Arsene Wenger admitted his gamble in leaving Alexis Sanchez on the bench backfired as Arsenal lost 3-1 to Liverpool at Anfield.
With Mesut Ozil left behind in London as he recovered from the flu Wenger stunned the travelling Arsenal fans by leaving his side’s top scorer and highest assist provider on the bench, fielding Olivier Giroud as a central striker.
Sanchez was introduced at half-time for Francis Coquelin and Arsenal immediately improved, the Chilean providing the assist as Danny Welbeck clipped home a fine finish on 56 minutes to bring the visitors back into the game.
Asked on BT Sport Saturday night whether he had erred in leaving out his star player Wenger said: “Yes but I felt in the first half our strikers suffered from the fact that we didn’t dominate the midfield.
“The second half was much easier because you could see that Welbeck and Giroud were much better than in the first. It’s always debatable after that.”
Georginio Wijnaldum added a third for Liverpool in added time after an incisive break that followed Sanchez going close to an equaliser.
It appeared the plan had been to beat Liverpool’s pressure with long balls, but it was scarcely apparent in a woeful first half as Jurgen Klopp’s side cruised into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The Frenchman was asked during his post match press conference what the motive for his decision was, he explained that he wanted to play long balls.
"The thinking was that we had to go more direct," he said.
"And I wanted to play two players who were strong in the air because we decided to go more direct and after that to bring Alexis Sanchez on in the second half.
"I believe it was easier for the strikers in the second half because we dominated much more the midfield.
"Everyone will come to the same conclusion but I am strong and lucid enough to analyse the impact and I don't deny that Alexis Sanchez is a great player."
The Gunners will shift attention to the second leg of their Round of 16 tie in the UEFA Champions League before a clash against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League after that.