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Sanchez, Özil cast to sideshow as buoyant Man Utd visit Arsenal

A year since moving from Arsenal to Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez has become little more than an afterthought in the Red Devils’ revival since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took caretaker charge.

Sanchez returns to the Emirates for the first time on Friday January 25 in the FA Cup fourth round as Solskjaer targets an eighth straight win since replacing the sacked José Mourinho.

But Sanchez has had little impact on United’s upturn in recent weeks. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have been the key players flourishing since Solskjaer released the shackles imposed by Mourinho’s more conservative approach.

Both form and fitness have deserted the Chilean since he bagged reportedly the most lucrative contract in Premier League history last January in a swap deal that took Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Arsenal.

Sanchez scored 80 goals in 166 games for the Gunners, but has managed just four in 32 appearances over the past year for United.

Mourinho staunchly defended Sanchez during his first six months at Old Trafford, but even the Portuguese’s patience ran out after a string of poor performances this season.

Hamstring and thigh injuries have hampered his attempts to get back into the side under Solskjaer, but the Norwegian has found a winning formula in the understanding formed between Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Sanchez has started just once, in the previous round of the FA Cup against Reading, since the change in management.

Solskjaer has insisted he will get the chance to impress, but as part of his intention to rotate his frontline, with United still involved in three competitions.

“There are the three who play the most but then you’ve got Romelu [Lukaku], you’ve got Juan [Mata], you’ve got Alexis, so I’ve got a front six I can rotate with,” said Solskjaer.

A bit part is not what United had in mind when they presented Sanchez to much fanfare 12 months ago after beating rivals Manchester City to his signature. But Arsenal have also suffered the aftereffects of the deal that took Sanchez to United.

Like Sanchez, Mesut Özil was entering the final six months of his contract at the Emirates a year ago.

Desperate not to lose two of their marquee players on the cheap, Arsenal handed the German a new three-and-a-half year deal worth a reported £350 000 a week.

Yet Özil has also increasingly found himself on the bench or even dropped from Arsenal boss Unai Emery’s squad in recent weeks, with the Spaniard preferring the more energetic approach of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey in midfield.

Özil’s new deal has also financially hamstrung Emery’s attempts to impose his own stamp on Arsenal after 22 years under Arsene Wenger.

The former Paris Saint-Germain coach admitted earlier this month that the club cannot afford to make signings on a permanent basis this month, and Ramsey is due to join Juventus on a free transfer after contract negotiations with the Welsh international broke down.

As teammates Sanchez and Özil were the star attractions of an Arsenal side that won the FA Cup in 2015 and 2017.

Come Friday they are likely to be relegated to a sideshow on the substitutes bench, with both clubs left to regret the massive salaries they signed up to a year ago. — AFP

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Kieran Canning
Kieran Canning
Football correspondent for Agence France Presse in London. Still a follower of all things Spanish football. Views here are my own

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