It was interesting when Arsene Wenger spoke about his decision to drop Alexis Sanchez on Saturday against Liverpool.
Speaking after the game, he said, “I don’t deny that Alexis is a great player. I bought him and I always played him. This decision was not easy to make, but I have to stand up for it.”
Yesterday, reports emerged that the Chilean had been left on the sidelines after storming out of training following a bust-up which continued into the changing rooms. From what I hear, he had a slanging match with a very senior teammate, not one of the young players as is being reported, and stormed off.
That appears to be have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of his behaviour, with suggestions his very public on-pitch displays of disaffection and dismay have caused some issues within the squad. Wenger’s irritation with Sanchez was evident after the Bayern game too, telling a reporter who suggested he’d played well, “Watch the game again. I do not want to comment individually but we have lost as a team and Alexis is part of that.”
There were also rumours of dressing room unrest in Munich, which wouldn’t be unexpected after a performance of that ineptitude, and while some will not unreasonably see this as the club briefing against a player to make him look the villain ahead of a summer departure (suspect there’s an element of this), I just think this is what’s going on. Things are a bit of a mess at the moment.
It seems clear that while Alexis Sanchez is a great footballer, he is somewhat high maintenance, and this feels like the culmination of a situation that has been ongoing for some time now. At the end of last season, when he was taken off against Norwich, he went straight down the tunnel and left the stadium before any of his teammates got back to the dressing room. Hardly a terrible crime, but generally speaking a big ‘no no’ at any level.
There was also a feeling that last summer he might well be on his way out of the club. See if you can remember our pursuit of a very high profile player who ended up at another Premier League club. It appeared to be almost nailed on, but then went dead … just like that.
The player in question wasn’t being brought into augment the squad, he was a replacement for Alexis if he went. So it’s fair to say that things between Arsenal and Sanchez have been strained for some time.
Now, Wenger leaving a player out for ill-discipline is not unprecedented. You might remember huge games in the 2013-14 season when we were still in the grip of that trophy drought. The FA Cup was a genuine chance to win one, but because of some off-field indiscretions, Olivier Giroud was not selected to start.
Instead, Arsene Wenger picked Yaya Sanogo for a 5th round tie against a very good Liverpool side, and followed it up by playing the young Frenchman in the Champions League against Bayern Munich. In many ways that was hobbling himself more seriously than he did on Saturday, because at least at Anfield he was using established, experienced players to make up for the loss of Sanchez.
However, whatever happened that forced his hand with regards the team selection against Liverpool this weekend, the punishment, such as it was, came across as half-hearted. With Arsenal losing 2-0 at half-time, expediency trumped discipline and Sanchez was introduced to the game.
It’s Arsene Wenger’s job to manage him and if he’s been acting up then he’s got to bear some responsibility for that. A friend reminded me this morning of how Antonio Conte dealt with a similar kind of issue at Chelsea this season with Diego Costa. The difference, of course, is that Conte is a fresh new voice with authority, whereas Arsene is a man who is obviously struggling to keep things together right now.
On the one hand if a player has acted inappropriately, then we can all understand the need to bring them back in line. No player can be allowed be bigger than the club, and all that. On the other, when you desperately need to win a game, hobbling yourself by leaving out a man who has contributed to more goals in the season than anyone else is difficult to justify, especially when you’re willing to put that player on after a dismal 45 minutes from your team.
Sadly, this feels like another issue which will only polarise some fans further than they already have been. Team Sanchez v Team Wenger, when of course it should be Team Arsenal, but that’s almost a secondary consideration given how fraught things are at this moment in time.
When you add to this the contention from Ian Wright that Mesut Ozil’s absence could have been down to the German finding out he was going to be dropped too and pulling a sickie, then it’s just creates another layer of what is fast becoming a very unpalatable cake.
There’s no escaping it either, no time to let it all die down, because we play Bayern Munich tomorrow night and that means there’s going to be a press conference today. It will unquestionably be one of the issues the manager is pressed about, and while I suspect it’s one he’ll be keen to play down, protecting the sanctity of the dressing room etc, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.
His mood and demeanour following the Liverpool will be something to take note of too. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he looked like a man feeling all the weight of his current predicament. It can’t be healthy either, can it? To deal with that kind of pressure every minute of every day, when there’s no getting away from it.
Anyway, we’ll have all the press conference coverage over on Arseblog News throughout the morning/afternoon. For some extra reading this morning, James from Gunnerblog did a blog on Gunnerblog but Gunnerblog is a bit banjaxed, so we posted it here on Arseblog. It outlines his reasons why he feels it’s time for Arsene to go this summer, read it here.
Of course James and I will be here with an Arsecast Extra for you later on. There’s so much to talk about, I think this could be a really long one, and if you have questions or topics for discussion please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra.
That should be up for you before lunchtime, so please subscribe on iTunes, or your favourite podcasting app to get it as soon as it’s published.
Until then, have a good one.