Arsene Wenger has revealed that Hector Bellerin didn’t know that Chelsea had scored, because of the concussion he suffered in the collision for Marcos Alonso’s opening goal in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
The wing-back’s elbow struck Bellerin’s face, leading to a lot of debate about whether it should have been disallowed by referee Martin Atkinson, as Arsenal eventually crumpled. Wenger insisted it “was a foul” but, for his part, did not put the whole result down to that single incident. The Arsenal manager instead seemed dismayed rather than aggrieved and, when pressed on whether his team should have at least responded better to the opening goal, said it was “too difficult” to speak about.
“He didn’t see the goal,” Wenger said of Bellerin. “Of course it was a foul but he allowed the goal.”
Asked on how he immediately took Bellerin off, Wenger said he had little choice, and said that referees need to be stronger on aerial collusions.
“The decision was for me very quick. You have to respect that. It’s the head. I think one of the particularities of the game today is that referees are much more severe with tackles on the ground and let much more go with elbows in the face. It’s not only today but in many games I see that.”
A problem more specific to Arsenal is that in too many games we see performances like this, especially in many games against Chelsea. The pattern just seems to keep repeating, right down to a moment of controversy offering sufficient mitigation that they can notionally explain away yet another defeat. For Alonso this time, for example, read Gabriel’s red card in the same fixture last season.
Except, with this fixture, there was one difference. Wenger’s mood felt different. He wasn’t using it as an excuse.
It instead looked much more like he just didn’t want to discuss the main problem publicly - his team’s capitulation.
“Look, I leave that to you,” Wenger said. “For me, it’s very difficult to come out after a big disappointment like that. Certainly we were not at our best. It’s very difficult to speak about that.”
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t brooding on it privately. As Wenger said all this, he was vigorously rubbing his hands, betraying that frustration.
Of the criticisms of his team he would go into, the Arsenal manager said they played into Chelsea’s hands by giving the ball away in dangerous areas.
“I think we started well and after that it was much more difficult for us becayse we were 1-0 down and Chelsea are very strong on defending and very good on transitions in the counter-attack. We paid for that. If you look at the goals we conceded, it’s all that.
“We maybe weren’t good enough in possession to be more dangerous and we lost many balls in positions where we could not afford to lose it, against a team very good on the counter-attack. It was the kind of game Chelsea loves.
“They look at the moment in full confidence, very powerful, strong, they don’t concede goals. It’s down to them to lose it [the title]. They don’t play in Europe. They can wait every week, prepare properly.”
Wenger, of course, had to watch all of this from the stand due to his touchline ban.
“It’s very frustrating… but I have to pay for what I did. It’s frustrating to watch from upstairs, you sit in the middle of people, they call, they stand up but I don’t think that’s an explanation for our defeat today.”
Not even that, however, can be as frustrating as the team repeatedly going through the same cycle of deflating under-performance.
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