So Alexis Sanchez is back. After six league games and two in the cups without finding the net, our Chilean magician produced a hat-trick at Leicester City this afternoon to help us to a 5-2 win and fourth place in the table.
The only real question mark over how we’d line-up before the game was which duo would be picked to play in the middle of the park, and in the end, Arsene Wenger went with my own pre-game preference and chose Mathieu Flamini to partner the returning Santi Cazorla. But a hamstring injury meant the Frenchman was replaced by Mikel Arteta after just 21 minutes of action, by which point the score already stood at 1-1.
I only really kind of watched the game as a dodgy stream and various distractions ensured my attention to the game was somewhat spurious, but it seemed as though we struggled defensively early on in what was an open, end-to-end start to the match.
Jamie Vardy had been highlighted as one for the Arsenal defence to keep a close eye on and he showed just why on 13 minutes, collecting a long ball forward out near the left touchline and zooming towards our back four. Nobody got close enough to him, Hector Bellerin was caught upfield, and Vardy coolly placed the ball past Petr Cech and into the far corner. A decent finish from a man in form but worryingly easy for the England international from our point of view.
It could have been worse a few minutes later as Vardy saw his header clip off the cross bar but that passage of play actually ended up in an equalizer for us – and what a move it was. Riyad Mahrez fluffed an attempted dummy as he took on one of our defenders in our box and the ball made it’s way to Cazorla nearby. He let the ball run across him with typical impudence before finding Mesut Ozil.
The German then held off a challenge and shifted the ball out wide to our left and Alexis Sanchez, who in turn fed Cazorla, and he produced the perfect through ball into Theo Walcott, who had held and timed his run brilliantly. Our new number one centre forward took a touch or two to take the ball away from the defender before finishing left-footed into the far corner off a post. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes by any stretch of the imagination but it was clinical and that would be the story of our finishing all day.
We took the lead shortly after half-time as Sanchez tapped home a goal which was almost identical to his strike at the King Power last season, following a cross from the right from Bellerin. I’m sure there were other chances at both ends in the first half, but I can’t remember them, and we carried the one-goal lead into the interval.
Our third, and Sanchez’s second, was sumptuous and owed it’s origin to the left foot of Ozil. Earlier in the move, Walcott had begged for the ball and repeatedly re-timed his runs to stay onside but the ball eventually found Ozil on the edge of the box and he looked up, spotted Sanchez running at the heart of the host’s back-line and clipped a clever, lofted ball for Sanchez to attack and glance home past Kasper Schmeichel.
But if his first two goals were crafted by his team-mates, Sanchez’s third was all about him. He collected a throw-in, flicked the ball one side of his marker, ran around the other before unleashing a deadly accurate, low strike from some 25 yards just inside the near post to make it 4-1.
Yet still, considering Leicester’s powers of recovery this season, it didn’t feel as though the scoring would end there, just nine minutes before the end. And it didn’t, because Vardy grabbed his and Leicester’s second with another unerring, side-footed finish into the far corner, before we broke forward again, Nacho Monreal pulled back a cross, and sub Olivier Giroud swept home a first-time finish in the third minute of added time.
Maybe the scoreline was harsh on the hosts but statistically, one of our opponents were due a bit of a battering sooner or later because we had created more chances than any other team heading into this game, yet had the worst conversion rate too. That profligacy in front of goal was never going to last, whilst with players like Cazorla and Ozil in our creative ranks, the chances were bound to continue to flow.
Sanchez and his three goals aside, I thought Walcott was absolutely superb. His runs were relentless, their timing spot-on and his general link-up play, which is often deemed not cultured enough, was classy. In fact, for those who have said he lacks the requisite awareness and movement to play up front, well, Theo was producing what I can only describe as multi-mini-runs yesterday.
He’d go, then hold, then arc, all the while eyes fixed on his teammate in possession, waiting, urging and sometimes gesticulating where he wanted the ball before repeating that process several times, all in a solitary attack. He can of course still improve considerably , but this recent run in his favoured role has seen him look better and better in his all-round game and regularly find the net.
A bit abrupt but that’s it for today, I’ll be back tomorrow with post match reaction from the manager etc.