Sanchez set for Arsenal return after summer of speculation
The last time Arsenal visited Anfield in the English Premier League, Arsene Wenger made the stunning decision to drop top scorer Alexis Sanchez to the bench.
To some, the selection signaled the beginning of the end of Sanchez's time at the London club: The in-demand Chilean had little over a year left on his contract and Arsenal was about to miss out on UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in two decades. Now he wasn't even in the team amid reports of a training-ground dispute.
Five months later, Arsenal will return to Liverpool on Sunday with Wenger set to make another big statement regarding his only world-class player.
After missing the first three games of the season — officially because of an abdominal injury but also amid sustained talk of interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City — Sanchez is expected to be back in Arsenal's lineup for the team's most high-profile match in the league so far.
Wenger has said repeatedly this summer that Sanchez will not be leaving during this transfer window, even though that would likely mean the player walking away for free at the end of the season. Given that Arsenal could potentially receive 60 million pounds (US$77 million) for Sanchez if the club opted to sell him, it's a big call by Wenger.
It appears Wenger is sticking to his word.
"He has always been focused on his job," Wenger said of Sanchez. "He loves to play football and I don't think he is too disturbed by all the noises that happen.
"Players at that level are used to it now — some deal better with it than others, but I don't think he is too bothered by that."
Indeed, in this summer of unrest in English soccer, some of the top players in the EPL have struggled to deal with being the subject of interest from other clubs.
Gylfi Sigurdsson didn't go on a preseason tour with Swansea City or feature on the opening weekend of the league season amid interest from Everton, which eventually signed the midfielder. Dutch center back Virgil van Dijk, a reported target of Liverpool among others, has been training alone at Southampton after handing in a transfer request.
Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho will likely be missing at Anfield this weekend while he is at the center of a fight over his services between current club Liverpool and Barcelona. He has lodged a transfer request, too, and officially is unavailable because of illness and a back injury.
Yet with Sanchez, there has been no public bitterness. There were some cryptic comments in June while at the Confederations Cup with Chile, when he said he didn't know if he would be at Arsenal for this season even though he had made his mind up on his future.
But he's been quiet since then, and Wenger has had to answer questions about Sanchez's future at every news conference since.
After beating Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal needed late goals to win 4-3 against Leicester City on the opening day and then lost 0-1 at Stoke City last weekend.
The Gunners should be a different proposition now that Sanchez is back.
"Alexis has worked very hard to be back again and he is available," said Wenger. "He works very hard, is focused and gives absolutely everything. He loves to play so much that it is sometimes difficult to stop him but he looks absolutely ready."