How Sanchez rattled Arsenal, as Man United won 3-1

Before tonight’s match, we asked our followers @IndyFootball whether Alexis Sanchez was going to sink or swim on his return to the Emirates. A 51 per cent majority tipped him to struggle. Here’s our response to this evening’s big question on whether he was able to prove, in the most difficult place, that he was worth Manchester United’s investment.
An unusual thing happened at the Emirates Stadium as this match was about to kick-off, just after both teams had strolled out confidently into the gloaming, and a few seconds before the Arsenal stadium announcer had finished screaming himself into an increasingly demented frenzy.
As the two sets of players moved into their positions, exchanging high fives and pats on the arse, Paul Pogba walked tenderly over to Alexis Sanchez, and enveloped him in a hug.
Yet this wasn’t your standard moment of fleeting camaraderie. This was a proper hug: a full on, eye-watering, rib-breaker of a thing, practically lifting little Sanchez clean off the ground. The kind of hug you are more used to seeing in the arrivals area of airports, rather than on a football pitch. The kind of hug you that seem to conclude just about every sentimental black and white movie, with two lovers waving goodbye on a train platform.
It was always going to be that kind of evening for Sanchez, the kind that demanded just that little bit extra moral support.
Having joined Manchester United in one of the most acrimonious Premier League transfers in memory, he was making his first trip back to Arsenal, the club which first lured him to the Premier League and adored him to the point of self-loathing.
But Pogba needn’t have worried: Sanchez was outstanding.
There are many things that Sanchez is not. He is not always a team player. He is not a passer. And he is not one to give his team-mates an easy time when a simple pass goes awry. But he is ferociously competitive, a natural born winner who thrives off the primal energy of a crowd. So of course he was going to start here, despite his fitness concerns. Of course he was going to score. And of course he was going to shine.
The first chorus of boos and bile from fully grown men in flat caps was fired furiously in his direction before he had even touched the ball. Snapping away at the heels of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, chasing down a complete lost cause as he so delights in doing, Sanchez dared to optimistically wave his right boot at the ball as it trickled out for a throw-in.
That was enough to tip this thoroughly pent-up home crowd over the edge, with Sanchez allowing himself the subtlest of rueful smiles as the hatred flew at him from all four corners of the ground, enveloping like an arrow shower. The Emirates — a library? Not on this occasion. Not with this guest.

And, not long after, they had something proper to scream about. Romelu Lukaku was the architect of United’s sublime opening goal, skidding an inch-perfect slide rule pass off the greasy turf and into the path of Sanchez, but the finish was just as impressive. Tiptoeing his way around Petr Cech, a staggering Sanchez somehow managed to stab the ball into the net from the tightest of angles, only just about able to keep his balance.

“IT HAD TO BE HIM,” Manchester United quickly — and gleefully — tweeted.

If it was an unorthodox finish — a lesser player would have deemed Cech too close to dance around and snatched at the shot — the predictable non-celebration was straight out of the ‘How to be a Footballer’ handbook. There was to be no moment of Emmanuel Adebayor catharsis, no middle-fingered salute to the braying mob. Instead, Sanchez lifted his outstretched palms skywards, his latest apology to a set of supporters that will never forgive him.
It wasn't enough to appease them. Obviously. Just three minutes later and Jesse Lingard had scored the game’s decisive goal, as the hatred for Sanchez, which flowed right around the stadium like a fine wine, intensified. Not that that helped Arsenal’s cause.
Suddenly he was everywhere, electric on the counter-attack as Arsenal threw bodies forward.

Until his substituion, no United player completed more dribbles. No United forward had more touches. And nobody was dispossessed as often — the red shirts massing upon him every time he received the ball.
As the game ticked closer to its strangely underwhelming conclusion, Sanchez’s turbo-charged influence finally began to fade. He stopped chasing lost causes. He became increasingly marginalised out wide on the left. A couple of times, the crowd even forgot to boo him. But that was all to be expected. Not only was this his first game at the Emirates, but just his second under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he continues to work his way back to full fitness. He had done enough.
Finally, he was withdrawn for Anthony Martial midway through the second-half. And his night ended as it started — with another huge hug, this time from his manager.
He had done his job: on this most challenging of evenings, he kept his head and made the difference.

The question now is whether he can hold down a regular place in Solskjaer’s side. Sanchez has a long way to go until he can truly prove he was worth United’s considerable investment. But United signed him to make a difference on nights such as these and he did enough here to suggest he can salvage his season — as well as his time at this club.

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