• Arsenal Heading For Collision with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil
    10:23 | 05/09/2017

    On March 1st, Conor Kelly warned that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were on a collision course with Alexis Sanchex and Mesut Ozil, fast forward to September and the futures of Arsenal’s stars are still in the balance.

    “This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life. I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices. What I didn’t truly understand, however, was the range of emotions I would feel during this process.”

    Those were the words of one of basketball’s finest players – Kevin Durant – published on the Players Tribune last summer. Durant, the star of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was announcing his intention to join the Golden State Warriors and was well aware of the reaction his decision would receive.

    “It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.”

    Durant is an eight time all-star and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, but the grandest prize – an NBA Championship – had always eluded him. Individual awards and a huge salary were nice, but for true satisfaction, the 28 year-old needed more. 2015 champions the Warriors – containing Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – was patently the place he could get it.

    Alexis Sanchez doesn’t have much in common with the gargantuan American, but along with age, they do share a compatible hunger for victory and the will to be the best version of themselves.

    When the Chilean arrived on English soil, his signing was heralded as Arsenal’s return to the top table; firstly in proving they were back in the market for truly elite footballers and secondly reestablishing them as regular contenders for the top prizes.

    Sanchez has certainly held up his end of the bargain, imprinting his class on the Premier League. Tigerish out of possession, quick, strong, nimble, good in the air and delightful on the ball, Sanchez has more than delivered in a red and white shirt. His record stands at 62 goals and 29 assists in 128 appearances for the Gunners.

    Recently, Sanchez has cut a disgruntled figure. Despite his efforts, Arsenal continue to fall short of expectations. This was evident in January when they retrieved a three goal deficit against Bournemouth but failed to find a winner. While Olivier Giroud performed a choreographed celebration after equalising, Sanchez was captured furiously throwing his arms in the air as two valuable points slipped away. He crouched down in disbelief as Bayern Munich ripped his side to shreds in the Allianz Arena a couple of weeks ago, and although we weren’t privy to the conversation between player and manager, one can’t imagine he was too pleased trotting onto an artificial pitch against non-league Sutton in the FA Cup with the tie comfortably in Arsenal’s control.

    Sanchez has less than 18 months remaining on his contract and is said to be reluctant to sign a new one. If reports are to be believed, he desires a move in the summer. Realistically, who could blame him?

    Sanchez has had a stellar international career in which he’s won two Copa Americas for Chile, but hasn’t earned the silverware at club level his ability deserves. This, despite three years at Barcelona and a further three in London. All he has to show for his top level stint in Europe is a solitary La Liga title, a Copa Del Rey and the FA Cup. He probably feels that it’s paramount to expand his collection while in his prime years, and the best chance is away from North London.

    Should Sanchez seek pastures new, Mesut Ozil won’t be far behind him. Ozil is also at an impasse with the club over negotiating a new deal. The subject of much derision from supporters and pundits, you get the sense there wouldn’t be too much sadness if he departed these shores.

    The German isn’t helped by his laid back/indifferent body language on the pitch, seen by some as a symptom of Arsenal’s malaise. Irregardless, the World Cup winner is a supremely gifted footballer who could command a transfer to most major clubs.

    Ozil may be treated in England suspiciously, but abroad he garners much admiration. National team-mate Jerome Boateng described him as the best passer he has ever seen, while Jose Mourinho previously referred to him as the best number ten on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo expressed rage when he was allowed leave Real Madrid, such was the respect the Portuguese had for Ozil.

    Post-2004, Arsenal endured a decade where they were forced to sell their best players in order to finance the Emirates Stadium. Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayour and Robin Van Persie all went for large fees. Upon recruiting Ozil and Sanchez, Wenger claimed that Arsenal no longer had to part with their key assets.

    “We are not in a position any more where we have to sell our best players,” the Frenchman said. “We are in a fantastic position, but our job is competing.”

    Much has been made of Wenger’s future in the past couple of weeks, but Arsenal face another key decision with their star duo. Do they acquiesce and promise them improved contracts/investment in better players around them or do they resist wholesale change? Allowing Sanchez to leave the club in particular would contradict everything Wenger has uttered.

    The Arsenal board are content once they maintain the status quo. Proof of this is the two-year extension they’ve put on the table for Wenger. Top four finishes and early Champions League exits are fine, so long as the money rolls in. Chief shareholder Stan Kroenke has previous in this – his NFL franchise the St Louis Rams haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1999.

    It’s one thing convincing investors and sponsors that continuity is acceptable, but it’s another persuading ambitious footballers that mediocrity is achievement.

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