Picking an Arsenal XI to Get the Best out of Alexis Sanchez

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2014

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 28: Alexis Sanchez of Chile looks on at the end of full time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Having secured the signing of Alexis Sanchez for a reported £35 million transfer fee, Arsenal fans are already wondering how he will fit in to their XI next season.

Throughout his career, Sanchez has seemed most comfortable as a right-sided forward. At Udinese, he was more of a pure winger, whereas at Barcelona he functioned as one component of a more fluid front three.

Playing from the right he could dart infield to exchange positions with the false nine, a certain Lionel Messi. In this summer’s World Cup, his partnership with Mauricio Isla down the right flank was one of the most successful in the tournament. Sanchez occupied an unusual position for Chile. Neither a winger nor a striker, he floated dangerously in the channel between the full-back and the centre-back. That made him difficult to mark and subsequently difficult to stop.

Alexis could start the season on the right wing

At the start of the season, Sanchez is likely to play a similar role for Arsenal. When the season gets underway, he is the obvious choice to line up on the right side of Arsenal’s attack, with Olivier Giroud retaining his spot in the centre. Santi Cazorla will cut in from the left to assist Mesut Ozil with the task of providing ammunition for the Chilean and the Frenchman.

However, there is another player who will hope to occupy that position once he completes his recuperation from injury. Theo Walcott enjoys playing in similar territory, feeding off Giroud’s knock-downs and making darting diagonal runs across the penalty area. Once Walcott is back in contention, Sanchez may have to seek another spot in the team.

There’s always the left wing. It’s not a position Sanchez has filled with any regularity, but he has the capacity. Against Brazil in the World Cup, Squawka’s heat map shows how Sanchez was regularly asked to drop out to that flank to hold the ball up for a tiring Chile side. 

Alexis Sanchez heat map vs. Brazil | Squawka | Chile shoot right to left

It’s possible that Arsene Wenger could opt to play one of Sanchez and Walcott on each flank, with each player having the potential to either sprint to the byline or move in to the penalty box to supplement Giroud. 

However, Wenger may feel that setup lacks balance. He has often been reticent to field both Walcott and Lukas Podolski on the flanks as it can render his team too attack-minded. As a rule, he prefers one of his wingers to be a non-axial playmaker, such as Cazorla. 

In the long-run, Sanchez may find himself following the Thierry Henry path of being converted from wide man to central striker. He played in that manner for Chile against England at Wembley in 2013, and he was incredibly effective. Some have questioned his ability to hold off burly Premier League defenders, but he coped admirably against Gary Cahill and Phil Jones on that cold November night.

Spanish football expert Graham Hunter recently wrote of Sanchez on his Paddy Power blog:

For Chile he’s a leader up front – his decisions take precedence over those around him, his runs are fed with passes, he’s the lone wolf. That suits him.

If Sanchez thrives when he’s the main man, Wenger might be inclined to give him a similar degree of responsibility at Arsenal and play him through the middle. Leaving out Giroud would necessitate a shift in style, but it’s one that could bring the best out of both Sanchez and Ozil.

At times last season, Ozil looked frustrated by Giroud’s inability to run in behind to meet his through-balls. That’s not a problem Sanchez has. He can run all day, and at quite the pace.

If Luis Suarez can thrive as a centre-forward in England, Sanchez can too. The Chilean shares the Uruguayan’s capacity for relentless movement and immaculate close control. Arguably, he has greater upper body power. If he can show the same consistency in his finishing he did in his final season for Barcelona, Sanchez could be a star striker in the Premier League.

Assuming David Ornstein of the BBC is correct and Arsenal complete the signing of Newcastle full-back Mathieu Debuchy, Arsenal could eventually line up like this next season:

Possible Arsenal XI for 2014/15

One thing is certain: Wherever Sanchez plays he will make for exhilarating viewing.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout next season. Follow him on Twitter here.


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