Arsenal don’t have Chelsea block, says Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger dismissed suggestions that his side have a mental block regarding London rivals Chelsea following a 1-0 home defeat that carried an air of deja vu.

Arsenal were bidding to return to the top of the Premier League table in Sunday’s game, but they were left in third place after Per Mertesacker was sent off and Diego Costa scored to give Chelsea a clinical 1-0 victory.

Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea in nine league games and have not scored against them in the league in nine hours and 32 minutes, but Wenger said that Mertesacker’s 18th-minute dismissal, for a last-man foul on Costa, meant it impossible to compare the game with previous fixtures.

“I think today (Sunday) was a special game. We played with 10 men, we were 1-0 down straight away. Normally you lose a game like that 3-0 or 4-0,” he told reporters at the Emirates Stadium.

“When you have to chase the game, (there’s) nothing more dangerous than being down to 10 men. Overall we come out with a lot of regret because we feel we couldn’t play with our team.

“And looking at Chelsea today, I think there was a lot of room to beat them if we had played with 11 players.”

Mertesacker was shown a straight red card for felling Costa after he had latched onto a through-ball from Willian.

The Chelsea striker immediately made his side’s numerical advantage count by converting Branislav Ivanovic’s cross with a near-post volley in the 23rd minute.

Costa had goaded Gabriel into kicking out at him in September’s reverse fixture, earning the Arsenal centre-back a red card, and Wenger told a TV interviewer: “He has got two (Arsenal) players sent off this season.”

Addressing the print media shortly after, the Arsenal manager backtracked, saying that he had only been stating “facts”, but maintained that referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision had been “harsh”.

Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink said that Mertesacker’s lunge had merited “a red card without any discussion”.

– ‘Follow the captain’ –

Wenger reacted to Mertesacker’s dismissal by sending Gabriel on for striker Olivier Giroud, which drew a chorus of boos from the home supporters.

But he was unrepentant, saying: “Do you want to make a poll for every decision to see who does what? I make the decision and for me it was a normal decision.”

While Arsenal were left three points below leaders Leicester City, Chelsea put seven points between themselves and the bottom three to ease any worst-case-scenario relegation fears that their fans may be harbouring.

The champions, unbeaten in seven league games since Jose Mourinho’s dismissal, remain 14 points below the top four, but captain John Terry said that Champions League qualification was still “doable”.

“If the captain says yes, then we’ll follow the captain! You always follow the captain,” Hiddink said in response.

“It’s a gap. If you see the results in the Premier League, you see how competitive all the teams are, whether you’re down at the bottom or high in the ranking.

“All teams can beat all teams. With this gap, it’s difficult to go into fourth position, but when the captain is saying that, I will follow my captain.”

Hiddink also revealed that Costa, withdrawn in the 68th minute, would undergo tests on a knee injury.

“I don’t know if it’s slight or more severe, but we’ll check on it,” said the Dutchman. “It was a little bit on the knee.”

Arsenal host second-tier Burnley in the FA Cup at the weekend before resuming their title challenge at home to Southampton on February 2 and Wenger said that time was on his team’s side.

“There is a long way to go,” said the Frenchman, who welcomed Alexis Sanchez back after two months out with a hamstring injury.

“What we take from today is that we are disappointed, but have a lot of positives from our attitude and spirit.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal’s Wenger likes Giroud when he’s angry

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger drew comfort from Olivier Giroud’s post-match frustration after the French striker squandered a succession of chances during his side’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

With Arsenal trailing to Harry Kane’s first-half opener at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, Giroud spurned two gilt-edged headed chances before substitute Kieran Gibbs netted a 77th-minute equaliser.

Giroud also went close to scoring a winner, flashing a half-volley over the bar and testing Hugo Lloris with a header, and Wenger said the France international was left feeling “very angry” about his performance.

But it was a state of mind that encouraged his manager, who said: “I’m pleased. When you see a player who is happy to miss chances, you can worry. He’s a real goal-scorer and he did fight.

“In the last two games, at Bayern (where Arsenal lost 5-1) and tonight (Sunday) again, Giroud worked extremely hard. He wanted too much to score, I think.

“Especially the opportunity he had from six yards (a header that went narrowly wide). But that can happen. I accept that.”

While Arsenal finished the game on top, they would have been out of contention had goalkeeper Petr Cech not produced sharp saves to thwart Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld.

Chelsea captain John Terry predicted that Cech would be worth “12 to 15 points” this season and Wenger acknowledged that he had made a vital contribution against Spurs.

Asked how many points the Czech international had already earned his side, Wenger replied: “I don’t know. I have not done the mathematics yet.

