Wenger benches Sanchez but insists he remains committed
Chelsea 0, Arsenal 0
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists he can still rely on contract rebel Alexis Sanchez despite starting the forward on the bench for tonight’s Carabao Cup semi-final stalemate at Chelsea.
Wenger put the surprise omission down to a mid-season rest and denied it was linked to renewed interest in Sanchez from Manchester City, who tried to sign the Chile star last summer.
“The team selection had nothing to do with the transfer market,” said the Arsenal boss, who did confirm midfielder Francis Coquelin’s imminent departure to Valencia
“We have to accept that when you play so many games – and Sanchez plays every game – that sometimes a breather in the middle of the season helps them a little bit.
“I have no problem with whether he signs [a new contract] now or in June. What is for me important is the next game and that you can rely on him. The performance and commitment of Alexis Sanchez does not depend on the duration of his contract. It just depends on the fact that when he is on the pitch he wants to play.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte resolved to make his team more clinical after they missed a string of second-half chances to win the first leg.
“We tried to win. We shot 20 times. We created chances to score but we didn’t take them. In the last period we must be more clinical,” said Conte.
“When you have the chance you have to score especially when you play these games. When you play semi-finals it’s very important to exploit every chance you have.”
Midfielder Jack Wilshere, named Arsenal captain for the night, created the first notable chance on 22 minutes when he chipped over Chelsea’s high defensive line for Alexandre Lacazette, who snatched at the shot when the ball sat up and screwed his effort high and wide.
Wing-back Victor Moses was first to test David Ospina and the Gunners’ stand-in goalkeeper needed two attempts to clutch his daisy-cutter from the edge of the penalty area. Moses went even closer, hitting the base of the post, when he tried the same shot moments later.
An even opening 45 minutes gave way to a Chelsea monopoly after the break, all the more so when Wilshere hobbled off with an ankle strain incurred when blocking a Danny Drinkwater shot. The momentum was unaffected by Sanchez’s arrival on 66 minutes.
Crosses were causing jitters in the Arsenal defence and only wasteful finishing from the hosts kept the scores level. Cesc Fabregas nodded straight at Ospina just before the interval and Andreas Christensen twice headed off target in the second half, the latter from a corner after Shkodran Mustafi’s outstretched leg had diverted a goal-bound Moses shot wide.
Referee Martin Atkinson appeared to belatedly consult the video assistant referee – in use for only the second time in an English club fixture – when Fabregas went down in the box under a Danny Welbeck challenge and, to Stamford Bridge’s disappointment, upheld his initial verdict of no penalty.