Arsene Wenger has admitted he was unsure whether Alexis Sanchez could cut it as a striker at Arsenal.
The 27-year-old has hit 13 goals in 20 games across all competitions for the Gunners so far this season, including a spectacular hat-trick in last weekend’s Premier League victory over West Ham.
Sanchez has been predominantly deployed as a central striker since the start of the campaign, having regularly operated from a wider position for much of his time at the Emirates Stadium, and is likely to keep that role when Stoke visit north London today.
The move has not only given Sanchez a new lease of life but his speed and mobility, compared to Wenger’s other main option Olivier Giroud, has helped Arsenal find an attacking blend that has seen them score three or more goals in 12 games this year.
But it could have been different had Wenger not decided to have one final crack at playing the former Barcelona forward through the middle.
“I must honestly say I thought many times when I played him last year or two years ago, I was wrong,” Wenger said of Sanchez.
“The few experiences I attempted with him through the middle were not convincing and I remember even in one game (away to Everton in 2014) I changed it at half-time. This year it clicked very early in the season.
“He has developed very well as a centre-forward because I think he has found a good mixture between being coming off and going in behind and he has more freedom as well and he takes advantage of his short technique in the middle much more.”
Asked about parallels with the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, Thierry Henry, Wenger replied: “I had to persuade Thierry (to move centrally). I don’t know if it’s my greatest achievement. You see the guy who plays wide can score goals that he can in the centre score even more goals.”
Sanchez’s latest stint as a striker came about more by circumstance as Giroud was rested at the start of the season following his exertions at Euro 2016.
With Lucas Perez not signed until late in the transfer window and a failed move for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy earlier in the summer, Sanchez was Wenger’s only experienced option – and the Frenchman was delighted with the outcome.
“He took advantage of the fact Giroud was not here and not ready so I could give him more games,” he said.
Giroud has since returned to the squad but has largely had to play a bit-part role due to Sanchez’s goalscoring exploits. The 30-year-old is out of contract at the end of next season but, despite Wenger admitting he cannot keep all of his players happy, he wants to keep his compatriot at the club.
“How do we keep them all happy? Honestly I don’t know,” he said of his forwards.
“I want Giroud to stay, to extend his contract.
“After he has to live with thMeanwhile Stoke manager Mark Hughes thinks Arsenal could end their long wait for another Premier League title this season.
Hughes said: ‘’Arsenal, as a team, look in good shape and whilst we have a lot of confidence, given their form too, it isn’t a good time to play them. ‘At times, Arsenal have struggled with consistency and it has cost them, but you sense this could be their year.’’
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