Arsene Wenger admits Alexis Sanchez might be below his best when he returns
Nothing ever changes at Arsenal. Two games into the new season and Arsene Wenger is already pleading for calm, defending Mesut Ozil and facing questions over whether he has strengthened his squad sufficiently to challenge for the top four.
And Wenger is now facing the prospect of Manchester City stepping up their £60 million pursuit of striker Alexis Sanchez, with 11 days left until the transfer window closes.
Wenger has constantly reiterated that Sanchez will remain an Arsenal player on September 1 and is ready to welcome back the Chile international for this weekend’s trip to Liverpool.
But the future of Sanchez seems intrinsically linked to Arsenal’s hopes of success this season, for the current squad appear dangerously short without him on the evidence of their limp display at the bet365 Stadium.
City are expected to test Arsenal’s resolve and could even make an opening offer this week, with the promise of a contract worth around £400,000 a week, including bonuses and image rights.
Sanchez scored 24 league goals last season but is yet to play in this campaign after suffering a muscle strain, which sources insist is a legitimate injury. He is expected to return at Anfield on Sunday but Wenger has warned supporters not to expect instant miracles.
“We’ll see how he goes through the week. He has not played for a long time,” he said.
“He was out with a muscular strain and hopefully he will survive the tests first before he comes back. He’s not played now for six weeks and it’s difficult to be at your best in the first game straight away.”
This defeat at Wenger’s least favourite venue exposed all those familiar problems, with Arsenal’s three-man defence appearing brittle. Ozil performed one of those infuriating disappearing acts, which probably underlined why he is still at the Emirates Stadium, while Stoke pressed Arsenal into panic.
Wenger could point to a number of controversial refereeing decisions, including a disallowed goal for Alexandre Lacazette and two unsuccessful penalty appeals, but always seems on the edge of a crisis. Supporters are continuing to question the wisdom of that new contract.
“Let’s not go overboard. We lost one game. I can understand that, but overall I believe there were a lot of positives in the game as well because we created many chances,” he said.
“When you have the number of chances we have away from home and you don’t score, you can always complain about the offence and defence.”
Take nothing away from Stoke, though, who have constantly proven an irritation to Arsenal and sent out a defiant message to those pundits tipping them for relegation.
Stoke were outstanding, producing a performance that evoked memories of their early days in the Premier League when the bet365 Stadium was a venue to be feared.
Jack Butland, the goalkeeper, was excellent while Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma already appears a shrewd signing. But it was match-winner Jese, signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, who captured the imagination with a display that hinted at a bright future.
Jese had produced one moment of magic after just three minutes but seized his opportunity beautifully early in the second half, drilling a low shot across Petr Cech after good approach work from substitute Saido Berahino.
Hughes revealed the former Real Madrid prodigy, who cost PSG £22 million last August, has been on Stoke’s radar for some time.
“We had a conversation last season but clearly it wasn’t viable then, he felt his career needed to go in a different direction. We are fortunate because now he felt was the time to come to the Premier League,” he said.
“We are grateful that he has picked us. There was a lot of interest but we stepped in very early and made it clear to him we wanted him here quickly to be able to play in this game. Given his performance it was work well done.
“The key now is that in the past we couldn’t get anywhere near this type of player, but now we can.”