much for himself and not enough for the team.

Still, the bare statistics are strong. In 49 appearances this season, Sanchez has scored 28 goals, 23 in the league, with 16 assists. He has scored 52 goals in 102 league games for Arsenal over his three seasons at the club - when he has mainly not been deployed as a central striker.

"He has become a top-class player. He has not wasted his time here," Wenger argued. The problem is, does Sanchez still feel that? When he signed for Arsenal, Sanchez said: "I came here to win the league title, the Champions League. We can achieve big things."

He made his ambition clear and yet Arsenal have not come close. It means he is still more likely to try to leave than stay. It is the nightmare scenario for Arsenal.



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