Arsene Wenger has defended Alexis Sanchez for his late antics in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Leicester, blaming a controversial incident on the referee.
Sanchez was booked in injury time after he blocked Christian Fuchs from taking a throw-in twice and the Leicester player ended up throwing the ball straight at the Arsenal forward. The ball seemed to hit Sanchez on the shoulder, but the Chile international fell to the ground clutching his face.
It was unclear whether Sanchez was booked for the simulation or for blocking the throw-in. Wenger claimed Sanchez simply wasn’t aware that he had to stand at least two metres away from the sideline.
“I think he didn’t know that he had to be further away. As well, I must say the referee didn’t tell him. After the first attempt, the referee didn’t tell him he has to move away,” Wenger told a news conference.
“After that, he got a yellow card because he didn’t respect the rule. I accept that. Because he was not at the right distance. The referee should have told him, or the linesman. On top of that, I think Fuchs was lucky not to get a yellow card because he threw the ball at him on purpose.”
Wenger also insisted he didn’t see where the ball had hit Sanchez, deflecting any suggestions of a controversy over his apparent dive.
“I was looking in the box, as you can understand, because I thought the danger is not Alexis, the danger is what happens in the box,” Wenger said. “I saw after that it hit him somewhere. I will check on the video.”
Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare also declined to say whether he thought Sanchez had play-acted.
“That’s down to Arsenal to deal with Sanchez,” Shakespeare said. Sanchez was then tackled hard by Huth near the Arsenal dugout in the final moments, with Wenger stepping forward to help him up.
“Huth really went in on him. I helped him to get up, and he was bleeding from the lips,” Wenger said. “[Huth] touched him maybe in the face. I don’t know if it was accidentally or not.”
Sanchez himself posted a photo of himself with a bleeding lip after the match, saying: “happy for the victory but ended up with a swollen lip.”
Arsenal struggled to break down a stubborn Leicester side and needed a lucky goal in the 86th minute to break the deadlock, as Nacho Monreal’s shot deflected off Huth’s chest and into the net.
The win keeps alive Arsenal’s hopes of climbing back into the top four, although the team’s new back-three formation looked less convincing than in the 2-1 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals on Sunday.
Wenger reverted to a back four for the final 20 minutes after Danny Welbeck came on for Kieran Gibbs, as the Gunners threw caution to the wind.
“You could see that we had some heavy legs [from Sunday]. But we were serious, didn’t give away any chances. Maybe we lacked a bit of speed in our game to get them out of position. But they defend very well, Leicester, and they are very difficult to get out of position,” Wenger said.
“In the end I think the win rewards the team that took the initiative in the game. Overall we are very happy with that, because we knew the three points would be very difficult tonight.”
Asked if the win kept the team’s top-four hopes alive, Wenger responded: “Yes, we have one advantage and that is the advantage of clarity.
“We have to win our games and so that’s why every time we cannot be happy with 0-0. We have absolutely to take the gamble to try to win the game at any cost.”
Arsenal’s victory, however, was blighted somewhat by a knee injury sustained by Laurent Koscielny, who was forced to stay on for the final 10 minutes as Wenger had already used his three substitutes.
Koscielny will be assessed ahead of Sunday’s crunch north London derby against Tottenham, but any absence would be particularly unwelcome, given Arsenal are already without Shkodran Mustafi in central defence.
“Koscielny has a knee problem but I don’t know [how serious it is],” Wenger said. “I have to check.”