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Saturday 10 December 2016

Wenger points out weakness

Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot Picture: Reuters
Harry Kane celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot Picture: Reuters

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his side are at a distinct disadvantage by claiming that Liverpool and Chelsea have an edge in the title race because they are not playing in Europe this season.

Arsenal could have entered the international break leading the Premier League but after going in front against their north London rivals Tottenham they ran out of steam and drew 1-1 at the Emirates.

A rampant Chelsea thrashed Everton 5-0 on Saturday to go top with 25 points and Liverpool responded with an equally emphatic 6-1 victory over Watford yesterday to move above them with 26 points from 11 games.

"It's a bit easier to prepare for the games because you don't have the intensity of the Champions League games," Wenger, whose side have 24 points, told reporters when asked whether Liverpool and Chelsea had an advantage.

"But if you asked them both they would like to be in there so you can't complain about it.

"It's a physical advantage for sure, especially after the European weeks. But we have to live with that and it's not an excuse. It's very tight after 11 games."

Arsenal are still unbeaten in all competitions since an opening day defeat by Liverpool, but Wenger said his side had struggled physically against a Tottenham side who began and finished the derby stronger.

Stretched

"We were a bit too stretched and our level dropped," Wenger said. "When we were questioned physically in the final 30 minutes we were not good enough to win the game."

The Gunners lacked their usual precision in the final third. Mesut Ozil was influential again but Alexis Sanchez, in particular, was noticeably quiet.

"We were quite dangerous in the first half and created dangerous situations in the second," Wenger said.

"We gave everything but were not as sharp physically as we can be in the final part of the game."

Laurent Koscielny was at fault for giving away the penalty which Harry Kane converted as the Frenchman's clumsy challenge sent Mousa Dembele to the ground. Dembele's impressive display moved his Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino to describe him as "a genius" but Wenger believed the penalty was soft.

"I think the penalty was harsh," Wenger said. "It didn't look dangerous to score, it didn't look like a deliberate foul."

Wenger also felt Spurs midfielder Victor Wanyama was fortunate to stay on the pitch after committing a number of fouls, including one that saw the Kenyan catch Theo Walcott in the face with his arm.

"He was very lucky to stay on the pitch today of course," Wenger said.

"A few fouls, the elbow on Walcott for example, but the referee makes decisions and we have to cope with that. Nobody stopped us from scoring a second goal, which we didn't do."

Pochettino, whose side are also juggling the Champions League with domestic action, was the happier manager after the returning Kane's penalty cancelled out Kevin Wimmer's first-half own goal.

Tottenham are still unbeaten in the Premier League but have drawn four in a row to fall five points off the pace.

Pochettino agreed Kane's presence alone gave his side an "emotional lift" but the striker's selection after seven weeks out with an ankle ligament injury was not the only surprise as Spurs started in an unfamiliar 3-4-2-1 formation.

It was a bold move that just about paid off for Spurs, who recovered their assurance at the back after a shaky display against Bayer Leverkusen and created more chances going forward.

"We showed that we could be flexible today," Pochettino, who switched to a back three of Eric Dier, Wimmer and Jan Vertonghen. "We have had some bad moments but are still unbeaten (in the Premier League) so I can only smile about that," he said.

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