“He’s shown again how important he is and that goalkeeper is maybe the most underrated position in football because there’s always a moment in the game when he can keep you in it. If you lose 2-0, it’s bye-bye.”

Kane struck in the 32nd minute, racing onto Danny Rose’s arcing pass and planting a shot past Cech to register his sixth goal in four games.

– ‘Top player’ –

The 22-year-old went eight matches without scoring at the start of the season and his manager Mauricio Pochettino believes he is now a better player for it.

“We’ve always had confidence in him,” said the Argentine. “Nothing changes for my vision of him when he scores or he doesn’t score. We’re very pleased with him. He’s a top player.

“It was hard for him because it was a period when it was difficult to score. I think he learnt a lot and we’re very happy for that because when you’re young, you need to learn (about) the good and the bad things in football. I think it was a good period for him to learn.”

Pochettino said he was “very proud” of a performance that left Spurs fifth in the table, three points below the top four, and extended their unbeaten league run to 11 matches.

Asked what his team were capable of achieving this season, he said: “In the way the team play today and the way we are, it’s impossible to set a limit.”

While Arsenal missed a chance to move clear of Manchester City at the top of the table, Wenger said that City’s 0-0 draw at Aston Villa put his side’s recent run of five wins and one draw in context.

“We’ve shown the character again today,” said the Frenchman, whose team trail City on goal difference.

“We were a bit on the ropes and we responded. Every time we have a disappointment, the game after I think we respond well.

“When you look at the results again today, you see Villa-City 0-0, Liverpool lost (to Crystal Palace), we played 1-1.

“It just shows you that the championship will be extremely difficult for everybody and that the mental qualities can have a big influence in the future.”

With nine players currently sidelined, Wenger is crossing his fingers that none of his squad return from international duty injured, but he said Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were close to making returns.

Photo Credits : AFP

Wenger warns Arsenal flops to shape up

Arsene Wenger has warned his shell-shocked Arsenal stars they must improve quickly to avoid being cast adrift in the Premier League title race.

Feted as serious title contenders after last season’s FA Cup final rout of Aston Villa and their recent Community Shield victory over league champions Chelsea, Wenger’s side came crashing down to earth on Sunday as West Ham clinched a shock 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium.

A calamitous misjudgement from Petr Cech allowed Cheikhou Kouyate to net West Ham’s opener and the Arsenal goalkeeper’s slow reaction was also partially to blame when Mauro Zarate bagged the second goal after pouncing on a careless pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It was a familiar story for Arsenal, whose age-old inadequacies were on display as they failed to turn territorial dominance into goals, then found themselves outmuscled by more physical opponents who punished their defensive flaws.

Wenger admitted the result was a significant blow to Arsenal’s pre-season optimism, but he called on them to bounce back at Crystal Palace next Sunday and avoid a repeat of last season’s slow start.

“It is difficult (to recover) but it is part of our job,” Wenger said.

“In any successful team it is how you respond to setbacks that matters.

“It is never a clear motorway. We have to respond quickly because we have a difficult start. Crystal Palace are a good team.”

Cech’s dismal debut was especially galling after he was hailed as the solution to Arsenal’s long-standing goalkeeping problems.

Instead, Wenger must have felt a depressing sense of deja vu as he trod a delicate line between backing his keeper and making clear his unhappiness at such a costly mistake.

“When you concede the goal before half-time, with the experience in our team, it was difficult to understand,” he said.

“It is not only him (Cech), we have enough experience at the back. We are guilty to give them a goal as soft as that, but it was a collective lapse.

“There are many things to say about that. I knew we were in trouble even before the free-kick was taken.

“I can’t see many convincing individual performances. It’s difficult to see beyond that.”

– Lacklustre efforts –

Cech has been Wenger’s only major signing since the end of last season and, earlier in the week, he was keen to distance himself from links with Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema.

Asked if he had changed his mind after the lacklustre efforts of France forward Olivier Giroud against West Ham, Wenger said: “If an exceptional solution turns up we do it, but it’s important not to think we must take a solution from outside.”

While Arsenal struggle to come to terms with a catastrophic start, new West Ham manager Slaven Bilic revelled in a result he hopes will convince his players to trust his methods.

Criticised for fielding a weakened team when West Ham bowed out of the Europa League in midweek, Bilic’s decision to keep his senior stars fresh was rewarded with his club’s first win over their London rivals for eight years.

“It’s really a great start,” he said. “The players will always say they believe in you and your tactics, but the best thing is when you have a great result like this. Then they know it works.”

One of the keys to West Ham’s victory was the remarkably mature Premier League debut of 16-year-old Reece Oxford, who shone in a midfield holding role just weeks after the Londoner became the club’s youngster ever player.

