Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger was in a combative mood on Monday.
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After losing 2-1 at Liverpool on Saturday — their third defeat in their last four PL games — Wenger’s side slipped up in the top four race as they’re now 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.
To compound matters the Gunners boss was heavily criticized for benching top scorer and star player Alexis Sanchez.
Wenger has claimed Sanchez’s omission was purely tactical as he went with Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud up top for a more direct approach but numerous reports have since circulated suggesting that the Chilean forward was involved in a training ground spat with his teammates last week.
Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg clash against Bayern Munich on Tuesday (Arsenal trail 5-1 from the first leg) at the Emirates, Wenger said “nothing happened” and the reports were “completely false” and had this to say about Sanchez’s current attitude.
“I explained after the game at Liverpool that I decided to go for a more direct option in the game. That was the unique reason in my decision,” Wenger explained. “For the rest, his attitude, he is a committed player sometimes with excessive behaviors but you have that so many times in the history in many squads.”
He then described his current relationship with Sanchez, while showing some annoyance when asked about the forward not yet agreeing to a new contract.
“Honest and normal, like with every single player,” Wenger said. “Alexis Sanchez has 15 months left on his contract so the decision depends on Arsenal Football Club, not on anybody else.”
Wenger then jumped in as reporters grilled club captain Per Mertesacker, who was sat alongside him in the press conference, about their support for Wenger and if the players want him to stay at the Emirates Stadium next season.
The Frenchman, whose contract runs out this summer, stated the players did not decide who the manager would be, the board do, and then gave this rallying call.
“I think we are in the best club in the world and we have to show pride and commitment to defend the pride of this club,” Wenger said. “It is not about the politics. We are not in a political club here, we are in the performance. I have to perform and the players have to perform.”
After seemingly months of criticism of him and his players, Wenger is hitting back.
This siege mentality could hold them in good stead for the rest of the season but with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Wenger himself there are still plenty of distractions. Wenger’s decision to call these reports false will somewhat clear them up and he was seen shaking Sanchez’s hand before training on Monday at their London Colney home.
That said, his comments saying Sanchez as “excessive behaviors” leaves the door open for some intrigue as to what has gone on behind-the-scenes. Sanchez is a notoriously hard trainer and is upset when he isn’t picked to play in a third round League Cup game, let alone a massive Premier League battle away at a top four rival.
Don’t expect this situation to quieten down between now and the end of the season.