at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Dublin – Arsène Wenger admitted on Sunday his “concern” over Arsenal's league position jeopardising their chances of Champions League qualification, as they slipped to seven points off fourth place following the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 15 consecutive years but that famous record is increasingly under threat after another Premier League defeat left them trailing Chelsea in third and Tottenham Hotspur in fourth – and with Everton above them in fifth.
“We have lost two big games in the last week,” Wenger said, referring to last Sunday's 2-0 home loss to Manchester City. “And that is very damaging for us. We cannot afford to drop points any more if we want to be in the top four. That is a concern. It is very damaging for our position in the league and it is difficult to swallow.”
The Arsenal manager claimed the loss was down to another slow start and the pressures of fixture congestion, which have left his squad tired and jaded. “It was similar to last week,” Wenger said. “The team have fantastic quality and spirit, but we come into the game when we're 2-0 down. At the moment, that's worrying. In the big games, once you start 2-0 down, it's very difficult.
“We had a physical problem to get going. It was better in the second half, but when you play every three days it is difficult to know what is psychological and what's physical. There's a psychological part of it, for sure, because we didn't really go for it at the start again.”
Wenger disputed two of referee Martin Atkinson's decisions, allowing play to continue in the build-up to Juan Mata's opening goal and the awarding of a penalty after Wojciech Szczesny tripped Ramires. “We were unlucky because there was a free-kick in the first goal, and it wasn't a penalty,” he said.
Rafael Benitez was delighted with a third home victory as interim manager, which leaves Chelsea only six points behind Manchester City in second place.
“We had a lot of chances in the first half when we were on top of them, controlling the game,” he said. “Even in the second half we had situations on the counter-attack where we could have scored another. I am really pleased. The players put in a great effort and it was a great game.”
Benitez confirmed that Ashley Cole, the veteran left-back, plans to sign a new one-year contract at the club. “The contract was running out next summer,” the Spaniard said. “Now the club has an agreement with the player - I'm really pleased - the paperwork has to be done but the agreement is done.”
John Terry, Chelsea's club captain, was an unused substitute and Benitez explained that the defender is still working back towards full fitness after a knee injury. “He has been out 16 weeks,” Benitez said. “He's doing a specific plan and doing well. He's coming back. It is good for us to have different options, but still it's too early. He has to play for match fitness but not these kind of games where he has to play at high intensity.” – The Independent