“He did a great job. He has a presence, he is a very cool guy, he was not fazed or impressed by playing at the Emirates,” Bilic said.

“He is still 16, just a boy, but he is definitely going to be a big player.

“We have to manage him off the pitch as well to make sure he can progress.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Wenger pride at historic FA Cup triumph

Arsene Wenger revealed his pride at making history as Arsenal stormed to FA Cup final glory with a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on Saturday.

Goals from Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud ensured Arsenal retained the trophy with the biggest margin of victory in an FA Cup final since 1994.

As an added bonus, Wenger become the first manager in the post-War period to win the competition six times, a tally matched by only George Ramsey, who won the last of his with Villa in 1920.

There was another significant slice of history for Arsenal as they lifted the famous old trophy for the 12th time, moving them ahead of Manchester United as the most successful club in the competition.

“I’m very proud,” Wenger told reporters. “If it has not been done before that means it is hard to do. Everyone wants to achieve things that are difficult.

“Personally I have managed in seven (FA Cup) finals now and won six, so I’m proud of that.

“It is great for the club as well because we won it 12 times.”

After spluttering to a tense extra-time victory in last year’s final against Hull, Wenger was delighted with the way his side tore into Villa right from the kick-off.

“It was a convincing one. We were at it from the first minute until the last,” Wenger said.

“I never felt the focus or quality dropped. We scored just before and after half-time and of course that was too much for Villa with the quality we had today.”

After the high of leading Villa to Premier League survival and their first FA Cup final appearance since 2000, it was a painful low note to end the season on for boss Tim Sherwood.

“They deserved to win, no arguments about that. They have outstanding, world-class footballers and today we couldn’t nullify them or impose ourselves either,” Sherwood said.

“I can’t make any excuses. To be honest you have to take your medicine at 3-0 and then to concede one at the death was a kick in the privates.

“I feel sick and so do the boys. It’s a learning curve for us. We need to build a new team. They need to learn how to be winners.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Walcott urges Arsenal to seal top-three finish

Theo Walcott has urged Arsenal to seal their place in next season’s Champions League group stage by keeping Sunderland mired in the relegation dog-fight on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger’s side will be certain of securing a top-three finish in the Premier League if they defeat the Black Cats at the Emirates Stadium.

Even a draw is likely to be enough to guarantee they finish above fourth placed Manchester United, who remain two points behind the Gunners with a significantly inferior goal difference and only one game remaining.

The reward for finishing in the top three is automatic entry into the group stages of the Champions League, which avoids the inconvenience of having to take part in a two-legged play-off tie to qualify for the competition early next season.

Wenger admits he has found that experience a major headache in the past, but Arsenal winger Walcott, who set up his side’s equaliser in their 1-1 draw against United at Old Trafford on Sunday, is confident his manager won’t have any need to reach for the pain-killers.

“We’ve got a game in hand over United now and it was a crucial point (on Sunday), knowing that. We just need one more point because of goal difference,” Walcott said.

Walcott made a surprisingly honest admission when he revealed that some of Arsenal players lacked the belief they were capable of keeping pace with champions Chelsea this season.

But the England international, who is competing to return to the starting line-up in time for the FA Cup final against Aston Villa after an injury-ravaged campaign, believes Wenger has assembled a squad strong enough to make a serious push for the title next term.

“Third place is a step forward from where we finished last year. But we need to be pushing on now and trying to challenge for the title,” Walcott said.

“There was an opportunity in the season when we were getting close to Chelsea and people were talking about us competing but I sensed throughout the dressing room that we were never quite up there with Chelsea.

“But looking at the squad, the manager has an absolute headache to try and pick his best team and we want that going into next season.

“We are looking very strong and you never know, he might add a few extra players but we need to be pushing for the Premier League now. There is no excuse.”

– Obdurate opponents –

Sitting three points above third bottom Hull, Sunderland need one more point to be certain of staying up, but a defeat on Wednesday would leave them still in danger of the drop given their inferior goal difference to the Tigers.

Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat has collected 11 points from his seven games since replacing sacked predecessor Gus Poyet on a short-term contract in March.

And although a goalless draw against Leicester on Saturday revealed a few signs of nerves in Advocaat’s squad as the denouement to the relegation battle approaches, the Dutchman is convinced they will survive.

“We will stay in (the Premier League), I have no doubt about that,” Advocaat said.

Black Cats striker Connor Wickham is determined not to prolong the agony until the weekend and has set his sights on taking the decisive step to safety against Arsenal.

“They are two tough games away from homes, but they are opportunities for us. We need one point, we all know that,” he said.

