Arsenal's Player of 2016: Alexis Sanchez

In many ways, Arsenal's player of 2016 is almost a foregone conclusion. However, in another sense it is almost difficult to pick a player from a calendar year that has ultimately been a failure for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger watched his team's season crash and burn in 2015/16. The title was there to be won, but they lacked the necessary bottle, as usual, to win the Premier League. Then, seemingly within touching distance this season; top of the tree a couple of weeks ago, they now sit fourth in the table and nine points off favourites Chelsea. If ever a year summed up Arsenal, it was 2016.

Despite the failures, there are four main candidates for Arsenal's player of 2016. At the back you have Laurent Koscielny and Hector Bellerin, who continue to outline their importance week in week out. Further up the pitch you have the genius of Mesut Ozil, but the main man in 2016 was Alexis Sanchez.

You could stake a claim for each of those four to be player of the year; Ozil has been excellent so far this season but still has that tendency to have an 'off day'. Bellerin is arguably the most consistent and reliable full-back in the league whilst Koscielny has had another solid year, playing well at the European Championships in his home country over the summer too. There can only really be one man in question though; El Nino Maravilla; Alexis.

Returning from injury

We'll start our round-up of Sanchez's calendar year by looking back at the end of last season and the first half of 2016. Arsenal fans will probably want to quickly forget that period, as their best chance of winning a league title came to an abrupt halt in February and March, despite the 'big' team's not even being in the frame. Of course it was Leicester City who eventually ran out winners, whilst Arsenal snatched second place from Tottenham on the last day. 

Despite getting one over the old rivals on the final weekend; second place could have been so much more, especially with the likes of Alexis in their ranks. His start to the year was a difficult one though. He missed most of January through an injury he sustained in an away draw at Carrow Road against Norwich in November 2015, and it took him a while to get back to his best once he returned.

Because of that injury he didn't play in 2016 until the final week of January, coming off the bench against Southampton in a 0-0 draw. His first start came against Burnley in the fourth round of the FA Cup, scoring and assisting as Arsenal won 2-1, but the Chilean then went on a run of seven games without scoring as the Gunners saw their season fall apart. His injury clearly had an effect, and it was a lack of form that was hugely untimely for Wenger's side. 

He had to bounce back though, and he did that, scoring six in twelve games towards the end of the season, including netting in a heated North London derby in March. It was a period that saw the tricky forward get back to his best and how Arsenal needed it. 

Sanchez would then go onto win the Copa America over the summer, winning the best player award with Chile which propelled him in to what has so far been an outstanding 2016/17 campaign for Arsenal's stand out man.

Becoming Arsenal's main striker

Much has been made of the Gunner's attacking options in recent seasons. Do they have the goals required to win a Premier League title? Possibly. Potentially. Probably not. As it would appear even with Alexis' goals so far this season the Gunners remain off the pace in the Premier League.

With the Chilean being moved into a more central role, he has flourished, and so has the team, until now anyway. However let's not get bogged down in the mess that is Arsenal's title credentials, and instead celebrate a player who has looked every bit the full package as a striker. 

Often utilised as a centre forward for his country, Wenger took the decision at the start of the current season to use his main man as a striker. Since then Sanchez hasn't looked back. He is one of the top scorers in the League, notching twelve goals, and also scoring twice in the Champions League. It is a brilliant return, but who'd have dared doubting that he wouldn't have the ability to do what he is doing now as a striker.

Pundits have been saying that the Gunners miss that 30 goal a season man. In Alexis though they may just have that, and his form in the second part of 2016 has been a huge part in why he is deserving of Arsenal's player of the year. Before Christmas, he contributed to 28 goals in 28 games. That says it all. 

Oliver Giroud has been somewhat of an outcast since Sanchez has proven he can provide so much upfront, and it's about time that Arsenal had someone of his quality that can play up top.

With Ozil behind him, the Gunners are onto something. Can they reignite their title bid in 2017? Only time will tell, but the Chilean will have a major role in whether they can or not.

Stand-out performances

Alexis' most impressive performances in 2016 have come this season, where he has arguably been in the form of his life. This year, his performance against West Ham at the start of December has to stand-out. It was one of the best Premier League hat-tricks you are likely to see, as he scored three brilliant goals in a 5-1 away win. It was a performance that made you stand-up and appreciate football, and in particular Sanchez.

It was a game that summed him up, cutting inside for the first before surging into the penalty area and burying the chance from a tight angle. His second was a brilliant finish from the edge of the area, whilst his third made a mockery of Darren Randolph in goal, performing a step over before chipping the ball into the net.

Whether or not a manager's more expensive players turn up in the big games is often a talking point, but against Chelsea in September Sanchez's display was talked about for all the right reasons.

In an amazing 3-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates earlier in the season, Alexis pounced on a mistake from Gary Cahill to score, and then assisted Ozil later in the game too as the Gunners blew the current league leaders away in the first half. If only Arsenal could sustain that form over an entire season. 

What's next?

2017 could be a very interesting year for Sanchez, with Arsenal looking to bounce back from a pretty disappointing calendar year in 2016. The Gunners will be hoping that their fortunes change in the new year, and a good place to start would be with Sanchez signing a new deal.

Alexis' current contract runs out fairly soon, so it is essential for the club that he signs a new deal. Whether or not that will happen is not yet certain though.

However despite all the uncertainty surrounding his contract and Arsenal's 2016/17 campaign, Sanchez has without doubt been a reason to celebrate and rejoice in 2016. He has been Arsenal's best player by quite a significant distance and he is worth the entry fee alone. 

Consistency and quality wise, Sanchez is Wenger's best player, and in 2017 he will be key to any success the club has. His elevation to one of the most prolific strikers in Europe this season just continues to underline his significance. 

Back in 2012/13 at the turn of the year it was Theo Walcott who fans were fretting over whether a new deal would be signed. Now at the turn of this year, it is a player of significantly more quality in the form of Alexis who needs to agree a new deal.

Wenger has committed himself to adding more quality to this squad, but it is essential that he now keeps who he has brought in; Sanchez is pivotal to that.