Arsene Wenger has defended his decision to introduce Alexis Sanchez during the latter stages of Monday night's (20 February) FA Cup fifth-round victory over non-league Sutton United. The underfire Gunners boss came in for yet more social media criticism after opting to send on his star performer in place of Alex Iwobi with 16 minutes remaining at Gander Green Lane despite Arsenal already holding a comfortable 2-0 lead in their pursuit of a quarter-final date with Lincoln City.
Concerns over the potential for such an influential player to pick up an injury on Sutton's artificial pitch were exacerbated after midfielder Mohamed Elneny was forced off at half-time having sustained a knock while turning awkwardly. Despite those concerns, however, Wenger insists that his late change was not a risk and that Sanchez, known for his desire to play in every single match, has the physical traits necessary to cope with the challenges posed by an alternative surface.
"He is a guy who has a strong body," the manager explained during his post-match press conference. "I think on this pitch it is the guy who does not have good co-ordination, who is heavy on his feet, who is in trouble.
"Alexis is more a guy who has very good co-ordination, he is light on his feet. I don't think it was a risk."
Lucas Perez put Arsenal ahead on the night with a cross-cum-shot in the first half that owed much to the deceiving run of second goalscorer and newest centurion Theo Walcott. That was the 28-year-old's seventh goal across all competitions since completing a £17.1m ($21.2m) summer switch from Deportivo La Coruna and a complimentary Wenger admits that he deserves more regular first-team opportunities.
"Yes, he is pushing on the door but I have many strikers," he added. "I have [Olivier] Giroud, [Danny] Welbeck, Walcott, Alexis and Lucas. It is true that he deserves a go because he scores goals and is a good player."
Despite that positive scoring record, Perez has been limited to a peripheral role at Arsenal so far this season and yesterday agent Rodrigo Fernandez Lovelle denied stating that his client wanted to leave the club "at all costs" but claimed it was "logical that someone is unhappy if they do not play".
Following that win over Sutton, Perez, whom reports from Italy cited by talkSPORT claim is the subject of £17m transfer interest from Serie A outfit AC Milan, admitted to Spanish radio station Cadena Cope that he wanted to play more often but understood that competition for places at the Emirates Stadium was strong.