Alexis Sanchez cut a forlorn figure as several of his team-mates declined to join him in celebrating Arsenal’s second goal on Thursday night.
In truth, he shouldn’t have been so surprised. If he didn’t know about their feelings towards him before, he would have got the gist during a dressing-room inquest after Arsenal scraped a 1-1 draw at Southampton earlier this month.
Sanchez wasn’t at his best at St Mary’s — a common theme so far this season, and after the final whistle, a group of players made their feelings clear.
During the game Jack Wilshere, who came through Arsenal’s academy, is said to have confronted Sanchez about his wastefulness in possession. Sanchez’s popularity at Arsenal’s London Colney HQ has plummeted in recent months, and some members of the Arsenal squad — and even backroom staff — have had enough of the Chilean.
There are some who want him out this month, others who wish he had been sold last summer. Dressing-room divisions are not new. Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole fell out at Manchester United, yet still won major trophies together.
Less well known is that Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their time together at Arsenal. Their mutual dislike was kept under wraps by Arsene Wenger.
When players cross the white line on matchday they put on a united front. That’s what Sanchez expected when he scored twice to help the Gunners win 3-2 at Selhurst Park on Thursday night.
The fact a number of his team-mates left him hanging speaks volumes. The snub was not planned but it was meaningful. Wenger did his best to brush the problem under the carpet after the game.
‘I didn’t see that,’ he said. Indeed, Wenger could well demand a show of unity if Sanchez scores when Arsenal go to West Bromwich today. If that happens, it will be through gritted teeth. But not even Wenger can keep the lid on a problem of which he is all too aware.
One Arsenal source described Sanchez as ‘difficult to get along with’. Another branded him ‘annoying’. The fear for Wenger is that Sanchez’s unpopularity could derail his team’s bid to break back into the top four.
He will consider offers for Sanchez this month but the Chilean has his heart set on a free transfer to Manchester City at the end of the season.
Getting him out now is not a foregone conclusion. Wenger has done well to damp down the problem, at least publicly, for this long. The issues started simmering towards the end of last season when players and staff noticed a change in Sanchez.
His attitude and work rate in training had dropped off. Wenger spotted it — and so did his team-mates. A quick look at the post-match stats towards the back end of last season would highlight Sanchez’s drop in effort.
Wenger likes to avoid confrontation with his players but even he couldn’t tolerate Sanchez’s behaviour in March, dropping his star forward for the game against Liverpool following a argument between the Chilean and a team-mate at the training ground.
Yet, despite the growing dissatisfaction, Sanchez remains untouchable. Certain members of the squad cannot fathom why. Is Sanchez being afforded special treatment? Whether he is or not, players are starting to resent him. As Arsenal players got off the team bus ahead of the game against Crystal Palace, they did so in quick succession.
Like a team. But Sanchez was last off, a good 10 seconds after his colleagues. You have to ask why? At times during his Arsenal career Sanchez has done it all on his own. By the look of things, that will continue for the foreseeable future.
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