Could this mistake from Arsene Wenger ruin Arsenal's Premier League chances?
With injuries really starting to pile up at Arsenal, the sight of their superstar forward clutching his hamstring during their draw with Norwich must have been a dagger to the heart of The Emirates faithful. Alexis Sanchez’s impact on Arsene Wenger’s side is almost immeasurable and it is quite possible that this will become only more evident in the weeks to come when he is unavailable for selection. Could Wenger’s decision to start the Chilean against The Canaries be the moment which derails Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge for another year?
As is often the case, the more skilled a player is, the greater the demand that is placed on their body by the manager as they feel they cannot afford to be without him. With Arsene Wenger however, it is not quite as clear cut as that. Since his arrival on these shores, the Frenchman has been aware of the impact of pushing members of his squad too far and in the previous campaign, notably granted a rest to Alexis over the busy festive period. You have to feel that this break was of paramount importance in his outstanding second half of the season in 2014/15.
With this in mind then, should Wenger have taken a firmer stance and left his main man at home in London, regardless of Alexis’ pleas to the contrary. After the match against Norwich City, Arsenal’s boss attempted to justify his decision by stating: “I would have rested him but he said he was fine to play”. While it is important to listen to a player’s personal opinion of the situation, when Wenger himself admitted that the number 17 had experienced “a little hamstring alarm” after bagging a brace against Dinamo Zagreb, surely all necessary precautions should have been taken?
Thierry Henry; Arsenal legend and Sky Sports pundit, was also fairly scathing of Wenger’s tactics involving the Chilean. The former number 14 pointed out: “Even when the game is won, sometimes he will still go and put some pressure on teams”, whereas an approach with a little foresight should lead to the thinking that: “With 20 minutes to go at 3-0, you can give him a little rest”. Alexis is notoriously keen to play through the pain barrier; a trait which is admirable and is part of what makes him such a prodigious talent but in this instance, may prove to have been his downfall.
Since Arsenal’s second consecutive triumph in the FA Cup in May 2015, Alexis Sanchez has been utilised extensively for club and country. 18 appearances have come in an Arsenal shirt in 2015/16, added to the 11 for his national team since the summer. Crucial to Chile’s Copa America triumph, Wenger suggested that he would be given an extended rest before the start of the season but low and behold, the dazzling dribbler was present during the final of the Community Shield and has been ready to perform ever since. With the sheer volume of games; in most of which he completes the full ninety minutes at an incredible intensity, a break-down was simply inevitable. Sanchez continually either returns from international duty or leaves to play for Chile with reports of niggling muscular complaints but never seems to receive the blatantly required rest. This is decidedly poor management above all else.
The month of November is statistically the worst in the calendar for The Gunners under Arsene Wenger in terms of Premier League points accrued, averaging a measly 1.59 per match compared to the annual high of 2.22 in March. Could it be that his inability to manage the squad to protect against debilitating muscular injuries leaves the remaining talent very thin on the ground? This season alone for example, crucial members of the first team who are unavailable for selection include Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. The manner in which this phenomenon keeps repeating itself season after season means that Wenger’s approach needs to be examined.
Alexis Sanchez seems certain to miss at least a few weeks’ of first team action, and there is shortage of important games on the horizon for Wenger’s side. Rapidly approaching is the must-win Champions League clash in Greece against Olympiakos and Arsenal will seemingly have to achieve their aim without Alexis; a much more difficult task. Could Wenger’s decision have jeopardised their progression out of the group in Europe’s elite competition? Furthermore, before the calendar year is out, The Gunners have to travel to title favourites Manchester City and to the home of the challenging Southampton. It is likely that their number 17 will be missing here too, with such an absence being crucial in Arsenal’s efforts to keep pace with those at the top of the league.
Nonetheless, although Wenger’s instinct will be to select Sanchez as soon as he declares himself fit to play, caution must be advised. His importance to the side is vast but even that is not worth risking an even longer lay-off. The potential recurrence of the hamstring injury is likely to be more damaging than the last and could leave Alexis on the side-lines for months rather than weeks. If Arsenal are to have any hopes of sustaining a Premier League title challenge, they must play their cards right and not be held to ransom by an exceptionally enthusiastic Alexis Sanchez.
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