Wenger out to repair damage
LONDON — Arsene Wenger wants his side to repair the “mental damage” of a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace when they face West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League today.
The Gunners blew a chance to take a major step towards securing Champions League qualification for a remarkable 19th successive season after being held at home by London rivals Palace at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Arsenal led via Alexis Sanchez’s header in first-half stoppage time and dominated throughout before Yannick Bolasie’s equaliser in the 81st minute ensured the home side were greeted with a chorus of boos come the final whistle.
Wenger’s men are still fourth in the table, occupying the last of the automatic Champions League places on offer to English clubs, but Manchester United are just four points behind in fifth with five games remaining.
Sunday’s result ended Arsenal’s alreadyslim hopes of winning the title and veteran Gunners boss Wenger said: “We are too disappointed to think about the league, we have to think about the Champions League and fight to be in the Champions League.
“I’m not in that kind of mood to dream about the championship but I need to repair mental damage and prepare for the next game to come against West Brom on Thursday,” the Frenchman added. “You have to do that rather than look behind us.
“Everyone playing is winning games. It could be a fight in the end to stay and get a place in the top four.”
Against Palace, it was a familiarly depressing story for Arsenal, who dominated but still dropped two points.
Sanchez headed home Danny Welbeck’s pass on the strike of half-time against a Palace side content to sit back and defend deep.
But chances went begging for Arsenal before Bolasie hit the hosts on the break nine minutes from time.
“We usually create a high number of chances. We lacked a change of pace, sharpness and they defended well,” Wenger said.
“You have to sometime win 1-0 and this one of those days. We are a team that likes to take the initiative. With that you expect goals and you accept the risk where taking the game to an opponent.
“I’m responsible and I’m frustrated. We will see where we stand at the end of the season so we must stick together.” Meanwhile, Wenger has denied suggestions that his side lack leadership after Sunday’s draw.
Without club captain Mikel Arteta and his vice-captain Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny led a side that included several relatively inexperienced or youthful players, from Hector Bellerin and Gabriel in defence to Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi in the middle of the pitch.
Wenger’s side has been criticised for its inability to deal with adversity in recent months, including their failure to manage Andy Carroll over his eight minute hattrick in their visit to West Ham earlier this month, but the Arsenal manager did not feel his players were short on leadership in Sunday’s draw.
“I don’t believe that today was about leadership,” he said. “It was about scoring the second goal and stopping a goal that we gave away as it was avoidable. That was the regret of the day. We knew we couldn’t get frustrated and make a defensive mistake. In the end, I must say they have the players that can take advantage of every counter attack. They are quick and powerful. When it was 1-0 they never came out really.”
Whilst the late equaliser was a frustrating moment for Wenger it did not come as a surprise to his opposite number Alan Pardew, who revealed that he was well aware of Arsenal’s habit of leaving space for his players to exploit in the closing stages.
Palace could have won the game at the death had Gabriel not blocked Wilfried Zaha’s low cross to an unmarked Emmanuel Adebayor but Pardew was still delighted at the way his side had rallied from the disappointment of Arsenal’s goal late in the first half.
He added: “My team deserve tremendous credit because it is tough to play here, we had a game plan that meant we would make sure that they didn’t have a fast start and then build as the game went on and that is how it played out and then at the end we nearly won it with that great run from Wilfried (Zaha).
We didn’t deserve that though but we had a good strategy to us today and the lads did well.
“I was a bit disappointed to concede that goal just before half time, we hadn’t retained the ball well enough but we stayed in there and it was important that we didn’t allow them to get into fourth or fifth gear.
“We kept them in third gear and they came out in the second half and played much the same and we knew we could get better and that is exactly what happened.” — Reuters
Arsenal forward Alexis sanchez.