22 Nov Arsene Wenger defends Arsenal use of Alexis Sanchez
Arsene Wenger has hit out at suggestions he is gambling with the fitness of Alexis Sanchez.
The forward played the whole of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United despite suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty with Chile.
Sanchez, who had played and scored twice for his country while carrying the injury, was a doubt for the clash at Old Trafford right up until the morning of the game.
He wore strapping on the affected area and remained on the pitch for the full 90 minutes as Olivier Giroud levelled for the Gunners with just a minute left on the clock.
Sanchez has started more games than any other Arsenal player this season having been shifted to a central attacking role.
The 27-year-old has already hit eight goals and could be rested for Wednesday’s Champions League tie at home to Paris St Germain, having been forced to sit out almost two months last season when he picked up a similar injury at this stage a year ago.
But Wenger, who admitted last week that Sanchez wants to play every game even when he may not be fully fit, defended his selection of the former Barcelona man after suggesting ahead of the United game that it could have been a “suicidal decision” for him to play in Chile’s win over Uruguay.
“He had a bit of tightness in his hamstring, but he was checked before the game,” Wenger said.
“I follow the instructions of the medical staff and the player. If they declare him capable of playing, and the player does as well… I have never forced anyone to play in my life.
“I’ve never demanded anyone should be injected to play. If a player is 100 per cent, I make a decision. But the suggestions I have forced him to play are wrong, completely wrong.
“I had the luxury to give (Mesut) Ozil a break because Germany didn’t pick him. Sanchez was not overloaded with games before United, either, as he didn’t play in Colombia.”
While Sanchez may need a rest, Giroud has started only once all season but has scored four goals in his last four club appearances.
And Wenger says he has made no decision over which of the pair will start up front against PSG.
“They are different style of players,” he said of Sanchez and Giroud.
“That dictates a different style to us as well. The shape and form of the players of the moment, their hunger… it’s a mixture of many ingredients.
Asked if Giroud, who was sent off in the 1-1 draw in Paris earlier in the season, was now an impact player Wenger replied: “No, not really. I have only good players.
“Every week I leave top players on the bench. I rotate as well, a little bit. Olivier Giroud has been out a long time and is ready now to compete again.
“It will change game to game, and I will make rotations, but he will not be on the bench forever. He will have opportunities. I have not decided yet (if he will start).”
Two players who will definitely not be involved due to injury are Spain pair Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin.
Bellerin ended speculation of a move away from the Emirates Stadium by penning a new long-term deal on Monday but misses out with an ankle injury – with Wenger pleased to see the 21-year-old extend his stay in north London.
“It just sends out the message that the media will have to find a different name for someone who wants to leave the club,” he said.
“It shows the players we have educated here are committed. That’s what you want.”
Cazorla, meanwhile, is still missing with an Achilles problem with Wenger now refusing to give a potential comeback date for the midfielder.
“I’ve given a bit up on that. I don’t know how far he is,” he conceded.
“He looks like he’s making progress, but as long as the player is not in full-time training with the squad it’s difficult to set targets. It’s not a big injury that will harm his future, but it’s an inflammation at the back of his Achilles.
“My gut signing is it will be short, two weeks, but when a player comes back to full training it still takes two weeks for a player to be ready to play again.”