Arsenal suffered a demoralising 3-1 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday that puts their chances of making the top four this season under threat.
However, the game’s biggest talking point came an hour before the match had even started, with manager Arsene Wenger’s surprise decision to leave star forward Alexis Sanchez on the substitutes’ bench.
The Chilean international was introduced at half time with the visitors trailing 2-0, and while he showed the difference he makes almost immediately with an assist for Danny Welbeck’s strike, by then the damage was done and Arsenal slumped to a defeat.
After the match, there was only going to be one question on everyone’s mind – why was Alexis Sanchez left on the bench, especially with Mesut Ozil already absent through illness?
Wenger answered the question as best he could, insisting that going direct with Olivier Giroud up front and Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the wings was the best course of action against a side like Liverpool:
“The thinking was that we had to go more direct and I wanted to play two players who are strong in the air, because we decided to go more direct. After that, to bring on Alexis in the second half. Of course, I believe in the second half it was easier for the strikers and you could see a different performance from Giroud and Welbeck because we dominated much more of the midfield.
“Everybody will come to the same conclusion, but I’m strong enough and lucid enough to analyse the impact. And I don’t deny that Alexis is a great player. I bought him and I always played him. This decision was not easy to make, but I have to stand up for it.”
The manager, however, would not be drawn on how Alexis himself reacted to the news that he would not be starting at Anfield, or regarding the player’s frustration at not being able to help his struggling teammates in the first half:
“I don’t think there’s any need to go into any individual explanation. What was good in the second half was our collective performance. What was not good in the first half was our collective performance. For me, that’s a much more rational explanation than the rest.
“You focus on what you want. For every single player, it’s the same. Everybody tells you that you need to buy strikers and then when you have them, everybody asks why you don’t play all of them. It’s impossible.”
In the end, Wenger’s gamble failed to pay off, and Liverpool’s dominant first half display was enough to see off the Gunners in a result that sees Jurgen Klopp’s side leapfrog them back into the Champions Leauge places.
If it’s any consolation to Sanchez, he will almost certainly start in Arsenal’s next match, the return leg of their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich.