Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Even at my age, you can change' - Arsene Wenger happy with new formation

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Damian Spellman

Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal players they can afford no further slip-ups if they are to secure yet another top-four Premier League finish.

The Gunners cut the gap to Manchester City to seven points with a 2-1 victory at Middlesbrough on Monday evening and although they have a game in hand, their manager knows there is no margin for error.

Wenger said: "For us, the clarity is there - we have to win every game to have a chance to get in the top four, starting tonight.

"I think it will make the team a bit more serene. You could see that on some occasions, we were a bit over-cautious tonight. Hopefully that will give us a bit more confidence.

"Mathematically it is still possible, even if it is difficult, but we have to give it a go."

The win on Teesside was secured by Mesut Ozil's 71st-minute winner, but it proved to be far from plain-sailing at the Riverside Stadium.

Alexis Sanchez's expertly-dispatched 42nd-minute free-kick had given the visitors the lead at the end of a tight first half, but Alvaro Negredo dragged Boro back into it five minutes after the restart and had Petr Cech not kept out Daniel Ayala's close-range header 11 minutes later, the outcome might have been very different.

Wenger, who fielded a back three for the first time in his 20-year reign, said when asked if the ploy had worked: "Yes, it is the first time in 20 years. That shows you that even at my age, you can change.

"I felt we were recently a bit vulnerable defensively and I wanted a bit more reassurance to the team. Recently we have faced many direct games, and I thought before the game maybe they would play with [Rudy] Gestede and Negredo and go for a very direct game.

"That was the reason. It worked well in the first half. We didn't give any chances away, we were quite solid."

Boro head coach Steve Agnew praised his players and is refusing to give up on the club's top-flight status.

Agnew said: "The players were amazing in terms of their effort and commitment and attitude towards the game. They played with such an intensity, I couldn't ask any more of them.

"Obviously we missed an opportunity. We all realise the task ahead, but equally we are six points off it, a game in hand and a terrific goal difference."

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