Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has denied accusations that he is punishing contract rebel Alexis Sanchez by not starting him in the Premier League.
The Chilean is into the final 12 months of his contract with the Gunners and, having indicated that he will not sign fresh terms, is destined to leave either for a cut-price fee in January or on a free next summer.
Sanchez has made just three substitute appearances for Wenger's side in the league so far this term, including in the goalless draw at Chelsea last Sunday, but has been given starts in the Europa League and the EFL Cup, leading to rumours that the Frenchman is actively looking to "punish" him for his contract stance.
"I think that's going into very quick conclusions," Wenger told reporters this morning. "Alexis Sanchez has been out injured and I thought that he was still a bit short on Sunday physically. I played him during the EFL Cup win over Doncaster Rovers to give him more competition.
"There's no disguised attitude on my side. I just try to get him back to full fitness and for me the Europa League, the League Cup is important as well. I just try to give him competition and get him back to his best because I gave him a long holiday [over the summer].
"He had a real rest this year, he came back not really fit and it took us time to get him back but he was injured. So if you add the rest time plus the injury it was a bit long, but that's why last night you could see that he is coming back sharp now. I left him on the pitch for 90 minutes because I wanted him to have a real go."
Asked if Sanchez was a key part of his plans for this season, Wenger added: "All the players are, he's not more than any other. I used the team at Chelsea who can be strong on counter-attack and fight very hard. Sanchez could have played if he was 100% fit at the start.
"For me there's no real hierarchy - I have six or seven strikers. If in one game I go with three strikers, the three who have not played will play in midweek, whatever the competition is, but that is not calculated."
Next up for Arsenal is a home encounter with West Bromwich Albion on Monday night.