Alexis Sanchez return a big boost as Arsenal seek win vs. Leicester
What a huge lift for Arsenal to have Alexis Sanchez back for the Leicester game. That may sound such an obvious statement bearing in mind his world-class quality and the fact he is Arsenal's 18-goal top scorer.
But it's more than just goals with Sanchez. Having watched Arsenal's last two games against Aston Villa and Tottenham, I'm convinced that Sanchez actually sets Arsenal's tempo in games. Without him, they look a lot slower and sluggish. Even though they beat Villa 5-0, Arsenal arguably lacked an intensity and urgency at times, something Sanchez certainly brings to the table.
Against Tottenham in the north London derby, they missed his pace, power and infectious enthusiasm, which again lifts the whole team and sets the tone of the game.
Sanchez is a world-class player with a rare attitude for a player with such natural ability. He runs, tracks back, works hard and even protects his full-back. I did an interview with Kieran Gibbs recently and the Arsenal left-back was quick to point out that Sanchez never needs telling. He always tracks back, covers and defends. He rubs off on others. Perhaps that is why Arsenal looked below par at Tottenham and lacked the sort of energy and work rate at White Hart Lane.
They got by without him against Villa, but Sanchez has been exceptional all season as he often looks to be the inspiration for his teammates. If the best player in the team is chasing down lost causes, battling for tackles and getting stuck in, the rest will follow suit. He sets the example.
In no way are Arsenal are a one-man team but as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pointed out, Sanchez is like a Duracell battery: he never stops. Sanchez has some devil in him, too; he's got a work rate and desire that make him hard to pin down as he can be found all over the pitch. He battles for every ball.
That was something that was lacking at White Hart Lane. Arsene Wenger insisted that there was no problem with Arsenal's attitude, but Tottenham certainly showed more intensity; their midfield of Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason worked their socks off. Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil hid at times and did very little bar his goal. Santi Cazorla had his most ineffective game in weeks.
People mistakenly thought at half-time that Arsenal were trying to repeat their Manchester City performance. Score and then sit back, soak it up and hit on the counterattack again.
Yet the first half at Spurs was a million miles away from that City game. Arsenal didn't keep the ball well, their passing was poor and they didn't show the same energy or defensive discipline as they did to win at the Etihad. If you were comparing the two, then you really were watching two very different games.
It's hard to explain why but Arsenal produced a very different and weaker display on Saturday. They didn't look very balanced and they didn't even have enough quality to counter attack effectively. Also, they didn't defend as well. That must start with the keeper. David Ospina's rather weak hand gifted the equaliser, and even if his other rather routine saves looked spectacular, the jury is still out.
Now is the chance to bounce back. Arsenal must produce a strong performance against Leicester because despite the Foxes' position at the foot of the Premier League, I've seen them produce good performances this season. After all, they've already held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw at home.
Leicester look a bit in turmoil with doubts over Nigel Pearson's future that can sometimes inspire a reaction from the players. Arsenal need to win. It's that simple. A big win can put them back into third place, as the weekend, despite the Spurs defeat, wasn't too bad, as other results largely went their way.