“We know what we have got to do now and it’s something we are capable of. There are two opportunities to clinch it and hopefully we can do that on Wednesday.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Girlfriend forced to sit ‘Arsenal exam’ or be dumped

Remember the story about a Beyonce fan who made her boyfriend sit a ‘Beyonce exam’? Well, a football fan has done something similar.

The Arsenal fan made his girlfriend sit an ‘Arsenal Exam’ to test their compatibility.

According to espnfc.com, the exam featured a ridiculously professional-looking cover sheet, explaining that 50 marks were available and that all answers should be filled in using black ink, etc.

Arsenal Exam
espnfc.com/twitter

The girl performed admirably, ending with a thoroughly respectable score of 87 percent.

What’s more, it later became clear after the results had been returned that an insufficient total pass percentage would have resulted in the relationship being terminated!

“Well done Saskia. As a result I will not be dumping you! (lucky you),” her assessment page read.

However, the examiner did include a bit of constructive criticism, instructing her to focus more intently on learning all player positions, fully appreciating Alexis Sanchez’s brilliance and, of course, the fundamental fact that “Tottenham are scum.

– ESPN

Giroud double keeps Arsenal on course for top four finish

Olivier Giroud tormented Newcastle yet again as he scored twice for Arsenal in a 2-1 away win that cemented their place in the Premier League’s top four on Saturday.

France striker Giroud has now scored eight times in his last six games against Newcastle, who have not achieved a home win against Arsenal in the past decade and have now lost their last seven meetings with Arsene Wenger’s side.

The Gunners remain third, one point behind second placed Manchester City and six ahead of fifth placed Liverpool as the battle to qualify for the Champions League approaches its finale.

Yet, what appeared likely to be an embarrassing day for Newcastle when they went two goals behind inside the opening 28 minutes, ended with an ovation from their fans after a splendid second-half revival which warranted more than a solitary goal from Moussa Sissoko.

It had looked bleak for United after they went behind in the 24th minute when they needlessly conceded a free-kick which was headed on by Danny Welbeck before Giroud’s knee diverted it past goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Then Welbeck was off-target with a volley before Giroud added his second goal from a corner taken by Santi Cazorla and headed inside an unguarded post by the forward who so relishes facing United.

Newcastle had already been warned because Arsenal had gone close to the opening goal when Krul saved from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey’s first touch betrayed him after he was set up by Giroud.

Such early domination by Arsenal did not come as a surprise to Newcastle’s supporters, who had been warned beforehand of the difficulties facing their manager John Carver.

Injuries and suspensions left him with only 13 senior outfield players and his team inevitably possessed a makeshift look, with midfielder Jack Colback forced to play at left-back and right-back Daryl Janmaat starting at centre-half for the first time in his career.

Arsenal made three changes from the team that won at Monaco in midweek.

– Total control –

They still went out of the Champions League on away goals despite that victory and, worryingly for Newcastle, had performed well in the past two seasons following their departure from that competition.

They were to continue that trend with ease as Giroud’s goals gave them total control and, in truth, it seemed to be only a question of how many Arsenal would score after the second one went in.

However, they failed to add further goals before the interval, leaving Newcastle in a better position than four years ago again when they trailed 4-0 in the same fixture.

On that occasion, they fought back to draw 4-4 and Newcastle hinted at a similar revival in the opening stages of the second-half.

They pulled back a goal inside three minutes when Ryan Taylor and Remy Cabella combined down the right flank before the Frenchman’s cross was steered in by Sissoko, the midfielder who is regularly linked with Arsenal.

And they went in search of an equaliser with an appetite that had been largely absent in the opening half when no Newcastle fan could have predicted such a fightback.

Yoan Gouffran directed a 61st minute chance straight at keeper David Ospina and Sissoko was only denied a second goal by a point-blank save by the keeper from his glancing header.

Janmaat was also close with an ambitious effort from more than 30 yards and Cabella almost opened the Arsenal defence with a surging run that suggested the France midfielder is coming to terms with the demands of the Premier League.

Arsenal’s response was muted, although Krul did well to block a 79th minute shot from Welbeck after the England striker outpaced Mike Williamson on his way inside the United area.

And Newcastle were only denied a deserved equaliser when the outstretched leg of Ospina diverted a shot from Ayoze Perez in the 87th minute. It proved to be Newcastle’s final chance.

Photo Credits : AFP

Wenger coy over Arsenal’s title chances

Arsene Wenger admits it will take a major slip from Chelsea to allow Arsenal back into the Premier League title race.

Wenger’s side will attempt to put their agonising midweek Champions League exit at the hands of Monaco behind them when they travel to face Newcastle on Saturday.

Victory at St James’ Park would extend their run of five successive league wins, a sequence that has taken them to within one point of second-placed Manchester City and seven points behind leaders Chelsea, who have a game in hand.

