Belfast Telegraph

Man City v Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez can be key to end Gunners' Manchester hoodoo

By Ian Herbert

At last, a player who escaped Manchester City's clutches and only had eyes for Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger has seen Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna - a collective cost of £72m - lured away from the Emirates to the Etihad on the promise of Abu Dhabi gold in the last five years, but Alexis Sanchez is the one who City missed out on twice before he said yes to the Gunners.

City's interest in Sanchez last summer - and the very significant reason for them not pursuing him - came into sharper focus yesterday when their manager Manuel Pellegrini said, in response to the question of whether he had tried to sign the 26-year-old, that "it was not easy" back then because the Chilean had been "a very expensive player in that moment".

There can be little doubt that City knew they would be one striker down when Sanchez came back onto the market, because internal conversations about their Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo's desire to go back to Spain had already started.

But money was an issue like never before for the Premier League champions, because of the £49m net spending limit imposed on them for failing Uefa's Financial Fair Play test.

They have paid heavily for their necessary summer timidity in the goal-scorer department.

Though there is no doubting the quality of Wilfried Bony, who City bought for £28m, for a mere £7m more they might have been the owners of the man who has become Arsenal's supreme talent.

Who knows? Perhaps City would have received the same message Liverpool received, having been strung along by Sanchez's representatives for weeks - that he only wanted to play in London - but their frustration will be compounded if Sanchez delivers for Arsenal against them tomorrow, because he slipped through their fingers in 2011, too.

That was when the Chilean topped Roberto Mancini's wish-list of strikers, sending the club's player-acquisition staff into hot pursuit of him.

However, the trail started to go cold, Sanchez's agent stopped returning calls and, with second-choice Sergio Aguero's agent more receptive, they called off the search. City signed Aguero for £38m while Sanchez went to Barcelona, the club he had always wanted.

The past few weeks might not have done much to prove City's transparency in complying with FFP.

There has been something very unsettling about their latest exercise in shrewd accountancy, hiving off employees into subsidiary companies to remove them from the football club payroll and help compliance with the Uefa financial regime, when most of those employees' work is undertaken for the club.

Yet the non-pursuit of Sanchez reveals a determination to adhere to FFP.

There's no disguising what a pitiful place for Arsenal the city of Manchester has been these past years. There was an 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in August 2011 and 396 days ago City were 6-3 winners at the Etihad.

The Gunners have taken one point from a possible 21 in there; 28 goals conceded in the last seven meetings and six men sent off in nine games.

Wenger claimed there were exceptional, extenuating circumstances about that 6-3 defeat: missed chances and a Champions League tie in Naples three days before the lunchtime kick-off, but that's not really how it was.

Arsenal looked how they seemed almost every time they have entered the city in these past few years - cowed and lacking in self-belief.

Even David Moyes' Old Trafford proved too much for them last season. When a team does not even believe it can win, then it will not.

"Yes," Wenger said to the question of whether that lack of belief had been the biggest weakness over the last few years.

"For many years it was our strength and in the last two years it is true that it has been a weakness. I think we are mature enough now to rectify it."

How often has he said that? There have been so many false dawns.

But for once as he faced up to City, Wenger did not feel the need to resort to that phrase he coined for the club - "financial doping" - even though recent events had provided some ammunition.

That tells us something. Sanchez has fortified Arsenal. He has altered the flow of transfer traffic into Manchester.

Now he needs to help Wenger make the scoreline a little different, too.

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