Arsene Wenger defended his decision to name Alexis Sanchez on the bench against Chelsea, and admitted he wants the Manchester City-linked forward to stay at Arsenal this month.

Alexis was expected to start against Chelsea on Wednesday night, but instead started on the bench. Naturally, people concluded it was related to his possible move to Manchester City this month.

Arsene Wenger, though, wants Alexis to stay beyond January and continues to treat him like a key player. “I want him to stay for longer because I believe he is a very important player for us,” he said, as reported by Arsenal.com.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 31: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on December 31, 2017 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“I believe that when he came on tonight you could see that he created danger straight away. You have to accept as well when you play so many games, and Sanchez plays every game, that sometimes a breather in the middle of the season helps them a little bit.”

Alexis did come in the second half and looked mildly threatening. At the very least, he didn’t look like a player on the brink of leaving. Wenger is aware the Chilean could be talking with other clubs but has no doubts about his commitment.

“He doesn’t need to tell me that he speaks to anybody else, because that’s the rule. He doesn’t need to alert the club, he can do it on his own,” he said. “People don’t know Alexis well – this is a guy who is completely focused to play football.

“Have you seen how he came on today, how he warmed up? Like a player who wants to play football. He can make a difference between what’s going on outside and what’s going on on the football pitch, with facts, not psychological theories.

“The fact is when you turn up on the pitch, you play football and you give 100 per cent. That’s what he does.”

Despite the realistic possibility of Alexis leaving, Wenger still has hope that he extend at the club. If he doesn’t, he has little doubt that he’ll still get maximum effort from the forward.

“Look, I have no problem if he signs now or in June. What is important for me is the next game and that you can rely on him.

“The only thing I want to say is the performance of Alexis and the commitment does not depend on the duration of his contract, it just depends on the fact that when he’s on the pitch he wants to play.”

Alexis is even more important to the team now that Jack Wilshere is injured. With Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey already on the sidelines, Alexis is the only attacker in the team who can provide creativity.

Even if he does leave this month, Wenger will be keen to hold onto him as long as he can while key players remain out injured.