LOGGERHEADS?: Arsene Wenger and star man Alexis Sanchez (right)
THE MYSTERY of why Arsene Wenger dropped Alexis Sanchez to the subs bench was as bizarre as it was confusing. Your best striker with the most goals and most assists is fully fit, yet he's only on the bench in a crucial Premier League away day at Liverpool? It just didn't make sense, except to Liverpool who raced into a first half two goal lead through Robert Firmino and Sade Mane.
Alexis looked on as Arsenal looked clueless and were fortunate not to go into the break in greater arrears. Wenger went to his talismanic striker at the restart, and despite setting up Danny Welbeck to halve the deficit, the earlier Reds' damage proved too much, and as the Gunners chased a leveller, were hit on the break through Georginio Wijnaldum's third for Liverpool.
Reports then emerged of a training ground bust up in the week ahead of the Liverpool game in which Alexis is alleged to have walked off the training pitch and was later alleged to have rowed with his team-mates in the dressing room. In what could prove to be his final season at Arsenal, it will be a sad indictment for the club if they are proved to have been unable to harness the talents of the Chile striker and raise the level of the team in a season when much was expected from Wenger's side.
The Gunners boss later tried to justify his methodology, and given that so much of that recent method has erred on madness, the reasoning added weight to that statistic. Arsenal were going to play a more direct system, to bypass the pressing Liverpool game and aim to get Olivier Giroud and Welbeck on the ball via long balls.
It was and is the most un-Arsenal of Arsenal and if you try to envisage that this was how they were set up and how they had practiced, their first half performance made a mockery of that notion, as the Gunners were off key and off message. They were poor, with a poor away first half showing you will ever have seen from a Wenger side.
With Alexis back in for the second half, Arsenal looked more of a threat playing their normal game, but two goals down, their task proved to be too much for their collective efforts, leaving Wenger to wonder what he had just witnessed.
"We did go direct in the first half. What I call direct is that the goalkeeper kicks straight to his strikers. That’s what we did, " Wenger tried reason.
"We didn’t create many chances. We had some dangerous situations and we didn’t make enough of our corners. We had good situations on corners where we didn’t do very well on the delivery. With the players we had on the pitch, we should have made more of these opportunities because Liverpool are vulnerable from corners," added Wenger.
Confused? So were the travelling supporters who did not deserve to travel up to Merseyside to see that apology of a first half performance. But Wenger was sticking to his script of sorts, and tried to make sense to everyone who said that dropping Alexis was nonsense.
"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."
Matters appear not be be well and good for Wenger who is desperate to tie down both Mesut Ozil and Alexis to longer deals. With his own future at N5 unclear however, the Arsenal boss may now be forced to reveal his hand and try to get some semblance of order to his players who, save for Alexis, are showing nothing in the way of leadership at a time when Arsenal needs it most.