Arsene Wenger, Alexis Sanchez at odds as Arsenal's season flounders

Monday March 6th, 2017

Arsene Wenger gave an impassioned defense of his job in an interview that aired before Arsenal’s 3-1 loss at Liverpool. The result pushed the Gunners out of the top four for the first time since September, and there is a real threat the team may finish outside of the Champions League places. Wenger, who has never failed to finish in the top four, reacted strongly to the criticism he has faced this season.

“I worked in this job [as a coach] since I was 33 with no authority problem, and I sit here at 67 and have to convince people I am capable to manage a football team,” he told BT Sport. “We live in a society that always wants new… who doesn’t accept anymore any disappointment. You have to change the manager every week. We’ll see where the clubs go. Any organization without any long-term plan, without any deeper values or without built of strength inside the club, goes nowhere.”

Wenger faced more questions after dropping Alexis Sanchez to the bench for the Liverpool game. He claimed he was looking to play more direct, but it was later reported (though denied by Wenger) that Alexis was being punished for an altercation with a teammate during training in the week. The Chilean is in a contract standoff with the club at the moment, and he cuts an increasingly unhappy figure with every loss that Arsenal suffers.

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In recent defeats against Chelsea and Bayern Munich, Alexis has looked frustrated with his teammates, struggling to get a reaction out of them. The story behind his omission fits with this picture; but the fact that he was penalized for it also tells its own story.

Critics of Wenger say there is not enough fight in the team, not enough resilience and not enough leadership. So it’s ironic, if true, that Alexis was dropped for showing these qualities. He came on in the second half and set up a goal for Danny Welbeck, but by then Liverpool was already 2-0 up. The future of Alexis dominates the Arsenal narrative ahead of Tuesday’s return against Bayern Munich.

Perhaps the spotlight should be on the future of Arsenal without Alexis; if he leaves this summer, as looks likely, with Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain interested, how will Arsenal cope? Will it be able to attract a player of similar caliber if it only has Europa League to offer? Would the departure of Alexis means that Wenger stays? Does Arsenal need Wenger and Alexis to both leave? Alexis versus Wenger is about more than a contract standoff; it’s about how ambition, progress and what winning means to different people.

It reflects the current dilemma that comes with supporting Arsenal right now. 

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