Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Emirates Stadium
Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), Monday, 16th April 2011
Hello Gooners. It has been another good few days. With 6 points from 6 in the last two games, with vital wins over Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, there’s not much we can complain for.
Well, the title race has been blown wide open, thanks to a stunning strike from Scotland international Shaun Maloney, for Wigan Athletic against Manchester City. The gap was cut down back to 5 points, and despite Roberto Mancini saying that he expects Manchester United to go on and win the title, deep down he knows that Wigan threw him a lifeline, which they have to hold on to dearly now. Earlier today, Manchester City thrashed a hapless Norwich City 6-1, quite an ironic scoreline, at Carrow Road, 24 hours ahead of Manchester United’s clash with Aston Villa at Old Trafford. With the gap down to 2, pressure will be on Fergie’s men, to make it 5, as they play a team, who could get sucked into the basement battle, in no time.
The FA Cup semi-final, meanwhile pitted the two Merseyside clubs against each other, as Everton took on Liverpool. It was quite an exciting game, and the Wembley pitch just seems to getting poorer and poorer. Nikica Jelavic’s 24th minute strike, was rather harshly cancelled out by a mistake off his own teammate Sylain Distin, whose attempted backpass, was finished off by Luis Suarez. Andy Carroll seems to be back to his goalscoring nick, despite missing howlers through the game, he managed to pounce home the winner in the 87th minute.
Coming back to Arsenal, then. Here’s all the reaction from Arsene Wenger, post the win over Manchester City.
AW on the run-in
For some people these predictions are their job,Believe me, they don’t know much better than you or me and the result of every game is just a consequence of your performance on the day. Nobody can really predict that because your performance on the day depends on you, but also depends on the other team as well. To predict both is nearly impossible. You can have an idea but football has surprised us so many times, especially recently in the last two or three months. We have all been surprised by many results and predictions. What would be interesting is to make a championship of the predictors and see who comes out on top at the end.Let’s not anticipate, that is something else that is important. When it gets to the last sprint, the focus on the next game becomes the most important part because you are always tempted to anticipate. We have the experience to know just to deal with the next one and that is the only important thing.
AW on the team this season
It [a top-four finish] is very important to us,It has a big meaning for us because we want to play at the top but also because of where we came from, that would be a great achievement for us. This team has gone through difficult times but we know that we belong with the best and we have shown that again on Sunday. That is why it is important that we continue to go in a strong way.It is very intense. The closer you get to the end and you go for something important, the more the pressure is there. So to keep your nerve is vital.
AW on Bacary Sagna being the best right-back in the Premier League
I think so, personally, and I believe that everybody at the Club would share this opinion,Many people outside the Club have this opinion as well.I must say with the right back position I have been quite lucky because we had Lee Dixon when I arrived, then Lauren, and Sagna afterwards. They have all been real winners and extremely consistent. On that front we were very lucky.They are all real battlers, they are ready to die to win. All these players have been inspirational for everybody because their physical level, commitment, intelligence and desire to win is all there.
AW on Yossi Benayoun
First of all he knows the job in this [wide] position,He is highly focused in the big games, that is a massive part, because you cannot switch off.So we have a good balance in the team with him and a good focus. And of course he has quality. We have to say that in the games he has started he did extremely well and the team did extremely well as well. That is never a coincidence.No, not yet [I have not made a decision],That will happen at the end of the season. We have to look at the situation in a global way because we have many players out on loan so we need to deal with these situations.
Moving on, Mikel Arteta, has been massive this season. He has blended in seamlessly in the midfield, and now is one of Arsenal’s most vital players. He scored a fine winner against Manchester City.
We need to finish the season really strong,We’ve shown we have a lot of fighters here. We have missed big players this season; Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, and they haven’t played at all and are massive players.We know we have really good players and maybe, just maybe, we can do even better than what we have done this year.I’m trying to contribute the best way to the team that I can,Scoring goals is not one of my most important jobs because we have better players in the team to do that. But it’s always nice to help.Robin [van Persie] has been creating goals for other players. As long as we keep winning, that’s the most important thing. We are also keeping clean sheets as well which is important from now until the end of the season.Everybody likes to score a goal and I’m no different. When Robin scores three then I’m happy as well because we win the game. But this goal [against Man City] was special and it won the game.
