Wenger made the admission during an interview with beIN Sports (h/t Uche Amako of the Daily Express): "Lemar chose to stay at Monaco. You have to respect what happens on the negotiation side. I know we live in an era of transparency but at some stage, to respect everybody, you have to not talk too much about that."
Lemar staying put meant the Gunners didn't sanction a deal to sell contract rebel Alexis Sanchez to Premier League rivals Manchester City.
However, Wenger believes the player whose contract expires next summer will give his best for the Gunners this season, per beIN Sports (h/t John Cross of the Daily Mirror): "100 per cent. Your interest is always to perform. It was not very close. It's very difficult for me to speak about that because what I want the player to do is now focus on his career, on his season and on Arsenal football club."
The Gunners used the final day of the summer transfer window in England to lodge a massive bid for Lemar, but the precocious France international had his doubts, per Kaveh Solhekol of Sky Sports News:
Kaveh Solhekol @SkyKaveh
Monaco accepted £92m Arsenal offer for Lemar. Lemar turned down move. Needed more time to consider it. Means Alexis Sanchez stays at Arsenal2017-8-31 18:44:41
Lemar's decision meant Sanchez wasn't allowed to seal a move to City. This was despite the clubs agreeing a fee for the Chile international forward, according to BBC Sport's Simon Stone:
Simon Stone @sistoney67
Was agreement over fee for Sanchez. City had everything in place. Arsenal couldn't get replacement so deal off2017-8-31 17:37:39
Additional context on Lemar's decision to resist a move to Arsenal has been provided by French source L'Equipe (h/t Metro): "But Lemar turned down Arsenal, with L’Equipe claiming that the midfielder ‘only had eyes for Liverpool."
Yet the player himself has told Canal+ Sport (h/t Mark Critchley of The Independent) he is happy at Monaco: "I'm a Monaco player, I'm very happy there. Now, I'm going to have a good season with my club, try to improve and move forward in my career."
If Lemar did prefer moving to Liverpool over joining the Gunners, his mind may have been made up by Arsenal's last league game. The north London side were handily beaten 4-0 by the Reds at Anfield.
It's a defeat that's left Arsenal on three points after three matches and looking a million miles away from being realistic title contenders. Getting out of trouble will demand quality performances from Sanchez, the Gunners' standout player last season.
However, Sanchez is said to be "furious" with Arsenal over the collapse of his proposed move to Manchester, per Goal's Sam Lee and Chris Wheatley. Such an attitude doesn't bode well for the Chilean being the attacking talisman beleaguered manager Wenger needs him to be.
For his part, the Gunners boss told how Sanchez wasn't close to joining City: "Your interest is always to perform. It was not very close. It's very difficult for me to speak about that because what I want the player to do is now focus on his career, on his season and on Arsenal football club."
However, Wenger did indicate the north London club explored moving Sanchez on and acquiring a replacement, per beIN Sports (h/t Cross):
"Look I cannot tell you everything that happened because after that when you decide to let a player of that calibre go, you need to replace him because nobody would understand that you let the player go and when you cannot do it, you keep the player and make a financial sacrifice because what you want, at the end of the day, is to have a team who has a good potential and top quality."
Wenger's confidence Sanchez will perform exposes the risk of the Gunners' strategy to keep a want-away player for the last year of his contract, rather than cashing in.
As Cross pointed out, Wenger and Arsenal had no way of looking good no matter how the Sanchez saga was resolved this summer:
John Cross @johncrossmirror
Arsenal can't win sometimes... If they sell it's another RvP, if they stand firm they get slaughtered. https://t.co/qJfzYRxxSt2017-8-31 18:03:35
Had they signed Lemar, the Gunners could have justified moving Sanchez on. Yet the club has at least managed to emerge from this transfer window with its most talented player still on the books.
It's now over to Sanchez to prove he can still be committed to the cause, even if he may rather be somewhere else.