Super Sanchez is EPL's signing of the season
(Laurent Koscielny 6, Alexis Sanchez 33, 49)
STOKE CITY 0
Alexis Sanchez is the superstar this season has been looking for.
Honesty is not always the best policy in the brand-obsessed English Premier League, but the ongoing campaign hasn't quite captured the imagination.
The mavericks have had their moments. Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria have sparkled, but heavy industry has largely dominated the EPL landscape.
Sanchez is becoming the glorious exception and undoubtedly the best signing of the season.
When he gets on the ball, he gets bums off seats. How often has that really happened this season? How many performers are truly capable?
At the Emirates, the abnormal is becoming normal. They expect the unexpected whenever Sanchez gleefully takes possession.
The sense of anticipation whenever the Chilean charges forward evokes warm memories of Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale; those rare artists who combine speed, grace and hunger to create mini-masterpieces in almost every match.
Sanchez scored twice in the 3-0 victory against Stoke last night, taking his season's tally to 18.
His elegance epitomised Arsenal at their athletic, aesthetic best, which must invigorate and irritate their supporters in equal measure.
These Gunners should challenge for the title. These Gunners should intimidate opponents and not cower in the face of muscular foes.
These Gunners should never have lost 3-2 at Stoke last month. There is a chasm in quality between the two clubs.
Arsenal pushed and probed at every opportunity. Stoke pushed, pulled, elbowed and niggled throughout. There were five minutes of stoppage time alone in the first half, all due to battering, bloody injuries picked up by fouled Gunners.
Before the game, Mark Hughes expressed his frustration at Stoke's reputation for bullying, but their bruising style was more brutish than it was Barcelona.
Their cynicism deserved exactly what it got. Nothing.
Hughes felt confident enough to parachute Philipp Wollscheid into the back four, claiming the loanee from Bayer Leverkusen was match-fit.
He wasn't. There was an obvious failure to communicate.
Asmir Begovic had already made a couple of smart saves before he fished the ball out the net after six minutes.
Sanchez kicked off his masterclass by swinging in an incisive cross from the left. Laurent Koscielny rose like a lonely meerkat to nod in from close range.
It was hard to have any sympathy for Stoke, particularly after Marko Arnautovic shoved Mathieu Debuchy into the advertising hoardings.
His push was as puerile as it was pointless and left the French fullback requiring oxygen before he was stretchered off with a shoulder injury.
The Potters couldn't catch the flying Gunners. So they mostly kicked them instead.
Peter Crouch also caught Nacho Monreal with a flailing elbow, leaving the Arsenal defender dazed and bloodied.
Stoke's dull, negative play quickly grew tiresome and justice was served by the player who was the polar opposite of his inept opponents.
Always positive, always willing, Sanchez pinched possession and exchanged passes with the effervescent Tomas Rosicky in the 33rd minute.
He cut inside from the left, shook off Geoff Cameron and faced Ryan Shawcross. He shaped to go across the centre back, but instead confounded conventional foot speed to shoot inside both Shawcross and the diving Begovic.
The ball slipped inside the near post before anyone had time to digest the trickery.
Sanchez's goal woke up the crowd and perhaps even Arsenal's campaign. They must recalibrate their targets.
With Sanchez in the side, ably supported by Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - along with the returning Theo Walcott and Mesut Oezil, who both came on in the second half - finishing fourth should be seen as a stepping stone rather than an end in itself.
High in the stands, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires warmly applauded the goal. They recognised the quality. But they don't recognise the inconsistency. They once played like this every week. So must the current Gunners.
Sanchez scored his second in the 49th minute, somewhat bizarrely, when his whipped free-kick hit the post and then Begovic's weak hand before trickling over the line.
If the goal was messy, Sanchez's uplifting performance was anything but.
The Gunners need more of the same from the Chilean marvel.
So does the Premier League.
"He is amazing. He shows it week in, week out, and I think that's the most important thing."
- Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Alexis Sanchez
"He's a fighter with a combination of talent and fighting spirit which is very difficult to find. He plays with passion."
- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Sanchez
EPL TOP SCORERS
15 Diego Costa (Chelsea)
14 Sergio Aguero (Man City)
13 Charlie Austin (QPR)
12 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
9 Papiss Cisse (Newcastle), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Saido Berahino (West Brom)