Amidst all the dark clouds that have loomed over Arsenal this season, Alexis Sanchez has been the dazzling, silver lining.
And it was fitting that in an underwhelming season, the team’s most reliable performer, Alexis Sanchez, would put his team in the lead against the Premier League champions Chelsea in Sunday’s FA Cup final, after only 3:49 on the clock. It was Arsenal’s fastest goal in an FA Cup final and they went on to win 2-1.
It has been the narrative throughout the season for the pacy Chilean, who has time and again bailed the North London club out from disasters. Short and stocky, but powerful and quick, Sanchez is a prolific goalscorer with a great eye for executing a defense-splitting pass as well. He has also been the ultimate workhorse. In the 51 appearances he’s had this season, he’s been directly involved in 45 goals, scoring 30 and setting up 15.
On Sunday evening against Chelsea, it was no different.
Chasing a series of exchanges just outside the Blues’ box, an attempted clearance deflected off his chest and looped over the Chelsea defenders. Controversy was in the waiting, as the ball reached Aaron Ramsey who was offside and arguably interfered with Thibaut Courtois’ rush forward to collect the ball.
But Sanchez continued his run into the box, screamed at Ramsey to move. Controversy or not, there was no questioning the quality of his finish – driving the ball with the outside of his foot just beyond the Chelsea keeper, but well inside the far post.
For the 89 minutes he was on the pitch, he sustained the energy and dedication to the cause, enjoying as many as 57 touches of the ball, three coming through interceptions – a credit to his tenacity in sniffing out a loose pass.
There has been talk about a possible upcoming transfer away from the Emirates Stadium for the 28-year-old, with Manchester City rumoured to be lining up a hefty bid.
At the same time, there is uncertainty over if Arsene Wenger will remain at the club – given the debacle this season. For the first time in 22 years, arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur finished above them in the Premier League. More importantly, Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League – another first, in 20 years. It’s a series of results that steadily raised the volume for the perpetrators of ‘Wenger Out!’
Somehow, through the rough spell, the Gunners were in yet another FA Cup final, with the chance to win their 13th title and be the most successful club in the tournament’s history.
And it was Sanchez who worked hard to earn his team the silverware that has somehow salvaged their, and their beleaguered manager’s, season.