Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed the speed of Alexis Sanchez’s adaptation to the Premier League after the Chilean forward’s last-gasp winning goal sank top-four rivals Southampton.
Sanchez, a £30 million ($47.1 million, 38.2 million euros) signing from Barcelona, netted his 14th goal of the season in the 89th minute of Wednesday’s game to earn Arsenal a 1-0 win that sent them to within two points of the Champions League spots.
Southampton’s England international goalkeeper Fraser Forster produced a string of fine saves at the Emirates Stadium, but he could not stop Sanchez’s close-range finish from Aaron Ramsey’s cross.
Sanchez, who has been the talisman for Arsenal in the opening four months of the campaign, received the accolades of his manager after his strike lifted the north London club into sixth place.
“He was one of the players who had to dig deep today (Wednesday), but he has such a desire to fight that he always finds something special to get the goal,” Wenger said.
“It’s difficult to find examples of people who have settled in so quickly. My memory is not perfect, but I can’t think of a quicker one.
“We’re in December and he arrived in July. When you look at the number of goals and the impact he has had in the team, it is fabulous.”
Wenger was on the receiving end of boos from Arsenal fans when he replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Olivier Giroud in the 65th minute.
But the relief at Sanchez’s last-gasp strike was palpable as Arsenal maintained the momentum sparked by victory over Borussia Dortmund in Europe and nurtured by a gritty away success at West Bromwich Albion.
Wenger added: “For us it was important to win because we lost our last home game (to Manchester United). We had the right attitude, a good solidarity and focus, and it’s a good basis.
“But you could see that the confidence within the crowd was a bit nervous. At times, it transmitted to the players.
“We did not have our usual fluency in the game, but it’s important that you can win a game when that is not perfect.”
– Koeman rues injuries –
Southampton remain in third place despite back-to-back losses, having gone down 3-0 at home to Manchester City on Sunday.
But Wenger tipped the south-coast club to recover from their blip and be in the hunt for a top-four finish come the end of the season.
“There is a long way to go, but I think they are top-four contenders,” said the Frenchman.
Southampton finished with 10 players as defender Toby Alderweireld limped off with a hamstring injury after visiting coach Ronald Koeman had already made all three of his substitutions.
The St Mary’s outfit have a growing injury list ahead of the visit of Manchester United next Monday.
“Maybe if he had a kick on his ankle then he could play on for the last five minutes, but it’s a hamstring problem. You can’t continue as a player,” said Koeman of Alderweireld’s abrupt exit.
“We have to wait on Morgan (Schneiderlin). It is the same injury as when he came back from international duty. I don’t think he will be fit for next Monday. Maybe the weekend after.
“Jack (Cork) has told me it is the same ankle as last season. We have to wait on Toby, but a hamstring is always a minimum of two weeks. If it’s a real hamstring injury then it is longer.
“(Dusan) Tadic was a little bit injured, a little bit tired because we play a lot. But I can’t change that. It’s football.”