Although Arsenal fans have undoubtedly revelled in the way Mathieu Flamini put Tottenham to the sword on Wednesday night, the match-winning honours might instead have gone to Alexis Sanchez. Brought on as a second-half substitute as the game began to open up, he was set free on the left-hand side by an incisive through-ball. Cutting inside onto his preferred right foot, Gunners fans anticipated seeing the net bulge. Instead, the Chilean’s finish was alarmingly tame. Fortunately, Flamini bailed him out, but Alexis’ troubles in front of goal are becoming a genuine cause for concern.
It’s been the story of his season thus far. Alexis has now made six starts and two substitute appearances, and is still yet to open his account for the season. For a player who finished as Arsenal’s top goalscorer last season, that’s a significant surprise.
This is not Alexis’ first barren run at Arsenal. In the spring of last year, he followed up a two-goal showing against Stoke in January with a seven-game dry spell. He eventually got back on the scoresheet in the March fixture with QPR, before finishing the season on a high by thumping home a spectacular strike in the FA Cup Final.
The reasons for the downturn in Alexis’ productivity are manifold. First of all, it’s important to stress that Arsenal simply haven’t been playing particularly well. Their attacking game has yet to click into gear, and their customary fluency has been largely absent in this early portion of the season. With Arsene Wenger seemingly edging towards Theo Walcott as his first-choice centre-forward, Alexis is having to adapt to feeding off a different kind of focal point.
Fatigue is potentially a factor too. After the World Cup, a gruelling debut season in the Premier League and a prolonged Copa America campaign, it would be understandable if Alexis was feeling a little burnt out. He was rushed back for the first weekend of the Premier League season, when a more substantial period of rest might have been advisable.
We’ll never know how a longer lay-off might have helped Alexis. What we do know is that his finishing is definitely not as effective as it was. According to stats site Squawka, he hit the target with an impressive 62 percent of shots in 2014/15. This season, just 47 percent of his attempts have tested the goalkeeper.
He is not finding chances particularly hard to come by, which suggest his movement remains lively and imaginative. In the Premier League alone, he has mustered 37 attempts on goal in six appearances. No player in the English top-flight has taken on more shots without finding the net.
In some ways that’s a comforting statistic. The most troubling sign for a goalscorer is when chances cease to come their way. Alexis seems to still have the knack of being in the right place at the right time; he’s just failing to find the finish to match.
Wenger now faces a conundrum over how best to deal with Alexis’ slump. Does he take him out of the firing line, or see if he can find his form on the field? His hand may be forced. The reality is that Arsenal have no-one to replace Alexis’ ingenuity or endeavour. With the Gunners struggling for goals, leaving him out seems unthinkable.
Wenger will simply have to hope that Alexis can find the net sooner rather than later. Once he breaks his duck, his confidence and conviction in front of goal should increase dramatically. If they are to ascend the Premier League table, Arsenal need their Chilean talisman to stumble into form — and fast.