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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Alarm bells sound for Wenger
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Wenger lost his cool at Bolton

Arsene Wenger heard the ominous ring of alarm bells on Saturday and was told Arsenal's time had run out - and that was only by Bolton's fire marshal.

But it was a message that was echoed by the masses as the stress and strain of keeping Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United at bay appeared to finally tell on the most impassive and studious of managers.

In a scene heavily laced with irony, Wenger was contemplating Arsenal's collapse at Bolton in the Reebok Stadium dressing room when the fire alarm sounded.

It took a second clamour and a visit from the fire officer before Wenger cleared the area - no damage to the stadium but serious fall-out for Arsenal's title challenge after they lost a two-goal lead.

But in title terms, Wenger's extraordinarily animated body language suggested he had heard alarm bells of his own long before the frenetic finale at The Reebok Stadium.

Wenger has remained loftily above Ferguson's less than subtle attempts to plant seeds of uncertainty in Arsenal's minds.

Or at least he had until Bolton's assembled band of foreign stars drove a coach and horses through their championship challenge.

An ecstatic Sir Alex Ferguson
By contrast, Ferguson was ecstatic after victory at Spurs

Wenger ripped his tie off like a stressed-out stockbroker early in the second half at Bolton - and almost looked ready to pour himself a stiff drink to calm his nerves.

Then came a collection of arm-waving exhortations and pained expressions rarely seen from a man who normally looks on in calm satisfaction at his players.

It was Wenger as we had never witnessed him before.

Stressed, drained, angry and perhaps fearful that a fatal over-confidence had wrecked his ambition of retaining the Premiership title.

The body language spoke volumes - and spoke of someone who had the title in his grasp but now saw it slipping from his fingers.

It seemed barely credible that a man of such control could appear rattled to such an extent that looked he was dancing on hot coals at Bolton, tie-less and tense.

Unnerved

Contrast this with the sight of Ferguson gambolling awkwardly around the White Hart Lane touchline like a young lamb as Manchester United opened up a five-point Premiership advantage with a 2-0 win at Spurs.

Ferguson has played every hackneyed old psychological trick in the book on Wenger this season, but it is the Manchester United team that has unnerved Arsenal.

The unbeaten run they have put together in the league this year has done more than any words from Ferguson to eat away at the Gunners' seemingly unshakeable self-confidence.

Arsenal's performance in the last 20 minutes at Bolton was that of a team in trouble.

And when the manager looks the most rattled of all, then we know the alarm bells are really ringing for Arsenal.





ARSENAL

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