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Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 18:44 UK

Wenger sticks to his guns

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
Wenger had to watch his side throw away a winning position at Anfield

By Chris Whyatt

The line between success and failure can sometimes be excruciatingly thin.

With the clock ticking down at Anfield on Tuesday, Theo Walcott embarked on a magnificent run and Emmanuel Adebayor slotted home to put Arsenal within sight of a Champions League semi-final.

Thirty seconds later, Kolo Toure's clumsy challenge on Ryan Babel resulted in a Liverpool penalty and Arsenal's dreams were shattered.

A season which started in such exhilarating fashion is now in danger of ending without a trophy, with Arsenal six points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United and running out of games to overhaul their rivals.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has spent his career building teams that combine the accumulation of silverware with a desire to entertain and attack.

But even though Arsenal's last trophy came in the 2005 FA Cup, Nigel Winterburn, who played more than 500 games for the Gunners, told BBC Sport that Wenger will never change his philosophy on the way football should be played.


It was an unbelievable game, and it could easily have gone Arsenal's way.

Arsene Wenger was right when he said they lacked defensive maturity.

11 wins in first 12 games of the season
Two wins in their past 12 games
Conceded four goals in first 12 games of season
Conceded 18 goals in past 12 games
In my eyes, it was a mistake which led to Sami Hyypia's goal. It was a fantastic header but Phillippe Senderos lost his man.

Liverpool then took the lead but Arsenal did show great character to get back into it. It didn't look like they would at that stage.

But to concede a penalty 30 seconds later is suicide.

It doesn't matter how good you are, you can't keep recovering from those lapses in concentration.

Someone should have been organising that team. You make a team go backwards after you score - the last thing you do is let Liverpool into the heart of your defence straight after you score.

It doesn't matter how young or old you are, or if you're quiet off the pitch. On it, it's your job to help the team individually and collectively.

It looked to me like they were already celebrating that they were through, but they still had five minutes, plus injury time, to play. That was crucial.

Basically, a lack of communication and concentration cost them dearly.


A few things have happened and it would be wrong to pinpoint one incident - such as Eduardo's injury against Birmingham or William Gallas's sit-down strop after that same match.

Firstly, they've picked up key injuries - and they've got a fairly small squad compared to Manchester United and Chelsea in terms of both numbers and international players.


Given the loss of Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo, it's probably a lot to ask all the other players to keep going and cover for them successfully.

Secondly, two or three of those who have been playing have come slightly off their best form. Maybe only five or 10% but that makes a difference and they are paying the price for that now.

Overall, they haven't been defensively as strong in the last few weeks. They've conceded goals at the wrong times in games and not quality goals either. Teams haven't had to work that hard against them to score. You go back to first leg against Liverpool: to take the lead and then surrender it two minutes later is very naÔve.

But it's both individually and collectively as a team that Arsenal are falling down. It's not just the goalkeeper and back four to blame - maybe the midfield hasn't protected them enough.

They have scored goals at crucial stages and surrendered the lead within minutes. That's hard to come back from.


He's got a great belief in his players - and they don't become bad players overnight.

The end of the season is the time when you really analyse where it's gone wrong.

Looking at the bigger picture, they've come a long way and surprised a lot of people, but maybe they will feel it's a missed opportunity to really create something special.

They probably needed more players in terms of numbers; one or two more experienced players may have helped.

Manuel Almunia and Steven Gerrard
Arsenal's season has crashed because of defensive instability

It's all about winning trophies but it's a fine line: they were five minutes from going through on away goals.

It hurts when you are a player and a manager - it seems to happen to you all at once.

Major incidents seem to have gone against them in the past couple of months, as the manager said.

But I know Arsene Wenger's philosophy is to play very attractive, attacking football and I don't think he'll ever change his style of play.

Not in a million years will he change his philosophy.

The problem is that they haven't won anything and when you've been successful [in the past] it makes it even harder.

But if you look at the record since Wenger's been at Arsenal, the return hasn't been that bad has it?

see also
Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal (agg 5-3)
08 Apr 08 |  Europe
Reds away goal delights Benitez
02 Apr 08 |  Europe
Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
02 Apr 08 |  Europe

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