"Alexis Sanchez is in the red zone," said Arsene Wenger back in December. The Arsenal manager was talking about a man who had scored eight goals in his last eight Premier League games. He didn't look like he was in the red zone, he looked like the best player in the country.
But since then, three months ago, the £35 million summer signing has scored just four times in 15 starts. Wenger had obviously seen it coming. Sanchez had spent his entire career in European football enjoying a three-week break over Christmas but this year was different.
This year he not only played over the holidays, but played every minute of Arsenal's four games between December 21 and January 1. It was a crazy amount of exercise for even someone as fit as Sanchez. Managers in the Premier League regularly bemoan the FA's resistance to a winter break. It makes everyone's job harder.
The warning signs
But Wenger chose to ignore the warning signs that only he could see. He has played Sanchez in almost every game since Christmas and is now paying the price. While the Chilean has avoided a prolonged injury, he is not nearly as effective as he was in the first half of the season.
Unfortunately, it now appears too late to rest him. Arsenal could have 15 games left this season if they make it to the FA Cup final, assuming they fall short against Monaco in the Champions League. Each one will be crucial as the race for fourth place tightens every time Liverpool win and Manchester United scrape another three points.
Chance gone by
Since the game against Tottenham, which Sanchez missed with a mild knee injury, Arsenal have played Leicester City, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace, Monaco and Everton. They have failed to win any of these game convincingly, but each one represented a chance to give Sanchez some time off. The 71 minutes he played against Championship side Middlesbrough was particularly surprising.
Understandably, Wenger's ability to rotate has been limited by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury and Theo Walcott's lack of match fitness. Had both been fighting fit, it could have given Wenger the chance to rest Sanchez.
A final opportunity
The Gunners face Queens Park Rangers tonight and Sanchez is likely to start once again. However, having failed to score in his last seven games, and with the Gunner playing a firm relegation candidate, it is a good chance to give him some much-needed rest ahead of a crucial trip to Old Trafford on Monday.
The FA Cup quarter-final signals the start of some difficult games against Monaco away, Newcastle away and Liverpool at home. Oxlade-Chamberlain is now back to fitness while Walcott will have to be given a chance to prove his form some time soon.
Tomas Rosicky has, too, impressed on the fringes and is able to play in the wide-left position that Sanchez has occupied since his summer arrival. QPR, while fighting for the Premier League survival should be fodder for international stars like these.
Sanchez should be dropped to the bench for this one, giving him a chance to recharge his batteries for Monday's FA Cup tie. His form has dropped off terribly and it's only a matter of time until his fatigued legs becomes detrimental to Arsenal's performance.
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