Tuesday 21 November 2017

Wenger realistic on title bid as Gunners display more grit than glamour

Burnley 0 Arsenal 1

Arsene Wenger shouts at his players during their clash with Burnley at Turf Moor
Arsene Wenger shouts at his players during their clash with Burnley at Turf Moor
Aaron Ramsey (2L) scores the only goal of the game during Arsenal's 1-0 win at Burnley
Burnley's Scott Arfield (L) is held off by Arsenal's Mezut Ozil
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey (R) celebrates scoring with teammate Hector Bellerin
Burnley's Danny Ings (C) is stopped by Arsenal defending from scoring the equalising goal at Turf Moor

Chris Bascombe

This was a victory built on resolute qualities familiar to title challengers, but not necessarily to Arsene Wenger's teams in recent seasons.

Put the two together and Arsenal will surely end their wait to win the Premier League. It's unlikely, however, that it will be this season even though this was their eighth straight victory.

Their fans were singing about Wembley after Aaron Ramsey's winner at Turf Moor, but even the most optimistic among the Gunners must accept that the title is going to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.

Arsene Wenger must still face his nemesis before the ribbons are on the trophy and since the Arsenal manager's very existence seems to get under skin of his rival from Stamford Bridge, wins like this have a healthy annoyance factor.

Given Wenger's romantic footballing style, it seems a contradiction not to indulge the dream. Maybe it is a case of 10 times beaten, 11 times shy for those who've seen so many seasons of promise disintegrate since the year of invincibility.

"Nothing has changed," said Wenger on his team's title chances.

"We need a perfect run and a non-perfect run from them. We want to keep winning, of course. We don't want to stop the run. We are consistent. There is great quality in the team. It's a challenge for a team to forget how to lose a game."

It seems Wenger is too experienced and studious to indulge in what he may perceive as trivial theatrics to irk the Chelsea manager, but one could imagine Alex Ferguson or Mourinho in the role of chasers in this situation, injecting some needle into their pursuit, preying on any mental weakness in the hope of a slip.

At the very least, Ramsey's goal ensured the Chelsea victory lap has been delayed.

"I'm pleased because it was more fighting than thrilling and many have questioned that in this side," added Wenger. "We had to be combative until the end."

Wenger singled out Francis Coquelin (right) for special praise after the 23-year-old produced another assured display.

"Francis showed quality in winning the ball and passing it quickly. He contributes well to the balance of the team and that's very difficult to measure. The balance sometimes depends on one player who has some of the characteristics that others haven't got."

Per Mertesacker began the afternoon looking as if he would be bullied by Sam Vokes, but the defensive torment lasted no more than a minute.

Vokes - hardly a whippet - sped from Mertesacker in one move and, within seconds, was overpowering the German in the air.

But Burnley's encouragement was short-lived as the Arsenal captain got to grips with the challenge, re-assured by the composure of those around him, ably protected by his midfielders.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche needed the same discipline in defence that frustrated Manchester City here last month, but instead observed a self-destruction for Arsenal's winner on 12 minutes.


Jason Shackell gifted possession to Coquelin and the Burnley retreat was forlorn as Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Ramsey took aim. The Welshman was fortunate in the manner Sanchez's blocked shot fell invitingly, but he finished with the usual poise.

That proved enough, Burnley unable to penetrate despite an increased tempo in the second half. George Boyd's mis-kick was the most acceptable opening, but Arsenal never looked under pressure.

Dyche's only consolation is the end of a horrific sequence of fixtures that included all top seven teams in the league in their last eight games.

To pick up five points from that run, and still be in touching distance of safety at this stage, could be considered ahead of schedule.

"There is an obvious desire and belief in side and we have been very good lately at keeping back door shut so it was an awful goal to concede," he said.

"It could go down to the last day but we have to make sure we get the wins we need."

Dyche sounded like a manager who knows that his team can survive.

They have that absolute belief what many considered impossible, can be done.

Arsenal, hoping rather than expecting or believing they will catch Chelsea, could do worse than bottle some of that Lancastrian confidence and consume it on the coach back to London. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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