It’s no big shock that Arsenal emerged from their marquee matchup against Liverpool as the story of the weekend, albeit not in the way the Gunners would’ve liked. The result of that match and its surrounding context means this could prove a pivotal moment in the future of the club and its best player, Alexis Sánchez. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the key questions everyone’s asking about where we go from here.
Holy shit, did you see how bad Arsenal got pummeled by Liverpool on Saturday? True, it was the exact opposite of surprising—Liverpool are famous for crushing fellow good teams while Arsenal specialize in crumpling like a stomped-on pop can in those very same sorts of matches—but still. Hot damn!
Sánchez, probably more than any other Arsenal player, despises losing. He’s also too great of a player to be satisfied with settling for yet another imaginary Top-Four Trophy—and it’s no sure thing the Gunners will even manage that this year. Arsenal were embarrassed in another big game against a direct rival for the Champions League qualification places, and currently sit in fifth in the table. Sánchez’s season has been superb, while Arsenal’s has been a disappointment. Sánchez has got to be gone in the summer. The only question is whether he’ll make clear his desire to challenge for real trophies elsewhere sooner or later.
How much will Arsenal get for Sánchez when they’re inevitably forced to sell him in the next transfer window?
Still not sold that Sánchez is unquestionably, 100 percent gone? Did I mention that the Chilean superstar—the scorer of 17 Premier League goals this season and the setter-up for 9 others, which makes him the orchestrator of the most goals and assists in the entire league, solidifying his status as quite simply the best player in England—started the game on the goddamn bench?
In one of the biggest matches of Arsenal’s entire season, Arsène Wenger, armed with the best player on either roster, thought it would be best if he gave Sánchez a breather. Wenger wanted Arsenal to be “more direct.” Which worked, I guess, if what he meant to be more direct about was that Sánchez will not play for this club next season.
Sánchez just turned 28 in December and is in the midst of his best season ever. He’s once again proven his versatility, thriving both as a left winger and as a center forward. He should command a fee of, at the very least, something like €60 million, but because he’ll be heading into the final year of his contract and everyone will know how desperate he is to get out of North London, Arsenal might find it hard to get a fee commensurate with his value. Something in the €40 million range is probably more realistic.
Who will Sánchez be playing for next season, since we’ve established without a shadow of a doubt that there’s no chance in hell Arsenal keep him because they suck and he’s great and fed up?
I know what you’re thinking. No chance in hell? Sure, Arsenal have been jerking Sánchez around for a long time about the contract extension and the big raise he’s undoubtedly earned, and the team as a whole isn’t as good or even as passionate or driven as he is and thus they habitually acquiesce to their ostensible peers in the league, and indeed it does look very bad for Wenger to hold Sánchez out of the start of the Liverpool game [a game, let’s not forget, Sánchez completely changed once he did come on at half time, setting up Arsenal’s lone goal and leading the late charge for an attempted equalizer before the Gunners gave up the match-killing goal in stoppage time], but maybe both parties will find a way to come back from this and rebuild the relationship and stay together? Like, that’s not crazy, right?
Sorry, that’s my fault for not telling you earlier about the key revelation that eliminates all realistic hope that Sánchez sticks around. Not only did Arsenal humiliate their stud player by leaving him out of the starting lineup on Saturday, the next day the entire English media began reporting what is believed to be the real reason behind Sánchez’s benching: he had stormed out of training some time last week in frustration and the first-half benching was punishment. (Wenger, for his part, has denied reports of the walk-out, but I’m not buying it. The benching-as-punishment version of events sounds way more believable than Wenger’s “more direct” excuse.)
So not only has Sánchez been pissed about the direction of Arsenal’s season and his own contract situation even before the debacle this weekend, but it seems pretty clear that the club leaked this story of a training ground dust-up so as to sully Sánchez’s reputation in the fans’ eyes after literally everyone was killing Wenger for leaving him out.
A cynic would say that Arsenal have known for a while that they weren’t willing or able to re-sign Sánchez and thus would most likely have to sell him next window. Because of that, the club tried to muck up the extremely popular forward’s reputation amongst fans by painting him as a self-centered malcontent who’s a bad teammate and won’t sacrifice for the club or whatever. Sánchez “quits practice in a huff,” he “argues with teammates in the locker room,” he “sulks around the pitch and hurls his little gloves to the pitch after failing to win” because...he’s a super bad guy who doesn’t get that a True Arsenal Man should be at worst mildly annoyed after drawing with Bournemouth?
That might be a bit too conspiratorial, but even an optimist would look at this scenario and say that this weekend’s incidents reveal deep fissures in the player-club relationship, and that the easiest solution would be a parting of the ways. Hence my confidence that Sánchez is without a doubt leaving.
There have been two main suitors for Sánchez since all this became clear that he would very likely be moving teams in the offseason. Paris Saint-Germain are one of the interested parties, and they could use a player exactly like Sánchez to play on either wing or even possibly through the middle. Juventus are the other, and a front line of Sánchez, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Paulo Dybala would be as fearsome a trio as exists in world soccer, right behind Barcelona’s MSN and Real Madrid’s BBC. Both teams can afford Sánchez’s transfer fee, and while Juve generally shy away from paying salaries of the size Sánchez will be seeking, they’d probably be willing to make an exception for a talent like that.
Meanwhile, Arsenal most likely will try everything in their power to avoid an intra-English transfer, but you can be sure that Manchester City will be monitoring Sánchez’s situation very closely. He’d be the perfect replacement for Sergio Agüero, should the Argentine striker leave as has been rumored. Still, PSG make the most sense.
Wherever Sánchez does wind up, it’ll be a move that alters the landscape of European soccer when it happens. And it will happen.
Will anyone be able to buy the club’s lip-service about their dedication to becoming a true contender on the world stage once they’ve run off one of the 20 best players on the planet after refusing to pay him what he’s worth and failing to meet his ambitions, and, to cover their asses, trying to throw dirt on his name to distract from their own culpability?
How humiliating will it be when Sánchez is off scoring and setting up 40 goals next season and powering PSG to the treble, while Arsenal find themselves once again struggling to compete for fourth place?