Arsene Wenger insists Alexis Sanchez remains committed to Arsenal even though the Gunners boss left out his unsettled star for the League Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea.
Wenger opted to keep Sanchez on the bench until the last 25 minutes of Wednesday’s 0-0 first leg draw at Stamford Bridge.
It was a bold gamble by Wenger given the League Cup represents one of the few chances for Arsenal to win silverware in another frustrating season.
Some Arsenal fans and pundits say Sanchez no longer gives 100% because his contract expires at the end of the season and he has so far refused to sign a new deal amid reports he is a divisive figure in the dressing room.
Although Premier League leaders Manchester City are keen to sign Sanchez after their move for the Chile forward fell through in August, Wenger claimed he is still completely focused on the Arsenal cause despite a series of lacklustre performances.
“The performance of Alexis Sanchez and the commitment does not depend on the duration of his contract, just depends on the fact when he’s on the football pitch he wants to play,” Wenger said.
“People don’t know Alexis Sanchez. This is a guy completely focused on playing football.
“Did you see how he came on today? How he warmed up? Like a player who wants to play football.
“He can make a difference between what’s going on outside and what’s going on on the football pitch.
“He doesn’t need to tell me he speaks to anybody else.
He doesn’t need to alert the club. He can do it on his own.
“We live with facts, not with psychological theories. When you come on to the pitch you play football and give 100 per cent. That’s what he does.”
Remarkably, Wenger appears to believe Sanchez could still be persuaded to remain in north London.
“I want him to stay for longer,” he added.
“I have no problem if he signs with us now or in June.”
Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi featured instead of Sanchez despite facing a fine for partying prior to Sunday’s shock FA Cup third round defeat at Nottingham Forest.
Quizzed on whether selecting Iwobi sent a mixed message on team discipline, Wenger said: “There’s one thing to punish someone individually and a second thing to punish everybody.
“If I think he can help the team to win, that’s nothing to do with the fact he can be punished separately, individually.”
Wenger, who said Jack Wilshere will miss Sunday’s game at Bournemouth after suffering an ankle injury, watched from the press box while serving the second game of his three-match touchline ban.
He admitted the experience of being surrounding by reporters during the match had been strange.
“It was frustrating but you (the media) have the best seats,” he said.
“The position was quite interesting, because I was close to the bench and not too high up. That’s where I like to be.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was left frustrated by his side’s failure to turn a dominant display into a victory.
It was Chelsea’s second successive goalless draw following Saturday’s FA Cup stalemate at Norwich and Conte warned his players to sharpen up in front of goal.
“We shot 20 times. We created chances to score, but we didn’t take them. I think in the last period we must be more clinical,” he said.
“My speech is not for the strikers. For example, today (Andreas) Christensen had two fantastic opportunities to score.
“I think we have to improve with all the players, not only the strikers or midfielders.” – Agence France-Presse