LONDON • Arsene Wenger stood by his decision to drop Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal's starting line-up in the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday. The manager admitted, though, that the gamble backfired.
Sanchez, who has been involved in 26 league goals for Arsenal this season - 17 of which he has scored with nine assists - came on as a substitute at half-time with Arsenal 0-2 down and set up Danny Welbeck for Arsenal's goal 12 minutes later.
The Chilean also helped energise the rather hapless-looking Olivier Giroud, who headed against the bar early in the second half. But it was too late to stop the Gunners from slipping to their third Premier League defeat in four matches.
Liverpool's win - secured via goals from Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum - sent Arsenal dropping to fifth place, while Jurgen Klopp's side moved up to third.
Sanchez was left looking dejected, although not as dejected as many Arsenal supporters who can see their hero heading over the horizon to pastures new at the end of the season.
Wenger, who has yet to decide whether he will extend his contract, which is up at the end of the season, opted for Giroud and Welbeck to lead the attack.
He explained: "I play with Giroud and Welbeck up front because we decided to have some fight in there and be a bit more direct."
A couple of hours later, though, he had to admit the plan failed.
"Yes (it did backfire)," Wenger told the press after the game. "But I felt the strikers suffered in the first half and we didn't dominate in the midfield. It is always debatable.
"We had problems getting into the rhythm of the first half. We conceded cheap goals, direct balls from the goalkeeper and you do not expect that in a game like this."
Wenger came in for strong criticism from a friend and old foes.
Ian Wright, an Arsenal striker under Wenger, told BT Sport that Sanchez was the only Arsenal player "to come out of this match with any credit". "It was a strange game to leave him out of, it baffled me," said Wright.
Steven Gerrard, the former Liverpool captain, said: "Without Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal haven't got any world-class players. You have to start your world-class players."
The defeat, at the onset of another crucial week for Arsenal with Bayern Munich poised to end their latest Champions League odyssey, is bound to raise further questions over Wenger's decision-making.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp felt the win was the perfect response to the criticism his team took following their surprise defeat at Leicester last Monday.
He said: "We were spot-on from the first second of the game and that was pleasing. We were much better than Arsenal in the first half and we could have scored more.
"I don't like the fact that inconsistency seems to be part of the deal at the moment, but usually with that you lose games against the bigger teams. We seem to have chosen another way."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN