Wenger ad­mits he is ‘wor­ried’ about los­ing top-four place

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Luke Ed­wards at the Sta­dium of Light

When Arsène Wenger, a man­ager who can nor­mally see a pos­i­tive, no mat­ter how se­vere the set­back, ad­mits he is wor­ried about his Ar­se­nal side, you know things are bad.

This was a game that strength­ened two things. Sun­der­land’s sur­vival chances and the ar­gu­ment of those who be­lieve it is time for Wenger to be re­placed.

The point was enough to pull Sun­der­land out of the bot­tom three, ahead of Nor­wich City on goal dif­fer­ence. They are masters of the late rel­e­ga­tion es­cape and they have put them­selves in a good po­si­tion to do so again. With four games re­main­ing, their fate is in their own hands.

As for Ar­se­nal, hav­ing tossed away their best chance of win­ning the ti­tle in more than a decade, their fail­ure to win on Wear­side means they are still un­cer­tain of a top four fin­ish – hence Wenger’s con­cern.

His play­ers have not only buck­led un­der ti­tle-win­ning pres­sure, they are now floun­der­ing un­der the more mod­est ex­pec­ta­tion of qual­i­fy­ing for the Cham­pi­ons League.

“Of course, we are wor­ried,” said Wenger. “We care about that [a top­four fin­ish] and we worry about it as well. It is a fight.”

Mo­ments ear­lier Wenger had ad­mit­ted his team were strug­gling with “anx­i­ety” par­tic­u­larly in front of goal, where Olivier Giroud ex­tended his bar­ren run to 15 games.

But Wenger also pointed out that Ar­se­nal had played a Sun­der­land side des­per­ate for points, un­like some oth­ers this week­end. “There are two leagues at the mo­ment,” he added. “The teams who are tak­ing it eas­ier. You think, ‘I would like to play them now’. The teams that are safe and do not go for Europe. Then you have the teams that go for some­thing at the top and the teams that fight not to go down. It’s dif­fer­ent games.”

Should Ar­se­nal fail to se­cure a top-four fin­ish, calls for Wenger’s head will be louder and an­grier. Although the board give the im­pres­sion they will re­main deaf to them, pres­sure for change will in­ten­sify.

There is so much to re­spect for Wenger, so much to ad­mire, but he is rapidly los­ing pop­u­lar­ity. Re­sults and per­for­mances like this do noth­ing to quell the ris­ing re­bel­lion.

It was a fas­ci­nat­ing game, the type Wenger strug­gled to get his head around when he first ar­rived in Eng­land and dis­cov­ered a young man­ager called Sam Al­lardyce, who got a kick out of watch­ing his side knock Ar­se­nal out of their stride.

For 10 min­utes, Sun­der­land rarely touched the ball, but they never lost their shape. They moved and ha­rassed as a unit. Ar­se­nal carved out a few half chances, but lacked in­ci­sion and pen­e­tra­tion.

Alex Iwobi missed their best chances, shoot­ing wide from the edge of the area early on and then, hav­ing been teed up by the shot shy Giroud, saw an­other shot blocked. The ball hit DeAn­dre Yedlin’s arm, but there was no in­tent.

Ref­eree Mike Dean cor­rectly de­cided not to give a penalty, although there was more de­bate sur­round­ing his de­ci­sion not to give Sun­der­land one af­ter Jermain De­foe’s shot was blocked Per Merte­sacker’s arm.

They were not by his side, but in his de­fence, the Ger­man had turned his back and the ball was hit from close range. It will have to be filed in the “could have gone ei­ther way” cat­e­gory, even if Al­lardyce felt it def­i­nitely was a penalty.

Sun­der­land came clos­est to a goal be­fore half time when Pa­trick van Aan­holt’s free-kick clipped the stan­chion be­tween bar and post, although Alexis Sánchez was also de­nied from an equally fine free kick when Vito Man­none pre­vented it nestling in the bot­tom cor­ner.

Ar­se­nal tired badly in the sec­ond half and Petr Cech made three good saves af­ter half time as De­foe, Yann M’Vila and Wahbi Khazri all tried their luck.

Ar­se­nal looked in trou­ble, but should have scored mo­ments later, when Iwobe sliced a shot well wide. Sun­der­land re­mained dan­ger­ous and De­foe once again threat­ened, run­ning on to a per­fect pass from Lee Cattermole, but his chip over the head of Cech bounced wide.

The home crowd be­gan to be­lieve, when De­foe was just un­able to square the ball to the un­marked Fabio Borini. Then, sec­onds later, Khazri’s cor­ner flew across the six­yard box, when all it needed was a touch from a pounc­ing Black Cat.

As for Ar­se­nal, even the sight of Jack Wil­shere on the pitch again as a late sub­sti­tute, was of lit­tle com­fort to any­one.

“For the first time in months, our des­tiny is in our own hands,” said Al­lardyce. “We’re out of the bot­tom three and psy­cho­log­i­cally that’s huge at this stage of the sea­son. I’m pleased with the level of the per­for­mance, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half, when we got in the faces of Ar­se­nal’s play­ers and shut their mid­field down.

“We’ve kept an­other clean sheet and we could have nicked a goal in the sec­ond half. We had the chances. We just need to keep play­ing like this for the next four games.”

Back on board: Jack Wil­shere makes his re­turn from in­jury as a late sub­sti­tute in yes­ter­day’s draw

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.