It’s D-Day, or S-Day, more aptly. Decision day for Arsène as far as Alexis Sanchez is concerned.
Wenger told the press yesterday that they would assess Alexis this morning over his fitness and consult with the player over his fitness. Yes, that’s consult with a player who even after having a leg amputated would declare himself fit to play. And still be faster and more skilful than any of us.
He’s already given them the answer – “He texted us to tell us he’s in good shape after the game” – so it sounds like it will be a short conversation followed by a long period of contemplation for Arsène. Last season’s experience of losing the player to a hamstring injury for six weeks has rightly taken its toll on Wenger. The note of caution is, I’m sure, heightened by Santi Cazorla’s absence, with the Spaniard missing for the foreseeable future.
Wenger played down the prospect that Sanchez and Chile had played fast and loose with the player’s fitness,
“You have to trust the medical people from Chile.”
Which sounds more like hope than expectation.
“I completely understand that Alexis wanted to play in qualifiers – they’re not friendlies. Chile are not in a fantastic position to qualify for the World Cup and I understand that Alexis is keen to play for his country in such an important game.”
And therein is the inherent conflict between club and country. It’s one-sided at this time of year; there aren’t any internationals until next year so a hamstring won’t affect them. Players who feign injury to pull out of an international squad are suspended for the following league match; perhaps there should be a ban on players appearing for their countries if the FA is reckless and plays an obviously injured player? Never happen.
It’s by no means certain Alexis will play although Wenger was a lot more positive than the “suicidal” comments he made last weekend,
“What I will consider is the risk of injury because he played while recovering from a hamstring injury. I’ll consider the way he feels as well. On that front you depend on the honesty of the player, how they feel and how they recover.”
There’s a risk factor involved. Is it better for Alexis to play tomorrow and then miss three weeks, a period where the most difficult game is PSG on Tuesday.
“In the Premier League, the first decisive games are also coming up so you have to pay a price. We lost important players in November for long periods last year.”
After that, he could take three weeks out and return for the trip to Goodison Park in the middle of next month. We ought to be good enough to beat Bournemouth, West Ham and Stoke without him. That presumes we don’t suffer any injury to Olivier Giroud, for instance, when the folly of that notion would be truly exposed.
“After that, [for us] it’s a difficult period in November because it’s the first time when some of the players have played many games. Most of the time it’s a decisive period in the Champions League because it’s game No 5 and, for most of the clubs it’s a very important time in the Champions League.”
The problem is that even if Alexis plays tomorrow, there is no guarantee that we will come back to London with anything other than our tail between our legs. The sub-plots of our record at Old Trafford and Wenger’s against Mourinho have been a regular feature of the back pages this week.
Arsène sought to make light of his appalling history of results against the Portuguese manager’s sides by pointing out that we didn’t always lose. The problem is that one Community Shield victory doesn’t exactly weigh heavily against the Premier League defeats and ritual humiliations.
It’s a vital match, more than anything to slay the thought that Wenger is habitually outwitted by Mourinho. It’s nothing to do with slanging or shoving matches nor is it about shaking hands or not. This is in the Frenchman’s head. As positive as he may try to sound, there’s no doubt that Wenger thinks about these records, no matter how fleetingly.
Arsène could be forgiven for wondering if he was having a flashback. Talking about injuries after an international break, with a big match coming up? Things took on a distinct sepia tone when he spoke of Hector Bellerin’s ankle damage, caused by a challenge in the dying seconds of the north London derby. Another reason to dislike Danny Rose, as if any more were needed.