Alexis Sanchez scored and put on a very deliberate show of unity at West Brom but his Arsenal career could easily fizzle out in silence
Even before the orchestrated love-in of Arsenal‘s celebration, it was easy to conceive had a wider audience in mind during this game.
Ahead of being submerged by every outfield member of ‘s team following his deflected free-kick, Sanchez was doing his best to portray a picture of harmony.
Twice in the contest he applauded a rather hopeless pass his direction. Just before half-time the Chilean‘s gloved hands were brought together in praise of Calum Chambers, and then shortly after the break for Hector Bellerin.
Neither particularly deserved the acclaim. Both had sought to free Sanchez with a long pass but Chambers sent the ball wildly off target, and Bellerin misjudged the distance, applying a sand wedge when an eight iron was required.
Sanchez, though, decided to give each teammate a clap. Pointedly, it seemed. Are you watching Thierry Henry?
Sanchez has been central to accusations of a divided Arsenal dressing room ever since a rather awkward goal celebration at Crystal Palace and in these moments it looked like he was giving his response.
That may sound like deep delving but given Sanchez has never been one to hide his emotions these public expressions of gratitude struck as deliberate. Happy-clappy, indeed.
The problem for Arsenal is that the more meaningful indications of unity were few and far between.
It is said that Sanchez often likes time by himself at Arsenal‘s London Colney training ground and here at the Hawthorns he regularly cut an isolated figure on the left wing.
Shorn of Mesut Ozil top bounce off, too much of what Sanchez tried failed to succeed.
There was a nice early interchange with Alexandre Lacazette – one of the ‘Selhurst Park Four‘ who did jog to celebrate with Sanchez – and he looked good on the half hour when turning Craig Dawson, scampering into attack and exchanging a one-two with Alex Iwobi.
But when possession was subsequently lost Sanchez placed his hands on his knees in a look of exasperation. It felt like the mask had slipped and that impression continued into the second half.
By now Sanchez had grown annoyed at failing to impose himself. A free-kick went into the wall, and a shot into the side-netting.
So when Iwobi sent a pass behind him in the box, he sank almost exasperated. Then he gave Iwobi a look that bordered on a glare.
In the 70th minute he was annoyed at Bellerin for not pushing forwards. There was a wave of the arm and subsequent hands on hips. He adopted the same stance when Iwobi shot rather than passed.
Sanchez remembered himself when applauding Danny Welbeck onto the field a short time after and then came the moment that felt hugely significant.
West Brom‘s wall should have stayed together but Sanchez‘s free-kick squirmed through and went in via two deflections. Cue the surge of red shirts to the corner flag in front of the travelling supporters.
There was no need for Sanchez to beckon his teammates to join this time. They all knew the script.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, West Brom did not. They pressed again and got a deserved equaliser from Jay Rodriguez‘s penalty.
At the final whistle Sanchez‘s default mode seemed activated again. He had a short conversation with Ben Foster but remained rooted to the spot rather than join in with the post-match handshakes, a 1,000-yard stare of his face.
Eventually he trudged off silently, perhaps emblematic of how his career at Arsenal might well end.