Alexis Sanchez’s game-winning spot kick in the Copa America final was the culmination of a career defining year. After flourishing for Arsenal in his first season, the 26-year-old took that momentum to the Copa America where his nation Chile were hosting it and helped his team win their first title in the tournament’s long history.
Sanchez has been touted by many for his growth as a player. Alexis showcased untapped potential at Udinese. But at Barcelona, he became relegated to just giving Lionel Messi the ball and pressing to get the ball back to Messi. When the four-time Champions League winner went down with injury two years ago, the versatile attacker displayed his ability to score goals by having a career-high 19 in 34 league appearances. Since then, the South American has become an elite player and his development has received praises from many people including fellow countryman and Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“Every game I see him making a great effort, showing great commitment, ambition and the maturity needed to keep improving year after year. I’m happy for him because, at this time, he is the best player in English football. I always thought [he was going to be world class]. The only thing you could criticize him for before was that he didn’t score enough goals. He wasn’t a scorer but he has improved this a lot in the last two campaigns. Alexis has progressed in recent years. His spell at Barcelona has been very useful for him as well as sharing a team with great players,” said the 2013-14 Premier League winning gaffer to AS.
Sanchez left Barcelona because they needed to clear space for Luis Suarez’s eventual return. He seemed to switch roles with the Uruguayan because earlier in the season he had to carry the Gunners like Suarez had to do for Liverpool. An example of this is when Arsenal legends Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were in attendance during January’s 3-0 victory over Stoke City. In the match, Sanchez whipped in a brilliant cross for Laurent Koscielny’s header and later scored two goals. Henry was very impressed by the performance and Alexis’s overall play.
“Arsenal were looking for a player that can deliver on a daily basis and they have found one. He is brilliant – work rate, he can see the game incredibly as you saw with the goal on Sunday [against Stoke City]. He scores goals and doesn’t need a lot of opportunities to put the ball in back of the net – that is very important. He is a very, very good player and you know that if he is on tune, then Arsenal have a lot of chances to win the game. I am trying to think of the last five or six years [to decide whether there has been a better signing]. It is still early days but so far it is very good. He is doing extremely well. He is going to score goals but it is his all-round game that I am so impressed with. That has no price. As a fan you are waiting to have a player like that. Finally we have one,” said Henry at the FIFA Ballon d’Or presentation.
Sanchez finished the Premier League campaign with 16 goals, fifth in the league, and eight assists. He also displayed his ability to play across all three forward positions, on either flank as a winger or inside forward and even deeper when Arsene Wenger switched his side’s formation to a 4-1-4-1 temporarily. These efforts earned him a spot on the Professional Footballers’ Association, PFA, Team of the Year and by the fans he was voted PFA Fans’ Player of the Year. In the FA Cup final against Aston Villa he scored a sensational goal in the 50th minute during Arsenal’s 4-0 rout as the Gunners repeated as FA Cup champions. During the Copa America tournament, Alexis’ role was to be a secondary striker and creator. Even though he only had one goal and one assist during the tourney, Sanchez continued to show his worth with his work rate and distribution of the ball. When the final went to penalty kicks, 2012-13 La Liga winner was last on Chile’s list due to his deficiency from the 12-yard spot which was highlighted when he missed in a penalty shootout last year against Brazil in the World Cup to lose the shootout 3-2 in the round of 16. This time, the two-time Supercopa de Espana winner was cool, calm and collected as he chipped the ball into the net to deliver his country South America’s prestigious prize.
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