Monday 23 October 2017

Arsene Wenger: I didn't know if Alexis Sanchez could play as a striker

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was unsure whether Alexis Sanchez could cut it as a striker
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was unsure whether Alexis Sanchez could cut it as a striker

Arsene Wenger has admitted he was unsure whether Alexis Sanchez could cut it as a striker at Arsenal.

The 27-year-old has hit 13 goals in 20 games across all competitions for the Gunners so far this season, including a spectacular hat-trick in last weekend's Premier League victory over West Ham.

Sanchez has been predominantly deployed as a central striker since the start of the campaign, having regularly operated from a wider position for much of his time at the Emirates Stadium, and is likely to keep that role when Stoke visit north London on Saturday.

The move has not only given Sanchez a new lease of life but his speed and mobility, compared to Wenger's other main option Olivier Giroud, has helped Arsenal find an attacking blend that has seen them score three or more goals in 12 games this year.

But it could have been different had Wenger not decided to have one final crack at playing the former Barcelona forward through the middle.

"I must honestly say I thought many times when I played him last year or two years ago I was wrong," Wenger said of Sanchez.

"The few experiences I attempted with him through the middle were not convincing and I remember even in one game (away to Everton in 2014) I changed it at half-time. This year it clicked very early in the season.

"He has developed very well as a centre forward because I think he has found a good mixture between being coming off and going in behind and he has more freedom as well and he takes advantage of his short technique in the middle much more."

Asked about parallels with the club's all-time leading goalscorer, Thierry Henry, Wenger replied: "I had to persuade Thierry (to move centrally).

"I don't know if it's my greatest achievement. You see the guy who plays wide can score goals that he can in the centre score even more goals."

Sanchez's latest stint as a striker came about more by circumstance as Giroud was rested at the start of the season following his exertions at Euro 2016.

With Lucas Perez not signed until late in the transfer window and a failed move for Leicester's Jamie Vardy earlier in the summer, Sanchez was Wenger's only experienced option - and the Frenchman was delighted with the outcome.

"At the start of the season when he came back and he took advantage of the fact Giroud was not here and not ready so I could give him more games," he said.

"Some times when you have too many people you cannot lost long an experience that is not immediately conclusive because you are under pressure.

"It doesn't work one or two games and you have a top player on the bench you're tempted very early to change it."

Giroud has since returned to the squad but has largely had to play a bit-part role due to Sanchez's goalscoring exploits.

The 30-year-old is out of contract at the end of next season but, despite Wenger admitting he cannot keep all of his players happy, he wants to keep his compatriot at the club.

"How do we keep them all happy? Honestly I don't know," he said of his forwards.

"If you have only one striker, the press says 'why don't you buy another striker?' Once you buy one more they say 'how can you keep him happy?'

"We are in a world where you have to know where you want to be and in my case I want Giroud to stay, I want Giroud to extend his contract.

"After he has to live with the competition and for me he is a very important player at the club, on the pitch and off the pitch. I want him to stay, he has to decide if he can live with what is going on but personally I like Giroud very much."

Wenger has previous experience in juggling a host of attacking talent in an attempt to keep them happy, but insists he would rather have a player badgering him to play instead of simply accepting the fact he is out of the side.

"We had Kanu, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, a young Robin Van Persie. it's never easy," he added.

"You cannot keep them all happy but our job is we produce every weekend unhappy people.

"It's part of the job at every club. At Stoke on Saturday only 11 will start. Look at every squad in the Premier League, everybody has internationals on the bench.

"The dangers in our job, the real danger is players who are just happy to be there."

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