Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Pep's 'Special' One Ready to Turn Up Heat on Old Boss; Guardiola Saw the Star Potential in Sanchez While at Barcelona Now the Arsenal Hitman Is Gunning for City

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Pep's 'Special' One Ready to Turn Up Heat on Old Boss; Guardiola Saw the Star Potential in Sanchez While at Barcelona Now the Arsenal Hitman Is Gunning for City

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent

THE affection Arsenal supporters have for Alexis Sanchez has grown exponentially ever since his arrival at the club two years ago, but Pep Guardiola's love for the Chile forward began much earlier.

"He has stolen my heart," said Guardiola in January 2011. "He is very young but he came forward and sacrificed himself a lot. I think the club has made a special signing."

Guardiola was speaking in the wake of Barcelona's Copa del Rey quarterfinal, first-leg victory over Real Madrid, six months after the coach had pushed the club's hierarchy into parting with PS22million to sign Sanchez from Italian club Udinese.

Sanchez did not score that night, but his performance bore all the hallmarks we now associate with the 27-year-old: industry, endeavour and quality.

The pair would only enjoy one season together before Guardiola stepped down from his role at the Nou Camp, citing the need for a sabbatical. Sanchez is unlikely to know the meaning of the word.

Having been brought in to challenge the devastating attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro, Sanchez became something of a scapegoat during a rare slump in form by Barca, yet he never allowed his commitment or focus to drop. His departure from the Nou Camp was accelerated out of a desire by the club to raise funds to sign Luis Suarez from Liverpool -- and Arsenal came calling. Arsene Wenger, who had spent the summer of 2013 chasing and losing out on Suarez, then found himself battling Liverpool to sign Sanchez a year later. Aside from a period of chequered form last season, Sanchez has excelled in north London, to the extent that he will arrive at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as Arsenal's principal attacking threat and holding all the aces in the poker game that is his contract extension.

It would be poignant if Sanchez was to provide another example of his various talents in front of Guardiola, who was earlier this month forced to deny he had contacted the player directly over a possible move to Manchester City.

Leaving aside that any suggestion Guardiola discussed a transfer with Sanchez would be in contravention of FA rules, the rumours started much earlier. As far back as last December -- two months before Guardiola was formally confirmed as Manuel Pellegrini's replacement at City -- stories began to surface of Sanchez being identified as one of his top transfer targets.

Mikel Arteta's decision to join Guardiola's coaching staff at the end of his playing career at Arsenal strengthens a well-trodden route between the two clubs: seven players have left the Gunners for City since July 2009, prompting Wenger to joke this morning: "Yes, they are good clients!" That spell coincided with a period of contrasting financial fortunes -- Arsenal were hamstrung by driving down the cost of leaving Highbury, while City were less than a year into an oil-fuelled shopping spree following the arrival of Sheikh Mansour as the club's new owner. …

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