Monday 20 November 2017

Wenger insists it's time to convince the non-believers

Arsenal have failed to lift silverware since Patrick Vieira got his hands on the
Arsenal have failed to lift silverware since Patrick Vieira got his hands on the

Ben Rumsby

Arsene Wenger has admitted Arsenal's critics are right to doubt his players' Premier League-winning credentials and that now is the time to prove they will not buckle again this season.

Despite insisting last Saturday's 6-3 drubbing at Manchester City should strengthen his squad's belief they could end their decade-long drought, Wenger acknowledged such extreme optimism would not be shared by those already questioning their ability to stay the course.

Tonight's showdown with Chelsea should provide the biggest clue yet whether the doom-mongers will be hailed as prophets or charlatans come the end of a campaign in which Arsenal have given their long-suffering supporters real hope this finally could be their year.

With almost 10 years having passed since they were last crowned champions, Wenger acknowledged it was not wrong to be sceptical about their chances of finishing 2013-14 on top.

"We haven't won it for a long time -- that's why they question us," said the Frenchman, who claimed Christmas -- which will see them play four times in 10 days -- was the moment to convert more non-believers.

"Yes, because at the moment everybody still questions us, even more after our defeat at City. But I see the game at City the other way round. We can have even more belief after the game at City."

Despite dismissing the short-term impact of such a result against a title rival -- Arsenal's biggest domestic defeat since being humiliated 8-2 at Manchester United two years ago -- Wenger revealed the cumulative effect of not winning the Premier League had taken its toll.

Arsenal have also failed to lift any silverware since 2005, but Wenger said: "If you win the League Cup it doesn't change anything. It's the Premier League that is the most important thing and we haven't won it for nine years.

"Of course, it doesn't strengthen your belief. If you win it every year, you go in there and it's just 'ours'. It makes the challenge more interesting."

It is not only their recent failure to win the league that Arsenal are up against, but the scars of seeing trophies repeatedly snatched from their grasp in recent years.

That vicious spiral began when Jose Mourinho first arrived on the scene at Chelsea, weeks after Wenger's 'Invincibles' swept to the 2004 title.

The combination of Mourinho and Roman Abramovich's millions proved too much even for a team that has gone down in folklore, with Arsenal failing to beat their new rivals at any stage during the first incarnation of the self-styled 'Special One'.

Their first meeting of Mourinho's second coming, a League Cup victory for Chelsea's second string in October, suggested the Portuguese still had the measure of his old rival.

Yet, Wenger denied needing a radical new game plan to turn the tables tonight, saying: "No, because sometimes they have equalised in the last minute at Chelsea and that's not down to a game plan.

"That just reflects the strengths of the teams. I must say, for a while, Chelsea were stronger than us. You do not have to accept it, but it was the reality."

If that was a hint this was no longer the case -- Chelsea have already been beaten seven times this season in all competitions -- Wenger refused to expand on whether they were now more vulnerable.

"I will answer that question on Tuesday."

Another question we will know the answer to tonight will be who will be top of the table on Christmas Day. Not only that, but who will be second, third and fourth in the closest title race for years.

"It adds pressure, but you cannot play in the Premier League without pressure," said Wenger, whose side could lie first, second or even fourth. "There are periods where the pressure is a bit bigger and periods where it is smaller. You have to live with that and resist that kind of stress." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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