Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal are already left hoping for mistakes from Premier League rivals in title race
Arsene Wenger admitted that Arsenal are already left hoping for mistakes from their Premier League rivals despite his team’s “great mental strength” in salvaging a point from the embarrassment of being 3-0 down against Bournemouth.
A 3-3 draw means that Tottenham can displace Arsenal in the top four or Chelsea could extend their lead to 11 points at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, but Wenger still hailed the “resilience” of his players after such a terrible start.
The Arsenal manager also again escalated his criticism of a Premier League fixture schedule this Christmas that had left his team playing twice in three days and now facing a selection crisis in central midfield.
"We dropped two points but we have to do better in the other games and hope other teams will drop points,” said Wenger. “Chelsea are doing well but can still lose it so it’s just down to the other teams to continue to fight. With 20 minutes to go, we were 3-0 down so that’s a mental test. We refused to lose the game. Bournemouth deserve a lot of credit but the disadvantage is too big to play against a team with three and a half days recovery. That’s too big a handicap. It is too uneven to have only two days.
“I’m ready to play again tomorrow as long as I play against an opponent who played today as well. That is what I call fair. We want to play against a team with the same time of rest and preparation as us.”
Francis Coquelin was forced off after only 28 minutes with what Wenger fears is a serious hamstring injury. Arsenal are currently already without Santi Cazorla following ankle surgery and, with Mohamed Elneny now at the Africa Cup of Nations, fresh questions will be asked of the decision to let Jack Wilshere go on loan to Bournemouth for the entire season.
Wenger also blamed Hector Bellerin’s poor performance on a “knock” he suffered against Crystal Palace and said that there were also pre-match concerns over Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“That is the problem when you have only 48 hours,” said Wenger. “We had three or four players who had to wait until the warm-up to see if they can play. It complicates a lot the job but we have to shut up and cope with it.
“It was a mental test that we succeeded. In the end, you are even frustrated not to win the game. We missed some opportunities. These little details; to keep composure and play until the last minute. That’s down to keeping your head cool.”
Wenger mentioned the delivery on one of his team’s corners in this context but momentum was also lost when, having equalised in the second of six added minutes, Olivier Giroud spent time celebrating in front of the Arsenal fans with a recreation of the ‘scorpion’ goal he had scored against Palace.
Wenger claimed that Arsenal had earlier been “unlucky” to concede both from a penalty that was conceded by Granit Xhaka and then after Ryan Fraser knocked Bellerin to the ground with his shoulder.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe felt aggrieved at seeing captain Simon Francis sent off in the 82nd minute for a tackle on Aaron Ramsey that the Wales midfielder described as “rash”. Bournemouth were leading 3-2 when they went down to 10 men.
“I don't think it was a red card; it was a foul but he didn't lift his studs in a dangerous way,” said Howe. “It was harsh. That was my view at the time and after seeing it again. Whether it was defining I'm not sure. I don't want to be negative. My players were exceptional. They should be congratulating each other in the dressing room but it's hard to see positives now. We feel the game should be safe, but you have to look at the quality they have."