For the first time in a while (in a game with relatively high stakes, anyway), Alexis Sanchez today was, depending on your chosen sports vernacular, a healthy scratch or a DNP - Coach’s Decision or whatever. Anyway, he didn’t start the Liverpool game, and didn’t come on until the start of the second half.
With a normal superstar on a team functioning well, this could have been as simple as a chance to give a guy some rest. But Alexis is not a normal superstar, Arsenal are not functioning well, and so this was no ordinary chance to get a guy some rest. This was...something else. Was it an attempt by Arsene to show Alexis that it’s the manager’s job to determine when a player who always wants to play gets to play? Was it a message sent to Alexis to step up his game if he wants the fat contract he’s rumored to be asking for?
Well, if you ask Arsene, it was neither. It was an attempt at a new strategy:
“The thinking was that we had to go more direct, to use players who are strong in the air,” the Arsenal manager explained. “I have no regrets, except that we lost the game.”
Well, if that’s true, this is actually a bigger problem than we may have thought. One of the criticisms of recent-vintage Wenger is that he’s far too wedded to his philosophy, and that he’s unwilling to shift his style because he thinks it’s what will work. Well, today, guess what? He shifted. It failed, and did so miserably.
So where does that leave Arsenal?
Well, if you believe this Guardian article, the short answer to that is “a mess”. In addition to the depressingly familiar usual beats about the state of the club right now, it contained this eyebrow-raiser:
Sánchez, notoriously, is desperate to play every minute of every game. At the very least his omission suggests that there is no longer a perceived need to keep him happy, but it may be even more than that, an indication that Wenger has run out of patience with Sánchez’s attitude, a profound will to win that perhaps now manifests too often as frustration with his team-mates – many of whom, it is privately acknowledged at the club, do not take well to criticism.
Oh, great. Not only does the club have a star who is a mix of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan when it comes to patience with his teammates, it appears they also have a squad full of fragile egos who don’t like it when people are mean to them. I’m not inside the changing room, I’m certainly not a sports (or any other kind of) psychologist, but it doesn’t seem like that mixture is very healthy, does it?
I don’t think there are any grand conclusions to be drawn from any of that, at least not ones we haven’t all drawn a thousand times. I do think this slow-motion trainwreck of a season is starting to throw off some serious sparks, and I wonder when a stray spark will hit a dry patch of scrub grass and blow up into a full-on fire. I don’t want that to happen, I will be very angry when it does, but that, sadly, is where things seem to be heading.