Arsene Wenger insists there is no ulterior motive to starting Alexis Sanchez in minor competitions and leaving him out of Arsenal’s Premier League side.
Sanchez was a surprise starter as the Gunners made hard work of beating Doncaster 1-0 in their Carabao Cup third-round meeting on Wednesday night.
he Chile forward played the whole game, just as he did in last week’s Europa League opener against Cologne.
Despite racking up plenty of game-time, Sanchez was only named on the bench in Sunday’s battling draw at Chelsea and has yet to start a Premier League game this campaign.
Given Sanchez was close to leaving the Emirates Stadium in the summer – with a move to Manchester City failing to materialise on deadline day – and the fact he is out of contract at the end of the season, it had been insinuated in some quarters that Wenger was making a point.
But the Frenchman, whose side host West Brom on Monday, says there is nothing sinister in limiting Sanchez’s appearances, pointing instead to an extended summer break and a niggling injury as an explanation.
“There is no disguised attitude on my side,” he said.
“I just try to get him back to full fitness and for me the Europa League and the League Cup is important as well.
“I just try to give him competition and to get him back to his best, because I gave him a long holiday 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.
Despite his defence, Wenger said Sanchez would not be put on a pedestal over his Arsenal team-mates.
Asked if Sanchez was firmly in his plans, Wenger replied: “All the players are, he’s not more than another.
“I said I chose the team at Chelsea who can be strong on the counter-attack and fight very hard and Sanchez could have played if he was 100 per cent fit at the start, but for me there’s no real hierarchy.”
Wenger made 11 changes to the side that played Chelsea but still fielded eight full internationals from the start against Doncaster, including Sanchez and Theo Walcott – who hit the winner.
Doncaster gave a good account of themselves and could have forced extra-time when Matty Blair headed against the crossbar late on.
Rovers striker Alfie May was playing at the Emirates having been in the non-league system until earlier this year – but the 24-year-old said the visitors were not overawed by their opponents.
“The mind-set doesn’t really change no matter who we come up against,” he told the club’s official website.
“But coming to the Emirates and playing in front of so many people it’s important to show the quality we’ve got.
“This time last year I was working on a building site so the rise is unbelievable for me, I had 92 family and friends here watching me and they’ve all been so supportive.”