Wenger believes his side are gathering momentum at an important time of the domestic campaign, although he accepts the disappointment of going out of Europe on the away-goals rule despite winning 2-0 in Monaco in the second leg has dented morale.

“At the moment we are too far away from Chelsea, but we have an opportunity every week to get closer and for that we need positive results from us, and negative results from Chelsea,” Wenger said.

“The only thing we can master is positive results from us. I believe Chelsea still has a very good cushion and very good security.

“They still have a game in hand. I believe they are too far apart at the moment.

“Every year is different. We just have to focus on our performances. I do not count on the weaknesses of any of our opponents. We just have to focus on our strengths.”

A more immediate target is to overhaul City in second spot, although Wenger believes the battle between the contenders for a top four place is too close to call.

“It is very tight, we are on the neck of Manchester City but straight behind us we have Manchester United, Liverpool and it is a very tight race,” he said.

“Even Tottenham are not completely out of it, and Southampton are not completely out of it.”

– Frustrated and disappointed –

However, Wenger admits his side must lift themselves after once again failing to reach the last eight of the Champions League again.

“We are on a good run. We won the game. We are frustrated and disappointed to go out, but it’s not down to our performance on Tuesday night, it’s down to our home performance, especially on the defensive front – we paid for it,” he added.

“We were a bit unlucky as well because if you look at the number of shots on target Monaco had in the two games, they have been very efficient in qualifying.”

Tomas Rosicky could return to the Arsenal squad but Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are still out.

Newcastle are short of defensive options as they look to record a first home victory over the Gunners since 2005.

Skipper Fabricio Coloccini starts a three-match suspension for his sending off in last week’s 3-0 defeat at Everton that leaves John Carver’s side 11th in the table, 10 points above the relegation zone.

Massadio Haidara is again set to miss out with a knee problem, with fellow defenders Steven Taylor, Paul Dummett and Curtis Good not due back from injury until the start of pre-season training.

Interim head coach Carver’s record of two wins from 11 games since taking charge following the departure of Alan Pardew in January has failed to enhance his hopes of earning the job full-time in the close-season.

“We’re short on numbers, and it won’t be a difficult team selection because we’ve got 13 fit senior outfield players,” he said.

“It’s down to me to work with the ones we’ve got available. We’re down to the bare bones.”

Coloccini joins Newcastle’s 11-goal top scorer Papiss Cisse in being ruled out by suspension, and Carver added: “Just when you think you’re getting somewhere with players coming back, then you go and lose your captain for three games.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Monaco qualify as Wenger regrets Champions League 1st leg damage

Monaco qualified for the Champions League quarter-finals, for the first time since 2004, and went through on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate result against Arsenal in a thriller at the Louis II stadium.

Arsene Wenger, who was returning to the club he coached between 1987 and 2004, was left a frustrated figure after goals from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey were enough for a 2-0 win on Tuesday night but not enough to send the North Londoners through.

“We knew it would be very difficult to score that many goals,” a philosophic Wenger told BeIn Sport after the tie.

“We weren’t realistic enough in our approach and we should have been up by more at half-time.

“At the end of the day, we paid for our performance in the first leg. Monaco were playing at home but didn’t have a shot on goal. We were very close but they surprised us in the first match because subconsciously we were too sure of ourselves,” added the Frenchman.

“It’s not a question of if we deserved to go through but of being realistic and we made too many errors in the first leg.

“We have to congratulate Monaco for their place in the last eight as they defended really well. They qualified so ‘Bravo’! We are on the right track and played the match we had too.

“The last three months we haven’t lacked in anything except our performance in the first leg.

“We have a superb spirit and great qualities,” added the Frenchman, who helped Monaco win the 1988 French title, the 1991 French Cup and also guided the team to the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup final where they lost against German side Werder Bremen.

Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev hailed a great night in the club’s history.

“It’s a great night for AS Monaco and it’s been 11 years since the 2003-04 season when the team reached this level. Arsenal played a great match but we stayed solid defensively although the final minutes were very difficult.

“It’s great happiness but we play every match to win. In the changing room, the players were very proud to qualify but it’s true we didn’t celebrate like we did after winning the first match.” he added.

Arsenal were attempting to become the first team in Champions League history to overcome a 3-1 first-leg defeat at home but came up agonisingly short.

Constant pressure for 90 minutes, could have, provided more than two goals on another day, but the excellent Danijel Subasic turned in his second straight world class showing to play a decisive role.

Ramsey, who came on as a substitute and played a key role in putting Arsenal into position to qualify, explained there was reason for deep regret after the defeat.

