The warm glow of victory had disappeared as Arsène Wenger entered the cramped corridor next to the press room at Selhurst Park late on Thursday night.
Arsenal’s manager had just spent a few minutes batting away questions about Alexis Sánchez’s contractual situation after the Chilean’s virtuoso performance in the win over Crystal Palace and he had a point to make to the reporters who were waiting to speak to him next.
Normal interviewing procedure went out of the window. Fed up with being quizzed about Sánchez’s mindset, Wenger spoke before there was a chance to ask him anything. “When he plays well it’s a problem,” he said. “When is it not a problem? It’s unbelievable.”
Wenger’s beef was that the inquiries about Sánchez’s uncertain future are relentless. The result makes no difference. If the 29-year-old has played badly, it is evidence of a lack of commitment. Scoring two fine goals against Palace, on the other hand, invited questions about whether Arsenal are worried about losing him.
“You judge a player on whether he played well or not and you comment on it after that,” Wenger said. “I am not a psychologist to know what is in his head, if he is short-term or long-term. You turn up to play football, that’s it. After that you judge, did he play well or not well.”
Yet despite Wenger’s preference for discussing football instead of transfers, it is not the media’s fault that Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere all have six months left to run on their respective deals. The trio are all free to sign pre-contract agreements with foreign clubs from Monday, but Wenger insisted that he was only thinking about Sunday afternoon’s trip to West Bromwich Albion.
The Frenchman was happier when the focus switched to the virtues of Wilshere, who is in line to make his fifth consecutive start in the Premier League. The 25-year-old was impressive against Palace, dictating the tempo in midfield, winning possession with snappy tackles and creating Sánchez’s second goal with an excellent lofted pass, and Arsenal had a nice balance with him in the side. Wenger is confident that Wilshere will extend his deal and he is delighted with the midfielder’s increasing maturity on the pitch.
“When we play with five at the back, I like to have more offensive players in midfield,” Wenger said. “That system suits him well. Where he has improved is tactically and defensively. When he does that his defensive game becomes even better. Jack has a great quality, when he wins the ball he gets you out of pressure because he has that little burst and then suddenly he can open the game for you.
“I believe his positional play is good. You watch football, you see that straight away, he is in the right place. Football is first where to be on the pitch, where to stand. After, where to run. But at the start you first have to stand in the right place and he does that.”
Aaron Ramsey will be absent at The Hawthorns and against Chelsea on Wednesday, while Granit Xhaka is a doubt with a hamstring problem. Wilshere will have more opportunities to establish himself as a regular starter, which seemed an unlikely prospect when last season’s loan spell at Bournemouth ended with a broken leg in April.
There have been many setbacks for Wilshere, whose form is increasingly giving rise to talk of an England recall, and Wenger had nothing but kind words for him. “That is why it is better when we talk about that,” he said. “Give him credit for what he has gone through. His performance [against Palace] deserves credit because it demands some character.
“I have a big respect for that because it is all nicey-nicey when you are super-talented and everybody says you are the greatest player at 17, but to come back to that level when you have gone through what he has gone through shows a special character.”
Wenger was asked if he had ever feared for Wilshere’s career. “Never,” he said. “Because in my job a very important quality is always to continue to believe in human beings. I believe everybody is alive to fight.”
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