Monday 20 November 2017

Hat-trick hero Sanchez has Gunners firing on all cylinders

Leicester City 2 Arsenal 5

Alexis Sanchez celebrates after completing his hat-trick against Leicester
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after completing his hat-trick against Leicester
Arsenals Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his team's third goal
Leicester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez vies for the ball with Arsenals Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez

Amy Lawrence

With Arsene Wenger having presided over the only team to complete a Premier League season without defeat, perhaps Arsenal saw it as some kind of duty to tick off the division's final unbeaten record. Leicester's run fell when they came up against a team who matched their willingness for attacks at the highest velocity and added a layer of sophistication.

Arsenal also had Alexis Sanchez back to his best. The Chilean has, understandably, been tired and flatter than his most exuberant self after spending the summer winning the Copa America. But here the full sparkle was back. His first hat-trick for the club, at a stadium where visiting players are not used to profiting, was proof of that. His performance blended energy and imagination to such effect even Claudio Ranieri felt compelled to purr afterwards. He slipped into his native Italian for the right compliment. "Meraviglia," A wonder. "The ball and him are born together."

Sanchez had been searching for a goal since his FA Cup final special. Wenger was delighted to see that element of his game return, having seen the signs of improving sharpness in training. "He won a big competition with Chile. Mentally to adjust again to a competitive level when you come back takes some time."

In seeking the right word to sum up the Leicester style recently Ranieri simply went: "Whoosh," and this match was played by both teams in the spirit of whoosh football. But for all the verve that Leicester could offer, Arsenal found more. It made for a compelling spectacle.

The essence of what makes this Leicester team tick flourished in all its glory. Bloody-minded defending was switched to a rapier attack in the blink of an eye. It was fast, committed, exciting and - most crucially of all - superbly efficient. N'Golo Kante dispossessed Aaron Ramsey, who seem to feel the challenge, and the ball was manoeuvred forward brilliantly by Danny Drinkwater. Jamie Vardy, oozing belief, headed the ball smartly to set it into his path before sweeping sweetly past Cech.

Arsenal replied with a break of their own. Santi Cazorla, Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were all involved, and when the ball came back to Cazorla he made a fine threaded pass to Walcott. The left-foot finish faded beautifully into the far corner.

Another high velocity break took Arsenal ahead. They regained possession in their own area and were away. Ozil's reverse pass for Hector Bellerin opened Leicester up. Although Walcott could not get a clean contact on the cross, the ball fell kindly for Sanchez to slide in his first of the season.

Sanchez looked desperate to score more, constantly making a nuisance of himself with his darting runs. He was rewarded with his second, designed by a peach of a lobbed pass - signature Ozil - and finished with a dinked header. Wenger enthused about the German's contribution but also offered an interesting aside: "The little frustration I have today is he couldn't score. He is really upset, he needs a goal as well."

Sanchez's hat-trick was sealed in sensational style. A shrewd touch took him into position to lash early in at Schmeichel's near post. Cech was commanding to ensure there was not enough of a grandstand finish. But such is Leicester's desire to be comeback kings, they did throw plenty at Arsenal late on, and Vardy manufactured another excellent finish. The visitors threw back more, and the substitute Olivier Giroud coolly struck Arsenal's fifth.

Ranieri was phlegmatic. "We are sad because we wanted to continue to be unbeaten," he said. "But when you play against Arsenal, United, Chelsea, City, it's extra. It is important to learn something. What is very important is the reaction in the next match."


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