Alexis Sanchez, not Eden Hazard, should be Player of the Year: Arsene Wenger in London Colney

Alexis Sánchez stretches

Alexis Sánchez stretches - Credit: Archant

With Arsenal facing Chelsea this weekend, football reporters quizzing Gunners boss Arsene Wenger in London Colney today (Thursday) were as interested in his ‘relationship’ with Jose Mourinho as team tactics.

But Wenger was not in the mood for delving into such matters in front of scores of cameras despite journalists attempting to analyse him at the weekly press conference at the club’s training grounds near St Albans.

He was asked how his current relationship was with Mourinho, and whether his Chelsea counterpart was a different person, compared to a decade ago.

Wenger cut the question off, retorting: “I don’t know and I don’t want to talk about that because I think what is interesting for people is when the game starts at 4pm to have a great game – that is what English football needs. Arsenal V Chelsea is a big football game.

“It is not about the relationship between the managers.”

Wenger added that: “It’s not a confrontation [with Mourinho], it’s a confrontation of two clubs and I am not a great believer in history. The performance on the day will decide the game.”

He laughed when asked: “Mourinho has a reputation as a tactical genius, is that justified?”

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Wenger said: “Look, you are the judge, you watch the games, it’s not for me to assess. My job is to focus my team on the game, and to prepare my team.”

To laughter at the press conference, he added: “Your job is to assess all the geniuses you can meet, and I leave you that job.”

Asked whether, should Arsenal beat Chelsea, they would consider themselves back in the title race, Wenger replied: “Look mathematically it will be possible, yes.

“We are on a good run, we have an opportunity at home to beat them, and we want to take it.”

Does it require something different tactically from the team? Wenger responded: “What it will require is [looking at] Chelsea’s strength; if you look at the numbers they have been very efficient at counter-attacks, very efficient on set pieces as well. So to nullify that strength of course will be important.”

He praised Chelsea for the team’s consistency, adding, “The Premiership rewards consistency. They have been defensively very strong.”

Asked whether he would spend a considerable amount of time talking to the team about how to stop Chelsea star Eden Hazard, Wenger said: “We have to of course - one of the aspects of that game will be to keep Hazard quiet.”

In relation to talk of Hazard winning player of the year, Wenger said Alexis Sanchez was, in his opinion, “very close” to also claiming that title.

Wenger went on: “He has made a big impact. Let’s not forget that Eden Hazard, it is not his first season, but for Alexis Sanchez, it is his first season, so he will give him a fight. If he doesn’t make it this year, Alexis will give him a fight as well for next season.

“He is necessarily my choice, because he is my player.”

Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho, David De Gea, Hazard, Harry Kane and Sanchez are the six players nominated for this year’s Professional Footballers’ Association’s Players’ Player of the Year award.

In team news, Per Mertesacker’s ankle was injured in last weekend’s match against Reading.

Straight after the game Wenger said that he was limping badly and that it “doesn’t look too good”.

Today he said: “He has not been out and is still in treatment room, [so I] don’t know whether he will be available or not.”

“Apart from Mertesacker everybody else should be available.”

Arsenal beat Reading 2-1 last Saturday, which means the Gunners return to Wembley for their 19th FA Cup final after Sanchez scored an extra-time winning goal.

Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, is back in full training. He has recently had minor inflammation of his ankle.

Wenger said: “He is getting closer, he is back in full training, he is still a bit short physically to go back into a game of that intensity.”

• Arsenal V Chelsea, Barclays Premier League, Emirates Stadium, Sunday April 26, 4pm