Arsène Wenger says he expects Alexis Sánchez to leave Arsenal in the "next 48 hours," with Manchester United having emerged as the forward's preferred destination. The manager omitted Sánchez from the squad he took to Bournemouth for Sunday's 2-1 defeat, although he remained a major talking point.
Wenger explained he did not select Sánchez because of the knife-edged nature of his situation, suggesting his transfer could even have happened during the build-up to the Bournemouth game – a distraction that he could not have tolerated. Wenger described Sánchez as having been on stand-by and he did not travel to with the rest of the Arsenal squad on Saturday.
United have indicated a readiness to outbid Manchester City for Sánchez and to offer him more lucrative personal terms – and they have turned the 29-year-old's head. He had looked certain to join City and enjoy a reunion with Pep Guardiola, the manager under whom he previously played for one season at Barcelona.
City almost got him for £60 million last summer and they have indicated a willingness to pay £20 million for him this month. But United have moved ahead of their crosstown rivals and there is a confidence at Old Trafford that they are poised to pull off a coup. City are not willing to up their offer. Sánchez's agent, Fernando Felicevich, is due to England for negotiations and Wenger made it clear that the saga had entered its end game.
“It will be decided in the next 48 hours,” Wenger said. “It was a bit difficult for Alexis [to play at Bournemouth] because he was on stand-by, a little bit. That’s why I decided not to do it [select him]. He did not refuse to play. He would have played but it’s a difficult period for him. He’s always been committed until now but he could have moved yesterday, today or not.
“I don’t master the rhythm of it [the transfer] but it could happen today, tomorrow or not at all. That’s why I didn’t take a decision [to select him] – I didn’t want to travel with him and, suddenly, he goes somewhere.”
Wenger said that if Sánchez left, he had been assured that the club would replace him. His number one target is the Bordeaux winger, Malcom, and a deal for him is believed to be close. A meetings to discuss personal terms with the Brazilian’s representatives took place in France on Sunday, with Arsenal expected to pay £45 million for the 20-year-old. Wenger was asked whether Malcom was the player that he wanted. “It’s better I don’t come out on any specific name,” he said.
Arsenal also have an interest in the United attacking midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who they wanted in the summer of 2016, when he was leaving Borussia Dortmund. In the end, he chose Old Trafford. Arsenal's new head of scouting, Sven Mislintat, was the man that took Mkhitaryan to Dortmund.
“If Sánchez goes, we need to replace him,” Wenger said. “We have, of course, to respond to it. Will he go or not, I don’t know but, at the moment, it’s transfer period and, in these kind of periods, you try to use the players who are completely focused on being at the club.”
Arsenal led 1-0 at Bournemouth through Héctor Bellerín but they were unable to create many clear-cut chances. They were unhinged by errors at the back – Bournemouth's scorers were Callum Wilson and Jordan Ibe – and the London club now lag eight points off the Champions League places.
“We made the most difficult part and we were 1-0 up,” Wenger said. “And after that, we made two very surprising mistakes, not even forced errors. It was just a lack of the right decision-making. Overall, we come out of the game and you think: ‘How did we lose the game?’
“I would say as well we haven’t created enough with the possession we had. We looked a bit lacklustre in the final third, not sharp enough to create chances. We did not look dangerous enough. It’s very frustrating.
“I cannot say that the team hasn’t worked or not played with a good spirit. They were focused. The attitude is one thing but, at that level, it’s a combination of quality and attitude and today, I question more the quality of what we have created than the attitude of the players. The attitude of the players was strong.”