LONDON: Arsene Wenger recovered his equilibrium this weekend thanks to a 2:1 win over Paul Lambert’s struggling which provided a positive end to a week which brought elimination from the FA Cup and virtual elimination from the Champions League.
Santi Cazorla’s late winner kept the Gunners in fifth place and pushed Villa down into the relegation zone again.
Arsenal’s under-fire manager had no doubt about the importance of the win, saying: “This result was vital. We absolutely had to win this game. We couldn’t afford to drop points for two reasons: we’re in a catch-up situation in the Premier League, and we’ve come out of two massive disappointments.
“But we were focused, united. OK, we were also a little nervous and the second goal didn’t come until the end. But we were also strong because, when Villa came back to 1:1, we found the resources to win the game. I’m proud of the attitude of the team.”
Wenger has come under heavy personal criticism and the fragile loyalty of Arsenal’s following remains on a knife-edge. They go up the road to Tottenham in the north London derby next weekend in a game which is probably more important now than the return against Bayern in Munich.
Tottenham visit West Ham tonight [Monday]. If they win that game and then beat Arsenal they will be seven points clear and this Spurs side, under Andre Villas-Boas, is more resilient than the team who conceded an eight-point advantage to Arsenal last season.
Wenger refuses to countenance missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in his reign. He said: “Financially we can live with it [not qualifying] but on the sporting front, no. And the sporting front is the priority.”
He has insisted that Arsenal will be able to spend heavily in the summer. But if they have not qualified for the Champions League they will struggle to attract the best players on the market.
One sector in which Arsenal need to spend is in goal. Wojciech Szczesny seems to have hit a plateau rather than continue to improve.
After Cazorla had put Arsenal ahead in the sixth minute the Poland keeper allowed an equalising shot from Andreas Weimann to squeeze through his arms. With 11 goals, Cazorla is now Arsenal’s joint top scorer with Theo Walcott.
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