Wednesday 25 April 2018

Wenger left frustrated by bad end to bad week

Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0

Arsene Wenger. Photo: PA
Arsene Wenger. Photo: PA

Dion Fanning

When even Arsenal players are beginning to question their ability to get the job done then the club has reached a decisive moment.

"To win 1-0 today was very important," Arsene Wenger said afterwards, demonstrating the brutal honesty that comes only to the perplexed and defeated.

His side had not won 1-0, which is normally the context in which he would say that. Instead the game had finished scoreless and there were linesmen and referees to blame but Wenger would not, despite the urging of one journalist. As the press conference broke out in laughter, Wenger sighed. "If you were in my position, you would not laugh about it."

Arsenal's season is taking a familiar shape, even in the search for scapegoats. "My job is to deliver football games, the referee's job is to make the right decision and your job is to give opinions," Wenger said.

Even the utter predictability of Arsenal's failure to take three points yesterday did not diminish its significance.

They will hope that last week was not season-defining; next week certainly will be. Arsenal play Barcelona on Tuesday with Jack Wilshere the latest injury doubt. Cesc Fabregas may be patched up to play but Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott were ruled out long ago.

Arsenal played with anxiety if not the urgency of a team challenging for the title.

There were moments, as there always are, of delicate beauty. Yesterday it was Wilshere's chip into the path of Nicklas Bendtner in the first half which Bendtner volleyed towards goal, where it was tipped over by Simon Mignolet.

This is what Arsenal are capable of. "We keep hearing that we have quality, quality, quality but we have to show it and that means winning a trophy," Samir Nasri said before the game. They look like they are running out of options.

Wenger had reminded everyone last week that the Premier League was more important than the Carling Cup. He had taken the Carling Cup seriously in his eagerness to win a trophy and he must have feared the consequences of the defeat and its manner.

The longer the game went on yesterday the more it was destined to become defining. With United losing at Chelsea and playing at Anfield today, this was Arsenal's chance. They don't look like a title-winning side but nobody else does either.

In the end, Arsenal could just point to a list of grievances. They should have had a penalty and Andrey Arshavin was flagged offside when he wasn't and went on to score, but Wenger once said that luck had a "zero per cent" bearing on a team's success.

He will know that Arsenal missed the chance that the title-winning sides he's managed would have taken. "They need to win their first trophy," Steve Bruce suggested. "I don't think any of them have won anything. United have the know-how."

Sunderland had begun with greater urgency, advancing into the Arsenal half with purpose. There were early speculative shots from Phil Bardsley and Stephane Sessegnon as Arsenal struggled to find a way into the game. Nasri had his moments, skipping to the byline and finding time the way Arsenal always seem to do in the box to consider his options. He took the wrong one.

Arsenal were struggling and seemed surprised by the strength of Sunderland's resistance. Bruce's back four were immense. Bramble should have conceded a penalty late on but Bardsley, Anton Ferdinand and John Mensah anticipated every danger.

When Arsenal made changes, some things changed. Marouane Chamakh came on for the anonymous Denilson.

Almost immediately, he spun away from a challenge on the right, advanced down the wing and pulled back to Arshavin, who chipped it too softly and Mignolet saved.

Arsenal suddenly began to appreciate that they weren't going to win easily and then began to panic that they wouldn't win at all. Bendtner was fouled on the edge of the box and Nasri curled a beautiful free-kick that Mignolet managed to palm away.

Chamakh then headed against the bar as Arsenal played more balls into the box in pursuit of a goal.

With 10 minutes remaining, Arshavin was played through. He got away from Titus Bramble, who pushed him in the back as he tried to shoot. It was a clear penalty and if Arshavin hadn't tried to shoot it might have been given. "If he went down, you would have said that he dived," Wenger justly argued, but this was no time for being right.

Sunderland kept the pressure on, in itself anxiety inducing for Arsenal, who wanted to be at the other end. Welbeck brought a fine save from Wojciech Szczesny when he took the ball down with one touch, swivelled and shot low.

Arsenal finally got out, only for Arshavin to be given offside, although replays showed he was on.

The Gunners had their headlines but the truth, as Wenger will know, is different.

This was the end to a bad week for Wenger. "This was another disappointment but what can we do but focus on Tuesday night?" They will have Barcelona to overcome again if they want to make their point. Next Saturday it's Manchester United. Wenger wanted his side to prove themselves. Maybe not like this.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport