London – Arsene Wenger surveyed the wreckage of Arsenal’s two high-speed cup crashes and urged his team not to settle for fourth in the Barclays Premier League.
Wenger is eager to restore normality at the Emirates after a turbulent 10 days. Unfortunately, normality these days equals an unconvincing 2-1 win against a team haunted by relegation and another injury to Abou Diaby.
“We twice hit the wall in one week,” said Wenger, reflecting on the FA Cup exit to Blackburn and the 3-1 Champions League defeat at home by Bayern Munich – the anxiety of which spread to Saturday’s contest against Aston Villa.
“When you drive a car and you hit the wall for the first time and have an accident at 100mph, you say, ‘OK we go again’. When you hit it again, three days later, you will drive a little bit more cautiously. We were nervous because we had absolutely to win.”
Santi Cazorla scored both Arsenal goals, the winner five minutes from time, and the Arsenal boss welcomed some “serenity” ahead of a fixture looming large: a North London derby, Wenger’s 40th.
Tottenham will go into the game at White Hart Lane four points clear of the Gunners if they win at West Ham tonight, but Wenger does not want his team to scrape into the Champions League.
“I’m not sure that it will only be a fight with Tottenham,” he said. “I’m not sure the others are unreachable. It could be a tight fight until the end.
“What is for sure is that if we can maintain our run, we’ll get there, in front of Tottenham or anybody else.”
Arsenal have won eight of their last 12 in the Barclays Premier League. Perhaps the real danger is if they do extend their 16-year unbroken Champions League run and plans for major surgery are replaced by tinkering.
Exasperation, however, is in evidence. “No, Diaby is not all right,” sighed Wenger after the midfielder limped off with a hip injury. And there was another costly mistake from goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who allowed Andreas Weimann’s 25-yard drive through his hands. But the Villa winger shouldered the blame for Cazorla’s winner after failing to track Arsenal full-back Nacho Monreal, who supplied the cross. Weimann said: “I tracked him all game and for a second I switched off.”
Villa appear a bottom-three version of Arsenal: young and energetic, occasionally attractive in possession and dangerous on the break but painfully delicate at the back.
“We have 11 games to get out,” said Weimann. “We’re confident that by the end of the season we won’t be in there.” – Daily Mail