Monday 11 December 2017

Wenger promises to 'fight until the end of the season'

Arsenal 2
Aston Villa 1

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Jeremy Wilson

As someone who is fluent in six languages, it should be no surprise that Arsene Wenger is as articulate off the pitch as his team once were on it. His description, then, of what has been arguably the most difficult week of his Arsenal career, was instructive.

"We hit the wall twice," he said. "When you drive a car and you hit the wall for the first time at 100mph, you say, 'OK we go again'. When you hit it again three days later, you will drive a little bit more cautiously the next time and that's exactly how it was.

"We were nervous because we had absolutely to win."

And win they did, even if the dents and scratches of the deflating defeats by Blackburn and Bayern Munich were evident in a ragged performance. With Santi Cazorla scoring as early as the sixth minute, this really should have been a routine home win. Wenger, though, acknowledged that his players were emerging from a "crisis" and they remained tentative going forward and vulnerable to a counter-attack.

Yet as Andreas Weimann looked to have punished those problems with Villa's equaliser, Arsenal produced one flash of their old brilliance to clinch victory.

Cazorla, once again, applied the finishing touch but the winning goal was a product of the passing and vision of Jack Wilshere and Nacho Monreal. Weimann, in admitting that he switched off "for one second" in failing to track Monreal's run, was also partially culpable.

"We are ready for a fight and we are ready to fight for the football we love to play," said Wenger. "You could see that; we continued to play going forward until the last second and we do that until the end of the season."

Arsenal's target is simple: to extend Wenger's record of 16 consecutive finishes in the Premier League's top four.

This victory has narrowed the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to one point and extended the cushion over Everton in sixth to five points.

A potentially season-defining fixture awaits next Sunday at White Hart Lane, even if Wenger believes that it is feasible for Chelsea or Manchester City to be caught.

"What is for sure is that if we can maintain our run, we'll get there, in front of Tottenham or anybody else," he said.

Arsenal and Tottenham were separated by only one point last season but Wenger must realise that his club cannot again depend on their rivals dropping so many in the final run-in. His players appear to appreciate the significance of Sunday's match.

"It's a big fixture," said Mikel Arteta, the vice-captain. "You have the passion between the two clubs, the rivalry and the fact that we're both fighting for fourth. It has everything."

With Arsenal having been "murdered", according to Arteta, for the Blackburn defeat in the FA Cup, this Sunday is a chance to repair a strained relationship with the club's fans.

"We know what that means for the fans, it means the same for us," said Wilshere. "We have to take the pressure and relieve the pressure."

It could be to Arsenal's advantage that next week's derby will not be at the Emirates. The atmosphere was tense and tetchy on Saturday, with Villa trying to exploit that situation.

"When you get a bit of criticism the crowd get a bit edgy, even the best players get jittery," said Paul Lambert, the Villa manager.

With his team slipping back into the bottom three, Lambert remains sure of Premier League survival. "There will be a few teams looking over their shoulder," he said. "I can't be disappointed with the way that they played. I can't ask for more."

Wenger then offered a truism that applies just now to both clubs.

"Confidence is our best friend and lack of confidence is our worst enemy – both of them are fragile," he said. Tottenham, and especially Gareth Bale, will have taken note. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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