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Arsenal's Draw at Manchester City Shows Why They Simply Must Keep Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal's Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 8, 2016. / AFP / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2016

Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Sunday moved them to within a point of guaranteeing UEFA Champions League football for next season.

Although Gunners fans are understandably frustrated about being asked to welcome a third-placed finish, they must recognise that participation in Europe's elite competition is essential to retain their biggest stars.

In the Premier League, few players come with bigger billing than Alexis Sanchez, and events at the Etihad Stadium demonstrated why Arsene Wenger must fight tooth and claw to hang onto him.

That might not be easy. Alexis has two years remaining on his contract, but there has been little positive news about a forthcoming extension. On May 6, Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph reported on possible problems between the player and Wenger. After Alexis was unhappy about being withdrawn as a substitute against Norwich, Law wrote:

Sanchez's feelings boiled over last week in the victory over Norwich, when he was replaced by Francis Coquelin in the 84th minute. The Daily Telegraph can now reveal Sanchez not only headed straight down the tunnel without acknowledging Wenger, but then stormed out of the stadium. ...

Wenger tried to gloss over the Chile international's reaction, insisting he was simply demonstrating his desire to play. But, privately, the Frenchman is understood to be unimpressed. The atmosphere between them is believed to have been frosty in training this week.

It's easy to see how Alexis might become frustrated. If you had to describe his character, "winner" is one of the first words that would spring to mind. He became accustomed to success with Barcelona and recently led Chile to a historic Copa America triumph. Having won the FA Cup in his first season with Arsenal, he would have expected to challenge seriously for more silverware this year. Instead, the Gunners have been also-rans.

If they're to be contenders next year, they need Alexis in their XI. That much was evident from the way he crafted an equaliser against City. An expert one-two with an impressive Olivier Giroud was tucked away with the confidence of a player who has found his goalscoring form again.

The strike was Alexis' 17th of the season—given that he missed around three months with injury, it's an impressive tally. He hasn't performed to the level he managed in his first year in north London, but his contribution remains vital.

Arsenal's Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez (L) celebrates after scoring during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 8, 2016. / AFP / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRI
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Other than Alexis' moment of inspiration, there wasn't too much from this performance Arsenal fans would want to see carried over into next season. Giroud scored his first league goal since January, but doubts persist about his viability as Arsenal's first-choice centre-forward. The defence looked panicked in possession, perhaps because Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny didn't do enough to protect them. Even goalkeeper Petr Cech, usually so reliable, looked vulnerable.

This was a good result but not a particularly convincing performance. However, the value of a player like Alexis is he can provide something special even when the team fails to click. When Arsenal were trailing City, they needed someone with the guile and the gumption to produce a chance from nothing. Alexis, with the help of Giroud's delicate flick, did just that.

It's for that reason it's essential Wenger overcomes any differences with the player and ties him down for the long term.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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