Arsenal ace Alexis Sanchez has revealed that his dip in form this season has stemmed from his fear of suffering another injury.
The Chilean forward was sidelined for two months after picking up a hamstring strain in a 1-1 draw at Norwich City in November – a game in which he was manhandled, quite literally, off the pitch at one stage.
By his own admission, Sanchez lives for football and he would doubtless have been champing at the bit to get back playing after spending such a lengthy period out.
But it seems the memory of spending time out of action weighed heavily on his mind when finally he returned to the starting line-up.
Speaking to Premier League World, Sanchez is quoting as saying: “Before my injury I was 100 per cent fit. I was feeling well. After the injury I wanted to get back but it was hard.
“I had a setback and when I played a match, I was scared I would get injured again because the thing I like most in the world is playing football and when I can’t play, I feel sad.”
Sanchez scored 16 Premier League goals for Arsenal last season, but has just eight to his name so far this time around.
His goal in the 4-0 win over Watford on Saturday was only his third goal in all competitions since returning from injury in January.
Certainly, the statistics seem to support his theory. He did lose a little of his sparkle in the weeks immediately after his return from injury, but I suspect there are other factors at play, factors that may have exacerbated the problem.
After such a stellar debut season, in which he was largely an unknown quantity to opponents, coaches would no doubt have sat down and studied his habits and movements closely this time around, in order to formulate plans for him, to nullify his threat.
Often this season, opponents have stuck tighter to him, doubled up in a lot of cases, and forced him to push further and further inside, off the wing – with the result typically being a harmless pass across field or a blocked shot.
And perhaps there has been the added anxiety of such an impressive first season. The standards were set very high, to say the least, and it would not have escaped his notice that he was not scoring as freely this time around. Matching last season’s exploits was always going to be tough and it’s something that could very easily have niggled at him every time he failed to add to his tally.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that, until his injury, Sanchez had scarcely had a break from football for 12 months, with his summer holiday taken up with the Copa America and all the pressure that comes from being captain of the host nation.
This is not to say that the man has deteriorated into a limp husk of the player he was last season – far from it – he still has 11 goals and six assists to his name, with plenty more time to add to that total.
But he is a world class footballer, and will be as disappointed as anyone that he has not enjoyed the same level of success in 2015/16.
That is not simply down to a fear of injury, there is more to it than that. For me, a number of factors have aligned to thwart his progress this season, but nothing that could be classes insurmountable.
Let’s hope that his confidence grows steadily in the remaining few weeks of the season, he rediscovers a bit of the aura he had pre-injury, and he is able to hit a real purple patch that can fire the Gunners somewhere towards the top of the table.