Third place gives you direct access to the Champions League,It’s really important. It’s been a big fight; we have come all the way through from the back.We’ve put in a big effort, we are in a strong position now and we don’t want to waste it. We had a setback at QPR and it says a lot for our spirit that we came straight back.Everyone was saying we were in trouble again because Newcastle look really strong, Chelsea have been winning and I’m sure they’ll be there until the end.It will be a big fight and I think it will go right until the end. There are some big games ahead. Everyone must play each other; we’ve got Chelsea here and have got to go to Stoke so it can change again.I don’t think it will be easy, We have some good examples this year when we have dropped points against teams near the bottom.We have to go there with the right mentality and the right approach and sense of pride. When you’re playing away from home there are no easy games in the Premier League.
Robin van Persie, without a shadow of a doubt has been Arsenal’s talisman this season. Taking over the reins from Cesc Fabregas, and after the stuttering start to the campaign, the Dutchman has led the team by example.
I don’t think it changed me a lot in the way I am because I believe you should always stay the same,I think the only thing that has changed for me is that it has been made official. Before that I was always helping people out where I could because we all help each other out, it’s not only me. This is the way our club is.I do realise that some stuff starts with me but that counts for every single person for themselves as well. Good behaviour starts from yourself. If you expect that from other people, you should start by yourself and be helpful to everyone else. That has nothing to do with the captaincy, it is the way you should be. Everybody should try to be positive and try to help each other out. I don’t think I am the main starter in all of that.I was very proud [to be made captain], obviously,If you look at the history of Arsenal captains, being part of that is a very special feeling. It makes me proud because Arsenal is a massive club. You look at Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas – those guys were proper captains. I like it, it feels comfortable and not weird.
Meanwhile, after the relatively easy win over Wolves, and Spurs’ shock loss to Norwich at home, Arsenal moved 5 points clear of their rivals, and are now in pole position to seal 3rd spot. Here’s the manager’s complete post match interview.
AW on the result
We started well and then had a situation where we could control the game. Did we push on or not? After that we played a bit with the handbrake on, they played deeper and defended like mad with a great spirit until the end of the game. If they keep that spirit then they still have a chance of staying in the league. On our part we controlled the game, although they actually had a spell in the second half where they created chances. Szczesny made a good save but after that it was a comfortable win.
AW on top-three situation
I am very happy that we are in this position but I am also very cautious because some teams have been in that position before. We want to win our next game because where we have come from this season we must be focused. We have come from very deep and to stay in this position we have to focus on our next game.
AW on the penalty
It looked to me [like a penalty] but I have not seen it again. You could argue that he is the last man as well. The referee had no choice but I think the punishment is harsh because you give away a penalty and you lose a man as well.
AW on spoiling the game
It spoils the game for the supporters because they know they have little chance to come back after. I never forget that we lost Robin van Persie in Barcelona last season when he got a second yellow card for kicking the ball away. It was just strict application of the rules. Today I think the referee had no choice because it is the rule.
AW on Van Persie’s finish
It was a surprise to me because I have never seen him doing that. It was just what came into his mind at the last second he said.
AW on ending his four-game goal draught
It is not easy for a striker like Van Persie who is not used to not scoring. I think he equalled the record of Ian Wright by scoring against 17 different teams in the Premier League out of 20. That is absolutely remarkable in the modern game so I would like to congratulate him because that has never been done before. When your striker scores against 17 different teams, that is sensational.
AW on possibility to improve on record
He could have beaten it if he had scored against Manchester City. The last two chances he had were Man City and tonight. He hit the post twice and Vermaelen saved one on the line against City.
AW on the Wigan game
Wigan did not deserve to lose at Chelsea and they got a great result tonight. It is a good warning for us to prepare well in that game.
AW on FA decision not to extend Balotelli ban
I still don’t understand. If you look at the case of Balotelli you get an explanation and you have to accept it. Then you look at the case of Derry, you get an explanation and you can accept it. But if you put the two together it looks absolutely unbelievable. When the referee has seen something nobody can get over the rule.We need an exceptional committee of ethics who can get over that. The global situation does not make common sense. For people who love football you cannot accept that one is punished and the other is not. But I am not keen to get Balotelli suspended because I have no interest at all in that.
I’m 23 now and I am still growing. I am not afraid of getting hurt,A few years ago I had shoulder injuries, ankle problems and back problems and that was just me learning the other side of the game.Now I am just going into games and enjoying myself, not being scared of anything. The manager always tells me not to be afraid going into tackles. I am a totally different Theo Walcott now.We are playing great football and it’s nice to be part of that and not on the treatment table.
