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Alexis Sanchez row says more about Arsenal's culture of complacency than wantaway forward

March 6, 2017 8:45 AM
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Alexis Sanchez row says more about Arsenal's culture of complacency than wantaway forward

Alexis Sanchez had to be punished for his behaviour, writes Tom Adams, but there is a bigger issue at play at Arsenal...

It took 24 hours for a proper explanation to emerge as to why Alexis Sanchez had been dropped by Arsene Wenger for a huge match at Liverpool. When the curtain was drawn back, a gory mess was revealed. A mess which is certain to result in Arsenal losing their best player this summer.

The necessary starting point is to say that if it is true Sanchez walked out on a training session this week ahead of the trip to Anfield, then Arsene Wenger did the right thing in dropping him, as damaging as that may have been to his team's hopes of getting a result. Punishment must result from such subordination; a manager must have some semblance of control over his players, otherwise anarchy ensues.

If that decision to leave Sanchez on the bench now looks somewhat logical - in contrast to the laughable way the manager presented the move as a tactical decision, as though there were any tactical approach which would be enhanced by the removal of your best player - Sunday night's newspaper revelations have nevertheless exposed damaging rifts in the Arsenal camp, making it almost impossible that Sanchez will stay beyond this summer.

The picture which has emerged is that Sanchez is temperamentally ill-suited to this club. And that says more about the culture at Arsenal than it does one apparently petulant player.

No one can say with any certainty what has occurred on the training ground, and leaks have to be treated with some degree of caution, presenting as they do a partial picture. But the gaps can be filled in somewhat with what we have seen from Sanchez on the pitch recently – those public displays of disaffection and glove-chucking incidents.

Wherever the Sunday briefings have emerged from, and there are clues in the pieces themselves, it is clear that the Arsenal team are unhappy with how Sanchez has conducted himself. The player should not be immune to blame here. You simply can’t behave in the manner Sanchez reportedly has this week.

And yet, the complaints about his general behaviour - one specific incident aside – are hardly convincing. Sanchez's crime, aside from his walkout in training, appears to be that he has upset the balance of the dressing room. If this is true, it should be to Sanchez's credit. A dressing room culture of complacency and fragility has enveloped this club and someone needs to shake Arsenal's players out of their stupor.

Sanchez bawls out team-mates on a regular basis when they aren’t putting in the required effort or pressing opponents, most notably in the 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich which appears to have been a bit of a tipping point – but what, precisely is wrong with a bit of accountability? He threw his gloves to the ground after a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth? It’s hardly Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer going at it.

At this point you’d be tempted to start using terms like ‘snowflakes’ and ‘safe spaces’, if it wasn’t the language of the alt-right. Sanchez’s refusal to accept defeat and mediocrity shouldn’t be a problem – it should be the ethos by which the dressing room operates. Maybe he is playing to the gallery when he throws his arms up in frustration as another team-mate sits back on his heels and doesn’t press, but Arsenal’s players often need a kick up the behind and Wenger seems reluctant to give them one.

It is not as though febrile atmospheres are a barrier to success. Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole didn't speak to each other for years as Manchester United dominated English football and the Lazio team which won Serie A in 1973-74 had to have two separate dressing rooms at their training ground, so split was the squad. Similarly, while Jose Mourinho's brand of 'confrontational leadership' isn't everyone's ideal, and it unravelled at Chelsea last season, he has won two Champions Leagues and six league titles in three countries since Arsenal last topped the table.

Presumably throwing a pair of gloves to the ground has the same effect.

What this affair truly exposes is that Sanchez is everything Arsenal are not: a combustible but committed winner, who consistently performs at an extremely high level. Arsenal's spirit player is instead Mesut Ozil: glorious and dreamy on his day, but liable to go missing and wilt on the big occasion.

Sanchez does not emerge spotless now the dirty laundry is being aired in public. But the result is that Arsenal will lose their only world-class player as he goes to join a club with real ambition. The dressing room, meanwhile, will be harmonious once again.


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