Arsene Wenger remains defiant in the face of the obvious truth.
The Arsenal manager defended his decision to drop Alexis Sanchez to the bench for the Premier League road game against Liverpool on Saturday at Anfield, explaining it during his postgame press conference as a tactical switch.
“I have no regrets,” Wenger said, per The Mirror’s Simon Mullock. “My only regret is that we lost the game.”
“Look, the thinking was that we had to go more direct,” Wenger said, per The Independent’s Ian Herbert. “We wanted to play two players who are strong in the air (Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck) because we decided to go more direct.”
Olivier Giroud started at center forward over Sanchez. Arsenal paid a predictably heavy price for Wenger’s stunning gamble, delivering a flat performance in the first half of the 3-1 loss. Sanchez confirmed Wenger’s blunder after entering in the second half, assisting on Danny Welbeck’s goal and helped improve Arsenal’s play over the last 45 minutes.
The free world agrees Arsenal is better with Sanchez, the team’s leading goal threat, on the field than when he’s watching from the sidelines. Wenger admitted his mistake and accepted responsibility afterward.
“Everybody will come to the same conclusion but I’m strong enough and lucid enough to analyze the impact,” Wenger said. “I don’t deny Alexis Sanchez is a great player. I bought him, I always played him and he has developed well. A decision like that is not easy to make but you always have to stand up …”
The result isn’t crushing in itself, but Sanchez-gate could alter the trajectory of his and the manager’s future with the club. Sanchez’s contract expires after next season, and Arsenal might sell him this summer if they fail to agree to an extension. In fact, reports emerged in the lead-up to the game saying Sanchez had indicated a willingness to leave Arsenal for Juventus. We don’t know whether Wenger’s big call to drop Sanchez was reacting to such a behind-the-scenes maneuver, and he wouldn’t admit it publicly, anyway.
For Wenger, leaving Sanchez on the bench only will fuel his vociferous critics, who want him to leave the club this summer when his contract expires, rather than continue in the job he has held since 1996.
Wenger is expected to determine his Arsenal future before the end of March. How Arsenal is playing toward the end of the season and the mood surrounding the club will factor into his decision-making.
The Gunners fell from fourth to fifth place in the Premier League standings with the loss. If Liverpool finishes above Arsenal in the Premier League standings, and the Gunners fail to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League, history will remember the Sanchez decision as what ultimately edged Wenger closer to Arsenal’s exit door.
And we’ll always know how the longtime Arsenal boss feels about it.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com