Arsenal Ladies are always doing well,I am a big supporter and admirer and I wish them well against Frankfurt and I am sure they will surprise us as always in a positive way. The German teams are always very strong. Their national side didn’t do well in the last World Cup at home but usually they are always there in the top two or three in the world.
He has been very patient and very professional,He came here with a lack of [playing time] and it took him a while to become really sharp. He kept working and waited for his place.We kept faith in him and put him in for big games because he is an intelligent and talented player. He has a good team attitude.The problem with Yossi was more physical because he is a guy who plays on his sharpness and quick movement. He had a big injury don’t forget and it took him some time to come back.After that, when you do not play big games it takes you time to find the confidence again. Now he is there.
I will not take any risks with him,He is making slow progress so we still have to monitor the situation a little bit at the moment. As I told you last week, the next three weeks would be decisive and now we have two weeks in front of us. I cannot tell you more.
We are in a different situation because we are on the way up, and last year we were on the way down,The dynamic is completely different. We are on a very strong run, but last year we were on a strong run downwards. Where we finish we will see at the end of the season but at the moment our focus is to maintain our momentum and finish in a stronger position than last year. It is possible if we maintain our results, [like we are] at the moment.Champions League football is still our main target of the season. For a while it was very difficult, for some people [they thought] it was impossible, but now it is feasible. Considering where we came from, we want to take our chance now.
What has not changed at all is our policy that we will be as ambitious as ever and spend the money we have available, if possible in an intelligent and wise way,We have always spent money because we are ambitious for top-class players and if you look at the history of our last 15 years, we have always had top-class players. Sol Campbell is one of them.It does not mean you cannot win the title,There are two basic trophies for me that are the sign of the quality of a team; they are the Premier League and the Champions League.The Champions League is prestigious and it is half league and half cup. That means that at the end, the teams who wins must show real quality.All the rest, they are trophies of course and they are important, but they do not really reflect the deep quality of a team. The championship does, and we want to win it.Our ambition is intact, to win the championship. It depends on how we finish the season to decide how much we need to buy to have a chance to win the championship next season.
It does not look like he is worrying but you know that a striker who has scored in every single game but then has a period he does not like it,But I am convinced that he thought about it. I didn’t worry at all, but the guys who score goals like to continue to score.What you can do one day, you can do the next. We are on a strong run and if you look at our last 10 games, we are defensively more stable because we have kept a few clean sheets.We can score goals and Robin van Persie comes out of a period when he scored a bit less. We still managed to win the games, that is positive.Yes [he has exceeded my expectations], not on the quality of his games though because I expect a lot from him,The way it goes beyond my level of expectation is the number of goals he has scored, that is for sure. Where he is sensational as well is as a captain. He has done extremely well on and off the field.
I would like to assess the situation as a whole at the end of the season,Last weekend was a very bad weekend, but we need to assess the global situation.I think the football authorities need to sit together and see how we can improve it. It is time for us to help the referees and not be so conservative and finally opt for video. Video will help the referees, not question their authority. It will give them more credit, more authority and [produce] fewer mistakes.We need instant video replays on the demand of the referee. It would not stop the game, it would sometimes given an even bigger flow to the game. Why? If I am a linesman and the offside situation is a 50:50, I am tempted to stop the game. If I know I have video behind me I am tempted to let it go. You could improve the flow of the game and then check after. I believe that football is the [No 1] sport in the whole world but we have to accept that we have a more conservative approach than any other sport. It can be a strength but on the refereeing side I think it is a weakness.If the referee thinks there is an obvious situation he has not seen well, let’s go and check. You could still be wrong but in fewer cases. I don’t think that the referees are bad, I just think that there are so many situations and they cannot see everything in the game. It is impossible for a human being, no matter how good you are. Out of 100 situations [if you used video replays] you would be less wrong than you are today because you could have help.I believe that maybe we need to promote young talents who come to the game,” he said. “The bigger the basis is quantity-wise, the more chance you have to produce top-level referees. We need to think about how we can promote young talents because it is a difficult job.
He has improved in his focus, the consistency of it,The talent was always there but he is maturing quickly.You can’t be completely on the inside or completely on the outside. I like that he is a good communicator. You have to adjust, it’s important to find a balance.The mental part of a keeper is vital. Look at Joe Hart, who is a fantastic goalkeeper for England. For me he shows that strength.I wouldn’t like to say publicly what he [Szczesny] needs to do to improve, I’d rather tell him myself. Overall he has the basic talent to be a top-class keeper, how far he goes will depend on how much he wants to improve.
