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Wenger relieved as Sanchez sets pace

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LONDON, January 5 – Arsene Wenger believes Alexis Sanchez’s tireless display in Arsenal’s FA Cup win against Hull proves the Chile forward has the stamina to lead the Gunners’ challenge for silverware.

Despite playing three times in seven days over the festive period, Sanchez looked remarkably fresh as he helped the holders kick off their defence of the Cup with a 2-0 third round success at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Wenger had considered resting Sanchez against the Tigers but, with a victory essential after last week’s lacklustre defeat at Southampton, he felt the former Barcelona star would be a vital presence.

Sanchez repaid Wenger’s faith by delivering the corner that set up Per Mertesacker’s first half opener and he capped a lively performance with a fine finish from the edge of the penalty area in the closing stages.

The 26-year-old has now scored 16 times in his debut season with the Gunners and Wenger is confident that, unlike many foreign stars who struggle to adapt to the gruelling demands of English football, Sanchez will still be going strong when the trophies are handed out in May.

“He always looked dangerous,” Wenger said. “He is incisive, penetrating and has a good change of direction. He is interesting to watch because he has a good fighting spirit as well.

“I was tempted to rest him but I knew it was an important game for us and he seemed ready.

“I hope we can keep this level of energy for the whole season. When a player is confident it is important to keep them playing.

“He has the physical potential to recover very quickly and our tests show he doesn’t seem to have any fatigue problems.”

– Clinical Gunners –

After a frustratingly inconsistent first half of the season, Wenger knew Arsenal could ill-afford another setback on Sunday and he took heart from the clinical way his players stuck to the task of killing off lacklustre Hull.

“I believe we had a serious performance. We were in control. It is a positive game because we created many chances,” Wenger said.

“It took us a while to get the second goal so you never know what can happen but overall we had a good performance.”

Wenger was also pleased Theo Walcott made his first start for a year as the England winger stepped up his recovery from a serious knee injury sustained against Tottenham in the FA Cup third round last season.

Walcott lasted 76 minutes, showing a few glimpses of his blistering pace and prompting Wenger to say: “There were some positive signs, he was dangerous.

“He has not lost the quality of his runs. He lacks a little the competition because he has been out for a year, but what he has done today after being out so long is quite positive.”

Just eight months after suffering the heartache of blowing a two-goal lead in the FA Cup final against Arsenal, this was a tame exit for Hull.

Manager Steve Bruce made 10 changes after deciding the fight to avoid relegation from the Premier League was more important than another cup run.

“It is a fair result, we huffed and puffed but didn’t have any cutting edge to make the cup tie come alive,” Bruce said.

“It was a big ask to come to the Emirates after three games in six days.

“It wasn’t a case of disrespecting the cup because we had one of the best days of our lives in the competition last year.”

With the survival fight in mind, Bruce reaffirmed his interest in signing former Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe from FC Toronto.

“Most clubs in our position would like a player like Jermain,” he said.

“If there is a chance, we would be interested in him, but I don’t want to get the hopes up of all the Hull supporters. He might be too expensive.”

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