Wenger fighting to save season

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iol spt mar24 Wenger

Reuters

Arsene Wengers little gold cannon will haunt him for ever. That delicate work of craftsmanship presented by Arsenal in honour of his 1 000th game now represents a crushing humiliation. Photo by: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Arsene Wenger’s little gold cannon will haunt him for ever. That delicate work of craftsmanship presented by Arsenal in honour of his 1 000th game now represents a crushing humiliation which takes the shine off a promising season.

It will have taken every ounce of self-control from him not to have smashed it on Saturday night in a variation on the theme of a frustrated manager who storms home and kicks his cat.

The 6-0 defeat will have been painful and could yet have repercussions on his thought process on whether or not to sign the contract which has been sitting on the table for weeks at the Emirates Stadium.

He left Stamford Bridge without saying much to his players in the dressing room or to the media. He failed to attend the official post-match press conference and cancelled a media briefing scheduled for today.

Arsenal trained yesterday, in preparation for tomorrow’s game against Swansea, and the session was preceded by a ‘clear-the-air’ team meeting designed to focus minds and provoke a reaction, rather than to apportion blame. ‘You could blame and blame but it does not help,’ said Wenger (below) as he strode to the team bus on Saturday.

‘What is important is we show we have the capacity to respond. The most disappointing thing is we were never in the game. After 20 minutes, it was game over and it became a long, dramatic, dreadful afternoon.

‘It is puzzling. We were shocked and knocked down basically without feeling we ever had a chance. This team is healthy and willing but we have to think about the way it happened because it is not the first time.’

This season Arsenal have suffered 10 defeats but three leap out — 6-3 at Manchester City in December, 5-1 at Liverpool last month and 6-0 at Chelsea — all Saturday lunchtime kick-offs, all capitulations, all live on TV.

‘I don’t know why, but it looks like we don’t fancy early kick- offs away,’ said Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker. ‘It looks like we’re going to have to apply to the FA to not play at 12.45pm away.’

Without these results it has been an admirable season for Arsenal. Wenger’s team seemed to be answering long-standing questions about personality, character and mental strength. Arsenal seemed to be learning to make decisions about when to cut loose and attack and when to dig in. But worrying signs have emerged since the Anfield mauling.

Arsenal have won only five of 12 and Wojciech Szczesny’s confidence has been eroded. Wenger must decide whether to recall Lukasz Fabianski, who has played well in the FA Cup.

Jose Mourinho set out to press Arsenal high and to prey on the space behind their full-backs. They did it well, helped by clinical finishing from Andre Schurrle and Samuel Eto’o.

Liverpool had done just that with exactly the same outcome and it made you wonder if old pals Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers had compared notes.

‘Every defeat leaves a scar’, said Wenger last week, reflecting on his first 999 games. Few can be as deep as this one.

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6.5, Cahill 6.5, Terry 6.5, Azpilicueta 7; Luiz 6 (Mikel 72 min, 6), Matic 8; Schurrle 7.5, Oscar 7 (Salah 67, 6), Hazard 6; Eto’o (Torres 9, 7). Subs not used: Schwarzer, Kalas, Lampard, Ba.

ARSENAL (4-1-4-1): Szczesny 4; Sagna 5, Mertesacker 5, Koscielny 4 (Jenkinson 45, 5), Gibbs 4; Arteta 5; Rosicky 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Flamini 45, 5.5), Cazorla 4, Podoloski 4 (Vermaelen 24, 6); Giroud 4. Subs not used: Fabianski, Sanogo, Kallstrom, Gnabry.

Booked: Rosicky. Sent off: Gibbs.

Man of the match: Nemanja Matic.

Referee: Andre Marriner 4. – Daily Mail


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