Arsenal 3 Burnley 0
One factor that separates the good from the great is the ability to make the difference when it really counts.
It is easy to look like a superstar when your team are 5-0 up and flying, but far more difficult when everyone around you has run out of ideas and time is ebbing away.
And while it may be very early days in his Premier League career, there look to be few more obvious match-winners in England — or perhaps even in Europe — than Alexis Sanchez.
To say that the Chilean was the key figure in Arsenal’s victory over Burnley on Saturday would be a complete understatement.
In fact, it is hard to remember a game where one player has dominated a match to quite such an extent. No player on either side could match his energy, desire, creativity or — eventually — his finishing.
As Arsene Wenger had remarked before the game, you do not go from Tocopila, a small town in northern Chile, to Barcelona and the Emirates without a special dose of character, and Sanchez certainly has that.
One concern for Arsenal is that Sanchez was the only man in red and white (with the possible exception of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) who looked likely to find a way past Tom Heaton, Burnley’s inspired goalkeeper. This was a day for applauding the forward though, and wondering what else he will bring to the Premier League.
And as Wenger remarked afterwards, his €42m summer buy from the Nou Camp has the knack of making the decisive contribution. His eight goals for the club have led directly to nine Premier League points and secured qualification for the Champions League group stages. Nine of his 19 goals for Barcelona last season were either the first or the decisive goals in victories.
Sanchez makes the difference when it matters most. His desire was most evident when the 5ft 7in Arsenal man rose above Kieran Trippier (5ft 10in) and Michael Duff (6ft 1in) to head home Calum Chamber’s cross for the opener with just 20 minutes to go.
After Chambers had grabbed his first professional goal Sanchez made it three, showing smart footwork to poke home late on.
Wenger missed out on Luis Suarez in the summer of 2013 but bought the next best thing this time around and he was suitably impressed.
“(The opener) was an English goal,” said Wenger. “Did I expect him to be able to do that? Not really. I didn’t count on him in the air at all but I know by experience it’s more about desire. He has that and he’s a winner.
“It’s always very interesting when you look at the number of goals people score — how many times do they score at 0-0? He’s already had a lot of decisive goals and he doesn’t score when it’s 4-0, he scores when it’s 0-0.
“He struggled at the start to deal with the commitment but now he is more confident because he scores goals and he speaks the language much better. Let’s not forget that he has been in Europe before, having come from South America. He’s been at Udinese and Barcelona, where you play under pressure every week. That helps get him to the level you need to cope with England.
“Did I do anything in particular to help him settle in? Not really, because we have two French speakers, six Spanish speakers and six English-speaking as well, so the legion has become much stronger. The French legion has weakened.
“Of course we also have Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy who are not in but we have many Spanish-speaking people so he’s very at home.”
If Sanchez has been the biggest plus point in a rather mixed season for Arsenal, then Chambers’ progress cannot be too far behind. Arsenal officials knew that they had signed a promising player when they prised Chambers from Southampton in the summer, but he has surprised them with how quickly he has adapted to life at the top level. Indeed, some are already tipping him as a future captain.
His goal, scrambled home from close range, was followed by a well-practised but under-used knee slide.
He laughed: “I’ve been working on that celebration for years now! I’ve worked on it quite a few times in the garden as a kid and I finally got the chance to use it.”
Now come Anderlecht in the Champions League tomorrow, with Theo Walcott set to remain on the bench after making his long-awaited return from a knee injury on the weekend.
For Burnley boss Sean Dyche, the problem is keeping morale up as his side look for their first win. “There’s no point being down in the dumps when you play someone like this,” he said. Thankfully for him, he doesn’t face Sanchez every week.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 7, Chambers 8, Monreal 8, Mertesacker 7, Gibbs 7, Arteta 6 (Ramsey, 63; 7), Flamini 6, Cazorla 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Walcott, 80; 7), Sanchez 10, Welbeck 7 (Podolski, 80; 7).
BURNLEY: Heaton 9, Trippier 6, Duff 6, Shackell 7, Ward 7, Marney 7 (Chalobah, 80; 6), Jones 7, Arfield 6, Boyd 6, Ings 7, Sordell 6 (Jutkiewicz, 69; 6).
Referee: C Pawson.
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