We should have a superior committee of ethics that could still punish a player [after a match] and if this committee could punish an obvious dive with a three-match ban, the players would not do it anymore.I would support that for obvious diving. A guy who trips himself with his other leg, no.Everybody wants to win football games and when you have played football, you always try to be on the fringe if you want to win. For example, you touch the ball and it goes out you shout ‘throw in for us’, things like that. But a dive in the box? I think sometimes you can only get it out after the game.I think that the foreign players have brought good and bad things, In England you respected that you got well kicked but on the other side players did not go down for nothing. The second thing I admired here in England is that players never surrounded the referees to demand a yellow card for somebody else, they let the referee make a decision. But that has gone as well. Not everywhere but there is a trend now to surround the referee and [demand] a yellow card and that never happened when I arrived.Yes [that has come from foreign players],” added Wenger. “But I must say the English players learn quickly.
It is getting there, because everyone does their job well. What we used to think is that clean sheets are only linked to defenders but it is not like that. It is more a team effort and on that front I believe we have improved. Of course our overall defensive record is still not good, but if you take into consideration that we conceded eight at Manchester United and four at Blackburn at the start of the season, our record since that period is quite good defensively.
It is his first full season in the Premier League and he worked very hard [at Wolves] on Wednesday night again,He always looks like he will score but doesn’t score at the moment. Once that will be done I think he will be more relaxed in front of goal and score more. He has played many games this year and for a first season that is tremendous. I am quite happy I can give him a breather sometimes now. Aaron has played many games but he did absorb them well. He was tired two or three weeks ago, and it allowed me to give a breather [on Wednesday] to Tomas Rosicky who has played many games recently.I don’t think it is a long-term option for him because he is more a central player in the way I see him developing,Sometimes to balance the team, especially considering on the other side we have a real winger, I put a midfielder in there. That’s why in some games like at Everton I played him on the left. It worked then but at QPR we lost and it didn’t work. It is not linked with one position, it is to balance the team. I think in the education of a player it is important that he plays in different positions.
Recently the atmosphere at our home games has been absolutely amazing – the team can feel it and it is a big help for us,It is a great feeling to have the supporters so passionately behind you for the whole 90 minutes. The supporters really do make a difference at Emirates Stadium and we’re hoping that we can keep that connection by winning more games.Wigan beat Manchester United on Wednesday, so that’s an indication that it will be a tough test for us,We’ll have to be on top of our game to win, no doubt about it. Wigan have some very good players and a good young manager, so this will be a very tough match for us.We have a great chance to stay in [third] position, but now we have to make sure of it. That starts against Wigan on Monday – and make no mistake, it’s a very big game for us. People might not usually regard a match against Wigan as such a big one, but they are still battling relegation, so there is a lot at stake for both of us.We saw what can happen against a team fighting for its life when we played away at QPR, and we expect the same kind of performance from Wigan on Monday. We have to give 100 per cent to get the result.
As you have seen, Mikel has been showcasing his right foot recently,What a great weapon it is, and things are going really well for him. Looking around the team now, we have lots of different things like that in our armoury – everyone has qualities and they are all coming together to create a big threat. It is a good sign that a lot of these weapons are coming alive now and you are seeing a number of players prove decisive for us. I see it as real proof that this team is growing. Mikel’s goal last week was a great example of all that we have been about recently – first he was defending to get the ball from Pizarro, then he brought it forward and had the shot. It was a transition from effort to quality in a few seconds and the outcome was perfect.Effort and quality will both be needed again against a good Wigan side,” he said. “I like their manager, Roberto Martinez, a lot – he likes his side to play football from the back and wants to achieve things by playing the right way. They are having a really good period, being very unlucky at Chelsea and then winning in very confident fashion against Manchester United. In the last five or six weeks they have done really well so we have a very tough task on our hands to beat them and know they won’t surrender easily. I am confident, though, that if we play well and work hard for each other we will create the chances to win and keep our hands on third place.Prior to the Wolves game I’d gone four games without a goal, but I didn’t really let it bother me,I could have scored in each of those four games – and when that’s the case it’s not a big problem, because the chances are still coming to you. Against Manchester City I could have scored twice, one going off the line and the other hitting the post. Against Villa I had another cleared off the line, I hit the post again against Everton and had a one-on-one well saved against QPR. As long as I’m taking my opportunities with confidence and 100 per cent sharpness I accept that it won’t always come off, because that is part of football. We won all of those games apart from one, so it wasn’t as if things went badly for us.