Sunday 18 March 2018

Wenger woe heightened by City move for Sanchez

'It was match-winner Jese Rodriguez, signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, who captured the imagination with a display that hinted at a bright future.
'It was match-winner Jese Rodriguez, signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, who captured the imagination with a display that hinted at a bright future.

John Percy

Nothing ever changes at Arsenal. Two games into the 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.

The Arsenal manager is now facing the prospect of Manchester City stepping up their £60 million pursuit of striker Alexis Sanchez, with 10 days left until the transfer window closes.

Wenger has constantly reiterated that Sanchez will still be an Arsenal player on September 1 and is ready to welcome back the Chile international for this weekend's trip to Liverpool.

However, the future of Sanchez seems intrinsically linked to Arsenal's hopes of success this season, for the current squad appear dangerously lacking 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 per week, including bonuses and image rights.

Sanchez scored 24 league goals last season, but is yet to play in this campaign after suffering an abdominal 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 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 underlines 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 Arsenal always seems on the edge of a crisis.

Supporters are continuing to question the wisdom of that new contract for Wenger.

"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.

They were outstanding, producing a performance that evoked memories of their early days in the Premier League, when Stoke's ground was a venue to be feared.

Goalkeeper Jack Butland was excellent, while Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma already appears a shrewd signing. But it was match-winner Jese Rodriguez, 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, and seized his opportunity beautifully early in the second-half, drilling a low shot across Petr Cech after good approach work from substitute Saido Berahino.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes revealed the former Real Madrid prodigy, who cost PSG £22 million last August, has been on Stoke's radar for some time.

"We're viewed differently in terms of agents and representatives of this quality of player," he said. "We just need an opportunity. If we get in the room with agents and players of Jese's ilk then we can pitch really well and make them aware of what we can offer.


"The key now is that in the past we couldn't get anywhere near this type of player, but now we can. We've got a lot to offer. Clearly the Premier League is big attraction, but we can give them a platform and give them the means to really prosper.

"They know they'll get similar to what they'd get at the top clubs because that's my background, that's what I've experienced. I know what they have to have to be able to prosper and I think that goes a long way.

"You just have to bide your time, but maybe those initial enquiries allowed us to be in a position to get it over the line this time. We had a conversation, but clearly it wasn't viable then (last year) because he felt maybe his career needed to go in a different direction.

"We're fortunate because he felt now was the time to come to the Premier League and we're grateful that he has picked us." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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