"He is in the red zone. You can see that when he plays, but he can dig deep."
Those were the words of Arsene Wenger, discussing his new stalwart Alexis Sanchez on December 5th.
A day later Sanchez would start against Stoke City where Arsenal would find themselves 3-0 down at half-time before going on to lose 3-2. It was one of the worst performances from an Arsenal side in Wenger's supreme reign and one of Sanchez's more anonymous performances since his £35 million summer move from Barcelona.
After that game he went on to play 706 minutes out of a possible 720 in Arsenal's subsequent eight games. Only a substitute's appearance against Brighton broke the streak before injury struck. Luckily, the slight hamstring strain has only kept him out for two games, but is much worse on the horizon?
The Chilean has been sensational for Arsenal this season, scoring 18 goals in all competitions and directly assisting a further nine. He has kept the Gunners firing where they would have otherwise faulted and his return against Leicester City tonight will come as a terrific boost.
Arsenal are already reliant on Sanchez. Much like Luis Suarez did for Liverpool last season, he has the ability to drag them to a point where fans can start dreaming of titles rather than a third place finish.
There is nothing to be ashamed of there. Real Madrid are reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo in the same way that Barcelona are reliant on Lionel Messi. Key players are called key players because they are key to their chances. Alexis Sanchez is a key player.
Unfortunately, Arsenal's key players have a tendency to get injured, and badly. Aaron Ramsey took four months to recover from a thigh injury last year between December and April. When he sustained the injury against West Ham, Arsenal were first, when he returned they were fourth.
Shortly after that, one of their most effective forwards, Theo Walcott, sustained a serious knee injury. That was the culmination of a number of injuries including an abdominal tear that had kept him out for almost a month.
Wenger fully admitted that he had prolonged Ramsey's absence by rushing him back. You couldn't blame him; Ramsey had been sensational in the first half of the season and was key to sustaining a title challenge.
The Frenchman was also criticised by Dutch fitness expert Raymond Verheijen, who explained in detail why Walcott suffered such a serious injury. Put simply, Arsenal had rushed him back from a succession of injuries leading to fatigue and, ultimately, a serious failure in his body's functioning.
A similar trend
It seems that Sanchez could be heading towards the same fate. Wenger has already admitted that the Chilean wanted to defy doctor's orders and play against Tottenham. When your best player is telling you he is fit to play in such a crucial match, it must be incredibly hard not to select him.
Not selecting him against Tottenham, knowing full well he would be fit just three days later to face a not-so-formidable foe like Leicester was a sign that Wenger may have learned from his past mistakes.
But as the race for fourth hots up and if Arsenal cannot secure their place within it before too long, the temptation to throw a growingly fatigued Sanchez into the mix may be too tempting to ignore.
It would put Sanchez at risk of a serious injury; one that could spell disaster for his future in English football.
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