Arsenal's Arsene Wenger: Playing Alexis Sanchez in cups no punishment
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger says he is not sending a message to Alexis Sanchez by starting him in cup competitions, adding he is only trying to get the Chile international back to full fitness.
Wenger acknowledged that Sanchez was "not really fit" when he came back from his extended summer holiday -- having played in the summer's Confederations Cup with Chile -- but rejected the notion that he has kept him on the bench for Premier League games as punishment for pushing for a transfer this summer.
The forward missed the first two games of the season with an abdominal injury and was only a substitute in the league matches against Bournemouth and Chelsea after starting in the 4-0 loss at Liverpool. However, he started in both the Europa League win over Cologne last week and the 1-0 Carabao Cup victory over Doncaster on Wednesday -- games where Wenger mainly used his second string.
"There's no disguised attitude on my side. I just try to get him back to full fitness," Wenger told a news conference. "I gave him a long holiday [this summer] and after that long holiday -- this year he had a real rest -- he came back not really fit. It took us time to get him back and then he got injured. So if you add the injury and the rest time it was a bit long. But last night you could see that he's coming back sharp now."
Asked if Sanchez was distracted after his failed deadline-day move to Manchester City, Wenger said: "No, not at all. That is going into very quick conclusions."
Wenger added: "I chose the team at Chelsea who can be strong on the counterattack and fight very hard and Sanchez could have played if he was 100 percent fit at the start, but for me there's no real hierarchy. I have six or seven strikers, but if I go in one game with three strikers, the three who have not played will play in midweek in no matter what competition it is and that is nothing calculated."
Sanchez could be in line to start Monday's league game against West Brom, but Wenger remained vague on whether Mesut Ozil will be fit after missing Sunday's 0-0 draw at Chelsea with a knee inflammation.
Ozil is back in training this week and will rejoin full team sessions either on Thursday or Friday, Wenger said.
The Arsenal boss confirmed that centre-back Calum Chambers will be sidelined until after the international break after suffering a recurrence of a hip injury in the win over Doncaster, while the target for Danny Welbeck is also to return for the Watford game on Oct. 14.
"He won't be available for England and not for us before the break," Wenger said of Welbeck.
Jack Wilshere staked a claim for inclusion in Arsenal's next Premier League matchday squad by playing well against Doncaster in his first start of the season, but Wenger said the midfielder's long-term future at the club still depends on whether "he can remain fit or not."
Arsenal have yet to offer Wilshere a new contract even though his current deal expires next summer, but Wenger remained confident that the midfielder wants to stay at the Emirates Stadium.
"I think he's an Arsenal man and an Arsenal player. He certainly would want to [stay]," Wenger said. "We haven't spoken about that because I thought at the start of the season we have to see how it evolves and what kind of influence he can have on the squad for the whole season."
Wenger also hailed West Brom midfielder Gareth Barry's "outstanding achievement" of being on the verge of breaking the Premier League's appearance record -- and revelaed he wanted to sign the player when he left Aston Villa for Manchester City in 2009.
"We were interested in him yes, but when he moved from Villa to City," Wenger said. "But at the time City was the big investor and so that financial potential was superior to ours at the time.
"He's a player who is intelligent, determined, strong in the challenge, has good technical quality and I personally always rated him highly. I think just he was a bit unlucky in England because he was in the period of [Frank] Lampard and [Steven] Gerrard and got not the number of caps he deserved maybe for England, but it's an exceptional achievement what he's doing."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.