“We’ve always gone out to Bayern Munich and Barcelona at this stage but no disrespect to Monaco, we thought we’d have a good opportunity to qualify but we gave ourselves a tough test from the first leg.

“It’s nearly again, but it’s not enough.” said the Welshman.

Monaco become the second French team to go into Friday’s draw, following Paris Saint-Germain’s equally dramatic victory over Chelsea last week and will be joined by Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Porto and Atletico Madrid ahead of Wednesday’s matches.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal fall just short as Monaco qualify

Monaco desperately held on to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals after a desperate fightback from Arsenal on Tuesday fell just short at the expense of away goals after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.

Arsene Wenger, who was returning to the club he led to the French title in 1991, looked on as his valiant side almost completed the greatest comeback in Champions League history.

A 2-0 Arsenal victory at a packed Louis II stadium was one goal short after a first-half strike from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey’s goal with 11 minutes left set up a barnstorming finish.

The Londoners ran themselves into the ground as they pressed for the qualifying goal but an inspired performance from Monaco’s Croatian ‘keeper Danijel Subasic proved decisive.

“We suffered but we played some good football too,” Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia told BeIn Sports after an absorbing encounter.

“Arsenal started the match and we were under pressure but the most important thing is that we’re in the quarter-finals.

“We weren’t favourites tonight (Tuesday) but we gave everything we had and we managed to do it.”

Ramsey set up the thrilling finale when he scrambled the ball home after fellow substitute Theo Walcott had his shot come back off the post on 79 minutes.

Giroud then had a point-blank header pawed off the line by the acrobatic Subasic as Arsenal threw everything forward in search of the goal that would send them through to the last eight.

Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker was gracious in defeat and said the first leg played a key role;

“The best team went through and Monaco deserved it because they played much better in the first leg,” said the German defender.

“We played well today (Tuesday) but it was a massive deficit, and it wasn’t enough tonight. We came here and tried absolutely everything, and when you look at the game we could have scored more than two.

“Monaco deserve it and that’s absolutely fine. They caused a lot of problems away from home but we have to admit that we regret the first game.

“But if we continue to play like that we’ll do well in the FA Cup and the league. But play as badly as we did in the first game and you’re out of the Champions League. Monaco deserved it.”

Monaco came into the tie with a 9-0 qualifying record in European competition after winning the first leg while Arsenal were trying to break a five year jinx of failing to reach the quarter-finals.

History was not in favour of the Gunners with no previous teams in the Champions League era managing to score more than once away from home in the second leg after losing the first leg and going on to qualify.

After a cagey start by both teams, Arsenal gradually took control of the first-half with Giroud going close with a 14th minute header before Laurent Koscielny glanced his close range effort off the crossbar.

With over 60 per cent possession during the opening 45 minutes, Arsenal finally got the goal their pressure deserved when the dynamic Giroud blasted home his own rebound after Subasic had blocked his initial shot.

There was a moment of controversy when Alexis Sanchez went down under pressure from Fabinho but instead of a penalty to the visitors, the Norwegian referee booked the Chilean for diving.

The Gunners sensed blood and poured forward for the rest of the half with only a goal-clearance from Aymen Abdennour from Welbeck’s shot and a desperate Subasic save from Giroud keeping it 1-0 at the break.

The second half provided more of the same although Wenger’s side started to fatigue and left gaps open at the back at the expense of pushing numbers forward in search of goals.

Ramsey’s goal gave them renewed energy and Giroud almost made it an historic night but the French side, who last reached the quarter-finals in 2004, when they went on to lose the final against Porto, held on in front their nervous fans for a thrilling victory.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal ready for Monaco test says Wenger

Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal players believe they can overturn a 3-1 deficit against Monaco in the Champions League on Tuesday, but the Gunners manager is less confident about their chances of winning the Premier League.

Goals from Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini secured a 3-0 win over West Ham that left Arsenal in buoyant mood ahead of their tricky last 16 second leg trip to Monaco in midweek.

It also moved them just six points behind Chelsea in the league, albeit with the leaders having two games in hand.

So, Wenger was asked, are Arsenal back in the title race?

“Not at the moment,” he responded. “We just keep going. We have won eight of the last nine.”

While it might be too late for Arsenal to mount a title charge, Wenger claimed it was only the effects of the World Cup that prevented his side being in a position to put more pressure on Chelsea.

And he said they are now a different, more fluent, team because the players know each other much better.

“Today we are a different team. We suffered a lot post-World Cup,” he said.

“What is for sure is the players understand each other much better than six or seven months ago and that makes everyone much more dangerous.”

That could be seen throughout Saturday’s game at the Emirates Stadium, especially for the key first goal from Giroud on 45 minutes.

