Wednesday 26 September 2018

Wenger frets over Euro spot

Sunderland 0-0 Arsenal

Arsene Wenger Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire
Arsene Wenger Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire

Arsene Wenger is worried about Arsenal’s quest for a 20th successive Champions League campaign after seeing his side fail to win at struggling Sunderland.

Victory at the Stadium of Light would have would have lifted the Gunners back above Manchester City and into third place, but they remain fourth after a hard-fought goalless draw, which in turn eased the Black Cats out of the drop zone, above Norwich on goal difference.

Asked if he was anxious about clinching a top-four finish, Wenger replied: “Yes, of course. We care about that and we worry about it as well because it’s a fight.

“There are two leagues at the moment: the teams who are taking it a little bit easier - you see some games and you think you would like to play them now, the teams who are safe and are not going for Europe, and then you have the teams who are going for something at the front and the teams who are fighting not to go down, and they are different games.

“It is frustrating because we play to win the title and the fact that we do not win it is of course frustrating, like it is for many other teams.”

Arsenal passed up a series of chances to win the game as they dominated possession for long periods, particularly before the break.

However, they were ultimately indebted to the frame of the goal, which kept out Patrick van Aanholt’s 22nd-minute free-kick, and goalkeeper Petr Cech, who made a string of second-half saves, for their point.

Wenger said: “A team like Sunderland is ready to fight for their lives, and of course they will never give up during the 90 minutes.

“They started with a bit of anxiety and we had to take advantage of that level of anxiety they had at the start of the game, but we couldn’t and you know with the fact that you have played Sunday, Thursday, today that you could suffer a little bit physically in the second half and that’s what happened.

“Then the game was much more difficult for us.”

The game might have turned on two penalty appeals, both of which were turned down by referee Mike Dean after Per Mertesacker blocked Jermain Defoe’s shot with his arms before Alex Iwobi’s effort ricocheted into DeAndre Yedlin’s arm.

Wenger thought Dean got both decisions right, but opposite number Sam Allardyce was adamant his team should have been awarded a spot-kick.

He said: “It was blatantly obvious for me. He sticks his arms out, turns his back - when you are trying to block a shot, you are not supposed to turn your back. He’s not looking at the ball, sticks his arms out, stops a certain goal.

“Yes, for me definitely 100 per cent a penalty.”

Allardyce, however, was happy enough with a point which leaves the club’s fate in their own hands.

He said: “Our destiny is in our own hands now for the first time in many months with four games to go, so we have got to take full control of that starting at Stoke next week.

“When we finish at Stoke, we have got to make sure we are out of the bottom three.”

Allardyce was particularly pleased with another clean sheet, Sunderland’s third in four games.

Asked what was behind that improved run, he said with a smile: “My brilliant coaching,” before adding: “You could say before that it was crap, though.”

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