There were a lot of talking points out of yesterday’s more-nervy-than-it-should-have-been 3-2 win over Crystal Palace. The fact that Alexandre Lacazette can’t buy a 90 minute appearance, the fact that Francis Coquelin should never see the pitch again, the fact that Arsenal’s defensive frailties will absolutely cost them points on a regular basis this year - those are only a few.
One thing that has become a talking point, however, that probably shouldn’t be, is the old chestnut of body language. Specifically, the body language of Alexis Sanchez and his teammates as there were goal celebrations happening. There are multiple reports that the situation we saw on the pitch - of several players not rushing over to celebrate with Alexis - is, or may be, indicative of a larger problem with Alexis at Arsenal.
No less of a source than Thierry Henry called out the lack of a cohesive goal celebration while he was punditing yesterday. But honestly, I think that “analysis” can be completely discarded, for two reasons.
First, Thierry Henry is not part of Arsenal’s player pool any more, and thus he has no more inside knowledge than the rest of us. He sees what we all see, in the way we all see it. While he might occasionally chat with an Arsenal player, I would be almost certain that those chats would be off the record and would probably not be used to deepen an honest broadcast assessment of what is going on in the changing room except in the broadest possible strokes, which again, we all are taking right now.
Second, and this is the most important part: Interpreting body language from afar is not possible. People project what they want to see onto things on which they want to see them, and right now, people are unhappy with Alexis because he wants to leave. Naturally, in that case, people will project SEE THIS IS CLEARLY EVIDENCE THAT ALEXIS IS UNPOPULAR AND IS DESPERATE TO LEAVE on anything even remotely outside the norm, be it a goal celebration or be it him not smiling at a reporter or be it whatever other incident that can be projected upon.
It should be noted here that I am not saying Alexis is happy, or that all is sunshine and light inside the Arsenal locker room. But that is exactly my point - we don’t know. Here’s what we do know:
- Alexis wanted to leave in the summer, and almost went to Manchester City
- Alexis is not having a typical Alexis season up to this point
- After his goals yesterday, the team celebrations were not as they have appeared to be in the past
I mean, that’s it. That’s literally all we know. And from that, we are somehow supposed to conclude that there is a direct line between the first and third items on that list, and that that line terminates at ALEXIS WANTS OUT AND IS HATED FOR IT BY HIS TEAMMATES.
Is it possible that Alexis is disliked by his teammates? Sure it is, and there’s previous history there that indicates that might be the case. But we, as outsiders, can’t actually know why the goal celebrations yesterday looked different than they normally do - and I would also posit, very strongly, that it doesn’t matter a bit even if they were.
Why doesn’t it matter? Well, think of it this way. Were the goals a result of team play - passing, movement, cooperation, etc? Did the goals still count? Did they still count as a full goal, without getting fractions deducted for “Post-Goal Aesthetics”? No? Then it doesn’t matter.
Players disagree or even dislike each other on a regular basis. The classic example is Michael Jordan, who by all accounts was basically a psychopath when he played, who saw his teammates as nothing but tools to help him be Michael Jordan; somehow, the Bulls remained fully staffed, and even managed to win a game or two here and there. The Boston Red Sox had almost two decades of being known as “25 guys, 25 cabs” because they legendarily never got along.
When you have a team full of highly paid, very-good-at-what-they-do people who have been enabled, encouraged, and basically never told they can’t do anything their entire lives, you’re gonna get egos. And those egos will occasionally clash. Most times, those egos can get sublimated for the benefit of the team, but sometimes they can’t. As long as the team continues to play reasonably well, I’m not sure we as fans need to care about the interior dynamics of a team - and even if they’re not playing well, it’s not really possible for anyone to point to a smoking gun like “they don’t like this guy and he doesn’t like them” as the sole cause of that not-playing-wellness.
Bottom line: Arsenal won a game they needed to win, Arsenal are still a functional team, and whether Alexis Sanchez is still here a week, two weeks, or a month from now or not, Arsenal will still be Arsenal, whatever you feel like that means at this point in the club’s evolution.