– Laid siege –

Arsenal had by that point laid siege to the West Ham goal, although with no reward, because goalkeeper Adrian was putting in a supreme performance.

Adrian’s display was all the more impressive because West Ham assistant manager Neil McDonald revealed that the Spaniard had dislocated a finger in the warm-up, but insisted on playing on.

West Ham had already had to reshuffle their team with so many injuries, resulting in Cheikhou Kouyate playing in defence.

“He’s had it strapped up,” McDonald said of the keeper’s injury. “He’s stood up and been counted, which is great.”

Even Adrian’s heroics weren’t enough however.

Mesut Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud interchanged exquisitely, before the French striker rifled the ball in off the far post to make it 1-0.

Giroud had received criticism for his misses against Monaco, but has now responded with two goals in his last two league games and Wenger praised his resilience.

“Always, it’s one of his great strengths. This is a boy who played at 22-23 in division two in France. You need mental strength for that. There’s no red carpet there,” he said.

West Ham put Arsenal under pressure in the second half, which was oddly disrupted by a calf injury to referee Chris Foy, who had to go off for fourth official Anthony Taylor.

But Arsenal eventually picked off the visitors.

Giroud combined with Ramsey for the Welsh midfielder to fire past Adrian in the 81st minute, before Flamini made it 3-0 with an easy finish three minutes later.

The final score was somewhat unfair on West Ham and McDonald said boss Sam Allardyce didn’t attend the post-game press conference because he wanted to pick the players up, who “were feeling really sorry for themselves”.

There was none of that with Arsenal, whose week had started with an FA Cup quarter-final win at Manchester United, and Wenger was gushing about their belief that they can do something special in Europe on Tuesday.

“We now go to Monaco, come out of big week, played at Manchester United, played today a derby. We have a little belief,” he said.

“If you have no belief, you have no chance. We have to have belief and give everything.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal enjoy ideal warm up for Euro showdown

Arsenal enjoyed the perfect preparation for their Champions League showdown with Monaco as they maintained their hold on a top four place in the Premier League with 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday.

Goals from Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and substitute Mathieu Flamini ensured Arsene Wenger’s side will travel to the principality with their confidence high as they attempt the tricky task of overturning a 3-1 deficit from the first leg of their last 16 tie.

The third placed Gunners were on top from the start of a one-sided London derby, although it took a while for the goals to arrive.

Theo Walcott couldn’t even get a shot out when he should have put the home side ahead after just five minutes.

Giroud flicked the winger through with a divine back heel that took out the whole West Ham back line but, with Walcott one-on-one with Adrian, the England international hesitated.

When he tried to get a shot off, West Ham defender James Collins was across to send him to the turf, only for referee Chris Foy to wave away Arsenal’s penalty appeals.

West Ham successfully kept Arsenal at bay for a period, and might even have taken the lead when Kevin Nolan volleyed at goal from the edge of the box, but David Ospina managed to keep it out.

The first half siege really started when Ramsey attempted to score with his knee, showing fine improvisation for a high cross, but West Ham goalkeeper Adrian’s response was equally impressive as he touched over.

The Spaniard then saved from another Walcott one-on-one, a Alexis Sanchez volley, and a Mesut Ozil drive.

– Fine interchange –

It was a sign of Arsenal’s frustration that, at one point towards the end of the first half, Sanchez seemed to try to punch the ball past Adrian.

Despite trying to use the goalkeeper for cover, though, the Chilean’s attempt was seen by Foy and a booking was issued.

Yet, as anxious as Arsenal were getting, it did seem only a matter of time until an opening arrived.

It duly did, on the stroke of half-time.

Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud played a fine interchange, before the French striker checked inside and unleashed a high shot in off the post.

It capped what had been an excellent first half for Giroud.

West Ham came out stronger in the second half and might have equalised when Matt Jarvis was presented with a clear shot on goal about 15 yards out, but the winger blazed wastefully over.

The game was then disrupted when Foy had to go off injured with a calf strain, with fourth official Anthony Taylor on in his place as a gleeful chant of “You’re not fit to referee” rang around the ground.

The Arsenal fans still weren’t totally comfortable, though, as they still hadn’t killed off the game.

Ozil’s strange decision on 70 minutes didn’t help his team’s cause.

Through on goal and with a clear shot presenting itself, the Germany midfielder opted to chip it across the box.

The subsequent shot went just wide, but Ozil himself seemed in a far better position.

Arsenal finally improved their own position on 82 minutes as Ramsey struck to double the lead.

Giroud was again instrumental. The striker allowed a throw-in to roll past him, before exchanging a one-two with Ramsey, who hit a half-volley past Adrian.

