Arsène Wenger offered a prickly response to criticisms of Arsenal’s record against Manchester United and Chelsea after his side had extended their run against the new Premier League leaders and the champions to 11 games without a win.
Wenger refused to answer when he was asked to explain why Arsenal found it so difficult to win against their main title rivals. Instead he blamed his team’s lack of penetration against United on a “very bad” pitch.
When the subject returned to Arsenal’s results in the big matches the Frenchman was visibly annoyed. “Why do we always seem to lose these big games? If you are a football specialist I leave this analysis to you,” he replied, his voice laced with sarcasm. “Why do you ask me when you know everything? I believe we are here to analyse one game – the game of tonight. I know your job is to get to conclusions but I leave that to you.
“I’ve spoken about the game tonight. You have to be calm and be realistic and objective. United won the game tonight and you don’t necessarily have to go to big conclusions. Be calm.”
Wenger was aggrieved that “the technical quality of the game was very average on both sides”. The match, he said, had been a “big disappointment and a big frustration” but he argued there were mitigating circumstances, namely the “bouncy and slippery” playing surface.
“The pitch was so poor in my opinion and the game suffered a lot from it,” he said. “I ask you, ‘Do you want a good pitch or a bad pitch?’ What do you say?”
Park Ji-sung’s winning goal, four minutes before half-time, moved United two points clear at the top of the table, with a game in hand. It also established a club record, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side now having gone 16 games unbeaten since the start of the season, beating the previous best, 15, which was set by Ron Atkinson’s team in 1985-86.
“I hope we can make it 17,” Ferguson said, looking forward to Sunday’s game at Chelsea. “That’s a very important game now and we are starting to get there in terms of our form. It’s improving and, if the back four continue to play like that, it will give us a great chance.
“We had to play well tonight. In these major games you want to perform and we did that, especially in the first half. Arsenal came into it in the second half but they did not create many good chances. But they pegged us back a bit and the penalty miss [by Wayne Rooney after 71 minutes] gave them impetus.”
Ferguson also hailed his goalscorer, adding: “Ji is in fantastic form. Unfortunately we are going to lose him for seven matches after 26 December [as he competes for his country, South Korea, at the Asia Cup].”
United’s manager was distinctly unimpressed about the way Rooney had taken his spot-kick. “It was an unusual penalty from Wayne because he normally keeps the ball down and I have never known him put one over the bar,” he said. “But after that our back four were fantastic, absolutely magnificent.”
Wenger also acknowledged the performance of United’s defenders. “I don’t think we failed to deliver,” he said. “We lost a game, which can happen here. You have to give credit to Manchester United’s defensive qualities. United played a very simple game but they were very efficient at it and our passing was not sharp enough to get them out of position.”
Arsenal meet Chelsea again later this month. Wenger said: “What is important is that we bounce back in our next game. What I have seen tonight is no reason not to believe. We know we can create better offensively.”