Sanchez buoyant at Arsenal, Vidal battling at Bayern ahead of Chilean-flavoured clash

As Arsenal and Bayern Munich prepare to face each other in the Uefa Champions League, Ian Hawkey explains why the outcome could very much depend on the two Chileans on show.

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They packed the stands, the scouts and talent-spotters, for Chile’s opening game at the Under 17 World Cup at the weekend. Spies with mandates from the biggest clubs in Europe, looking for the next big star from the narrow, thin nation that runs along the west coast of lower South America.

The logic is sound. Chile are the continent's champions at senior level; Chileans should be at the heart of club football's most enticing tie in Tuesday night's Uefa Champions League programme.

Back in early July, Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez and Bayern Munich's Arturo Vidal enjoyed their finest hour as colleagues, as compatriots. Make that their finest 20 minutes.

The final of the Copa America, which Chile had reached, went to penalties, after 0-0 over two hours of open play against Argentina. Vidal takes penalties expertly, has had years of practice, notably with Juventus. He converted the second of Chile’s spot kicks, for a 2-1 lead, Lionel Messi having scored for Argentina.

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Sanchez, whose finishing, whose shooting power has made him the leading scorer so far this season for Arsenal, was designated to take the fourth penalty for Chile that night.

Argentina had fluffed two spot kicks by then, so Sanchez had the honour of striking the winning goal, in front of a partisan Santiago crowd, and making himself the image of his country’s excellence in its most popular sport, of a nation who had bettered the heavyweights, Brazil and Argentina.

Sanchez and Vidal share certain qualities: Ruggedness, energy, aggression. But they are different sorts of footballer.

Sanchez is the winger-turned-all-round-striker, who likes wearing the No 9, but would balk at being asked to simply act as a goal-hanger.

Vidal is the hammer-and-tongs midfielder who would raise a puzzled eyebrow if you classified him only as an anchorman. Yes, his relish for the saving tackle, the regaining of possession, is evident, but he was also Juventus’s top goalscorer in 2012/13, a title-winning season for the club. Being an ace penalty-taker accounted for some, but not all of those goals.

Vidal, 28, moved from Juve to Bayern in July. Arsenal had been among several clubs interested in recruiting him, having weighed up the benefits of his all-round game against the risk that his patchy record of fitness represented.

In Munich, he has points still to prove. Franz Beckenbauer, Bayern’s honorary president, last month criticised Vidal’s work-rate and claimed “the club don’t need him”.

Other than lifting the Copa America — he was man of the match in the final — Vidal had a testing summer. His performance in the Champions League final, his last match for Juventus, had been mixed, his pugnacity in the early phases of the 3-1 defeat to Barcelona excessive and in danger of earning a red card.

He missed some of Bayern’s pre-season, and was charged with drink-driving in Chile during the Copa.

That cost him some respect from compatriots. Sanchez, though a little frosty with the media, has in the past two years overtaken Vidal as the country’s most admired sporting figurehead. His move to Barcelona from Italy’s Udinese, in 2011, helped raise his profile and his impact at Arsenal, who are seeking their first points of a shaky European campaign against Bayern, has been immense.

“Delightful,” Arsene Wenger called him at the weekend, when Sanchez, 26, scored the third goal in the 3-0 Premier League win against Watford. “He’s what you want to watch if you like football.”

And he is one red-hot Chilean right now. Sanchez has 10 goals in his last six matches, including the three he scored for his country during the recent international break. Bayern know which Arsenal man they have to police most vigilantly. Expect Vidal to spend some time hounding his countryman.