Wenger urges Sanchez to channel his 'rage'
Striker set to start against Bayern as skipper Mertesacker delivers withering assessment
Arsene Wenger has urged Alexis Sanchez to channel his anger into the game against Bayern Munich tonight amid deepening uncertainty over his Arsenal future following interest now from Manchester City as well as Paris St-Germain and Juventus.
Sanchez is expected to return to the starting line-up after being dropped against Liverpool on Saturday, but it is believed that goalkeeper Petr Cech has also become frustrated by his own continued omission from the Champions League.
David Ospina will again start in goal tonight but Cech, who joined Arsenal because he had been left out of Chelsea's biggest games, is bewildered by the reasoning behind his absence from both Bayern Munich matches. He has also not started this season in the FA Cup, which is Arsenal's only realistic hope of silverware.
Cech's frustration adds to the acute tension now at Arsenal amid a sequence of four defeats in six games and a training-ground row involving Sanchez days before his shock omission from the starting team who lost 3-1 to Liverpool.
Asked what he expected tonight of his players, Wenger said: "That you go out there with a mixture of lucid rage and total commitment, but not a silly one because you have as well always to make intelligent decisions."
Captain Per Mertesacker delivered a withering assessment of recent performances yesterday, admitting that the team had lacked fight and repeatedly let their manager down.
Wenger disagreed and simply urged his players to "go for it" and play "without the handbrake" amid a seemingly hopeless task tonight of needing to win against the German champions by at least four goals, having lost the first leg 5-1.
In calling for perspective, Wenger also made a pointed reference to how rivals Tottenham Hotspur had already been knocked out of the competition.
"Everything is a negative at the moment," said Wenger. "Basically the teams that have gone out in the group stage are happy but we have gone through and we are in crisis."
Sanchez shook hands with Wenger both before and after training yesterday morning and then posted a cryptic Instagram message.
"The true warrior fights not because he hates the ones in front of him, but because he loves those behind him. Let's go Gunners," he wrote, before adding: "The only failure is not trying."
Wenger repeatedly denied any rift with Sanchez but described his star striker's behaviour as sometimes "excessive" before specifically referencing his body language when he throws his arms up in frustration at team-mates.
There has been a growing sense inside Arsenal that Sanchez's shows of frustration are selfish, notably when he reacted to being substituted when the team were winning 4-0 against Swansea and then also during the defeat in Munich.
Sanchez had berated Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but, following the post-match analysis, there was an internal feeling that it was actually the Chilean who had most veered from the game-plan.
"You have to accept that a team is made up of 25 different personalities," said Wenger. "I don't want people to change. I just want them on board to achieve something together. What I expect from the team is just honour.
"I don't know what happens inside your work; maybe you love and kiss each other every day, but I'm not completely convinced."
Wenger denied that Sanchez had higher standards than his team-mates and suggested that Arsenal would still keep him if he does not sign a new contract this summer, even though history suggests that he would be sold.
The prospect of enticing a proven, versatile Premier League striker appeals to City manager Pep Guardiola, who previously signed Sanchez at Barcelona.
Mertesacker did not hold back in his assessment of recent performances.
"We saw on a lot of occasions that we were absolutely not ready for a fight; and that's what I want to see tomorrow: that we are up for a fight, to challenge something," said Mertesacker. "We haven't competed a lot. We need to turn that around. We literally threw it away in the second half (against Bayern).
"One thing about the Liverpool game is that there were 11 players on the pitch. We had a real chance to go for it, to push it and even without our best player on the pitch, to show that we are a real unit. It's not always the manager. It's hard for him now to select; he does it with his best knowledge and we trust him."
Mertesacker added: "We have done something wrong in recent games. We need to take the first step to make our fans proud of us again."