Friday 23 February 2018

'What needs to change?' - Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal are 'in great shape' despite Bayern Munich capitulation

Arsenal fans hold up banners protesting against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley
Arsenal fans hold up banners protesting against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley

Jonathan Liew

Arsene Wenger said his team “played very well” in the 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich, and insisted that the club was “in great shape” despite a seventh consecutive exit at the last-16 stage of the Champions League.

Once more, he refused to be drawn on his own future at Arsenal. “You are always worried for headlines,” he said. “I am here to speak about football, not my future.”

It was Arsenal’s heaviest ever defeat at the Emirates Stadium, and the 10-2 aggregate scoreline was a record for an English team in Europe.

“Inexplicable”, “scandalous” and “irresponsible” was Wenger’s verdict, but he was not talking about his own side. He was talking about the Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos, whose decision to award Bayern a penalty and send off Laurent Koscielny in the second half essentially finished off the tie.

“It’s irresponsible from the referee,” Wenger grumbled. “We can give all kinds of explanations, but at the end of the day, that is the reason for tonight’s result. Bayern are a good side, but tonight they can say thank you to the referee. We have to deal with these kinds of situations, but it doesn’t make them right.

“The referee was very powerful. I think it’s absolutely inexplicable and scandalous, when the [goal-line official] gives a red card when the referee had given a yellow.”

He also claimed that Sidiropoulos should have awarded Theo Walcott a penalty in the first half, when Arsenal were 1-0 up.

Once again, Wenger was given the opportunity to chastise the players who had conceded five goals in a humiliating half-hour. Once again, he chose to defend them.

“I thought we played very well,” he said. “We put Bayern under pressure. The second half was a very difficult situation for us, when you’re down to 10 men and have to score four goals against a quality team.”

Explaining why he did not order his players to defend once the tie became unsalvageable, Wenger said: “If you don’t go forward, people will ask why you didn’t at least try to score goals. It’s an impossible situation. It was difficult in the final 20 minutes when you have no hope to qualify any more and Bayern bring fresh players on.”

Did Wenger feel the players had let him down? “No,” he replied. “I feel the referee had let us down.”

At least Wenger had the backing of his opposite number. “The result does not respect what happened,” said Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti. “After the penalty it took off all the pressure, and we started to play.”

Towards the end of the press conference, Wenger was asked what needed to change at Arsenal. Bristling at what he correctly sensed was a loaded question, he launched another veiled defence of his record.

“The club is in great shape,” he said. “It is, at the moment, going through a very difficult situation. What needs to change? The result in the next game.”

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