Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed he has fresh fears over the fitness of Alexis Sanchez after claiming the Chilean winger has "not been himself" these past couple of weeks.
The £35 million summer signing from Barcelona is showing some signs of fatigue in what has been an impressive debut season in the Premier League, after limping out of Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Leicester City.
Sanchez remains doubtful for Sunday's FA Cup fifth round clash against Championship promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough, and Wenger is conscious of not burdening his star player with too much responsibility due to the risk of burnout.
With 18 goals in 32 appearances for the Gunners in 2014/15 the South American star has played an instrumental part at the Emirates, and will be an important figure in the north London club's challenge for a top four spot this term.
However, the French tactician knows he might be forced to leave Sanchez out of the first-team fold for a while, in order to protect him from avoiding more serious injury that could ultimately rule him out of action for a longer period.
"He had not the same intensity in his game as he had until now," Wenger was quoted saying by the London Evening Standard. "I'm not sure he was free in his head to sprint as he used to [against Leicester].
"I don't know if it was down to the kick he got on his knee, but he was not himself. He has a swollen knee and he cannot move well, but it's only a kick, nothing else."
"He's not had the same intensity...not been himself," - Arsene Wenger on Alexis Sanchez
Arsenal travel to Crystal Palace in the Premier League next weekend where they'll be looking to add to the 45 points they currently have from 25 games which leaves them occupying fifth place in the table.
The inclusion of Sanchez will undoubtedly improve their chances of claiming victory at Selhurst Park, and that will probably play on Wenger's mind when making a decision on the role the 26-year-old will play against Aitor Karanka's side this weekend.
Arsenal fans: Do you think Arsene Wenger should be taking a risk on Alexis Sanchez or leave him out of the team until he's back to 100 per cent fitness? Share your thoughts below...