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