Wenger defends Sanchez

Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi equalising against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in London on Thursday. Alexis Sanchez then scored twice in Arsenal's 3-2 victory.
Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi equalising against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in London on Thursday. Alexis Sanchez then scored twice in Arsenal's 3-2 victory.PHOTO: REUTERS

Arsenal fans see Chilean's performance as a shop-window display for City and PSG

LONDON • Arsene Wenger offered a stirring defence of Alexis Sanchez's attitude on Thursday, insisting the unsettled forward's match-defining brace in the 3-2 win at Crystal Palace demonstrated his continued commitment to the club.

The Chilean, who has been widely accused of not pulling his weight for Arsenal in the final year of a contract which expires in June, produced one of his best performances of the season with intriguing timing.

Wenger told reporters afterwards he was not "fearful" that Sanchez, whose second-half double in just five minutes turned the game, would leave in next month's transfer window.

Yet, the fact that he should be back to his world-class best with the January market about to open on Monday was bound to raise eyebrows.

Manchester City, the Premier League's runaway leaders, have been linked with the 29-year-old but, coming into the final six months of his contract, they could wait until the summer to snap him up on a free transfer.

The more cynical of Arsenal's fans, quick to make their views known on social media after the game, saw Sanchez's performance as a shop-window display for City's, or even Paris Saint-Germain's, delectation.

Wenger, on the night he equalled former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson's record of overseeing 810 Premier League games, said: "Always when people don't have long contracts, they are questioned. The best way to show they are committed is to give that kind of performance.

"I felt he was very good tonight from the first minute on, focused on the game. This kind of Sanchez is a great football player, as we know. That's the kind of performance we want from him."

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Though it has been considered a formality that Sanchez will leave, Wenger added: "Look, first of all, nobody knows what will happen really. It's difficult to speculate."

Sanchez's celebration following his first goal of the night sparked questions over whether there is a rift in Arsenal's dressing room.

After Andros Townsend cancelled out Shkodran Mustafi's equaliser, Sanchez put the Gunners back ahead with a thunderous 62nd-minute snap shot.

But he was joined by just four team-mates, with the others celebrating separately.

Former Arsenal striker and Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry said: "Look at the division of the team. Surely the team isn't only five?

"He is talking to (Alexandre) Lacazette, 'Why are they not coming?' and Lacazette is saying, 'I don't know' and he's saying, 'Guys we are 2-1 up, don't you want to celebrate?'.

"Sanchez made me notice it. It was like he thought he was alone."

Four minutes later, he got his second with a lovely piece of control and fine finish from Jack Wilshere's long through ball.

Despite James Tomkins ensuring a nervy finish with a late headed goal for Palace, the win saw Arsenal cement sixth place in the league as they moved on to 37 points, alongside Tottenham Hotspur.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'Wenger defends Sanchez'. Print Edition | Subscribe