Arsene Wenger: I was being honest over Alexandre Lacazette fitness
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has responded to a taunt from Jose Mourinho by insisting he was being honest when he said striker Alexandre Lacazette would not be fit to face Manchester United.
Lacazette surprisingly started and played the full 90 minutes in the 3-1 loss to United on Saturday, scoring Arsenal's goal in the second half, despite Wenger having ruled him out with a groin injury three days earlier.
Mourinho aimed a dig at Wenger and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola ahead of this weekend's Manchester derby by repeatedly saying he was telling "the truth" about his team news with "no stories of Lacazette or [David] Silva."
When told of Mourinho's jibe, Wenger said he had not misled anyone intentionally.
"I thought he wouldn't play. In the end, he could play. What did you want me to do, leave him at home?" Wenger told a news conference ahead of Thursday's Europa League game against BATE Borisov.
"I'm always [honest]. I thought really that he wouldn't play, that's what I had been told. After, he had a test on Friday morning and went to the game. We weren't sure he would play but he tried and he played, that's part of football."
Wenger has all of his regular Europa League squad available for the BATE game, which is essentially meaningless for Arsenal as they have already clinched the group win, though their opponents can still seal second spot.
Wenger said Shkodran Mustafi could also be back as soon as this weekend after limping off early during Saturday's loss, describing the injury as "a little thigh problem, but it's a small one," and adding he could be fit for Southampton on Sunday.
"If not Southampton, it will be West Ham [next Wednesday]," he said.
Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are set to start on Thursday, with both players the subject of speculation about a move away from the club in January.
Some reports have claimed Arsenal are open to offers for Walcott after he was left out of the squad completely on Saturday, but Wenger said the winger still has a future at the Emirates Stadium despite not making a single Premier League start this season.
"Yes, I think he works very hard to come back into it," he said. "He was sick a few weeks ago. After, I didn't change the squad. But in training he looks very sharp and I'm sure he'll show that tomorrow."
Wenger also addressed Wilshere's decision to go ice skating with his family this week, after the midfielder posted a photo on social media and joked that he had managed to avoid any injuries.
Wilshere has been asked to prove his fitness in order to earn a new contract after struggling with a number of injuries in recent years, and Wenger said it was "not ideal" for him to go out on the ice.
"For your balance it's not bad. But for a footballer I don't think it's great. It depends as well on what you do," Wenger said. "You can do ice skating by bringing your child on and just making sure nothing happens to him, and [you can do] ice skating violently. I don't think he did that."
Aside from Mustafi and long-term absentee Santi Cazorla, Wenger has a fully fit squad to call on at the moment -- a welcome contrast from recent years when the team have often struggled with a pile-up of injuries during the winter months.
And the Arsenal boss said that was one of the benefits of missing out on Champions League football and being able to rotate his squad heavily for midweek games.
"I would say that's a consequence of that. One of the things we've benefitted from is that [lack of injuries], yes," Wenger said.
With domestic fixtures now coming thick and fast over the festive period, this could be the time of year when that becomes an advantage for Arsenal.
"I hope so. I think we missed an opportunity on Saturday to take advantage of that, because we were physically quite strong in the game," Wenger said. "But we are in a position where we have to take the month of December in a very serious way, be efficient and hopefully we can benefit from that."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.