Arsenal then made it 3-0 thanks to quick thinking between two substitutes as Santi Cazorla played the ball across the box for French midfielder Flamini to slot home.

Photo Credits : AFP

Giroud helps Arsenal bolster top four bid

Arsenal cemented their position in the Premier League’s top four as Olivier Giroud’s blistering strike inspired a 3-0 rout of West Ham on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger’s third-placed side are aiming to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish for the 18th year in a row and they are well on course after a fifth successive league victory.

It was also the ideal preparation for next week’s Champions League last 16 trip to Monaco, who hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg.

Giroud broke the deadlock seconds before the break as the France striker cut in from the right edge of the penalty area to lash an unstoppable left-footed shot into the far corner.

Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey got Arsenal’s second, and his first since December, in the 81st minute when he played a one-two with Giroud and finished with aplomb.

Mathieu Flamini came off the bench to seal the points with an 84th minute goal that lifted the Gunners four points ahead of fourth-placed Manchester United and six clear of fifth-placed Liverpool.

Aston Villa’s revival under new manager Tim Sherwood gathered pace as they boosted their bid to avoid relegation with a crucial 4-0 win at fellow strugglers Sunderland.

Villa had scored only four away league goals all season, but they have been transformed since former Tottenham boss Sherwood took charge and have now won their last two league games to climb above Sunderland, who drop to fourth bottom after their sixth consecutive game without a win.

The visitors took the lead when Belgian striker Christian Benteke fired home in the 16th minute for his fifth goal of the season.

Just two minutes later, Gabriel Agbonlahor ran clear to slot home after Sunderland defender John O’Shea made a hash of dealing with Ciaran Clark’s pass.

Agbonlahor netted again eight minutes before half-time, prompting a group of angry Sunderland fans to surround the home bench to berate boss Gus Poyet.

Stewards and police moved in to protect Poyet and the majority of the crowd were streaming towards the exit by the 44th minute as Benteke netted.

The chaos enveloping Sunderland was summed up when they played several minutes at the start of the second half down to 10 men after Seb Larsson emerged late from the dressing room.

– Relegation mire –

Crystal Palace pushed QPR deeper into the relegation mire with a 3-1 victory over their London rivals at Selhurst Park.

Alan Pardew’s side swept into a three-goal lead by half-time thanks to strikes from Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur and Joel Ward.

Matt Phillips produced one of the goals of the season in the closing stages, but the winger’s brilliant drive, from at least 40 yards out, came too late to spark a QPR fightback.

QPR’s fourth successive Premier League loss extended their miserable run to nine defeats in their last 10 games, leaving the west Londoners third bottom and four points from safety.

Leicester wasted a chance to improve their survival hopes as 10-man Hull held on for a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium.

Hull had to play the final 18 minutes with 10 men after midfielder Tom Huddlestone was sent off for a second booking following his foul on Jamie Vardy.

But Nigel Pearson’s bottom of the table team couldn’t find a winner and they remain seven points from safety.

West Brom ground out a 1-0 win against Stoke at the Hawthorns.

The only goal arrived in the 19th minute when Craig Gardner’s cross was met by Brown Ideye, who beat Stoke defender Phil Bardsley to head in his seventh goal of the season.

Later on Saturday, second-placed Manchester City will aim to close the gap on leaders Chelsea when they travel to Burnley.

Chelsea, currently five points clear, are in action at home to Southampton on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Manchester United host Tottenham and Everton face Newcastle, while Liverpool travel to Swansea on Monday.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal fortitude key to successful finale

Arsene Wenger believes his players’ mental strength will determine whether Arsenal can finish the season on a high.

Wenger’s side will attempt to tighten their grip on third place in the Premier League when West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

That London derby comes five days after the Gunners recorded a memorable FA Cup victory at Manchester United to set up a Wembley semi-final against Reading or Bradford.

And next week the north Londoners will attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit when they travel to Monaco for a Champions League last 16 second leg tie.

If Wenger’s players can retain the Cup and finish in the top four, they will have successfully built on their efforts of last season when the FA Cup final triumph over Hull marked an end to the club’s nine-year trophy-drought.

But should they fall short and finish the season empty-handed and outside the top four, the criticism frequently directed at Wenger will be heard once again.

The Arsenal manager accepts the pressure on his team is greater now but says it is down to the players to respond positively.

“We can only help so much, 99 per cent is down to the individual,” Wenger said.

“We can push them over the line with the one per cent we can give, but 99 per cent is them having the responsibility to make their own life.

“You have to stand up to be strong enough, to fight, to show that you have the courage and that you’re not inhibited because you’re under pressure, and that’s the difficulty of the modern player.

“That has increased and the resistance to stress from the young players is immense today because everything is analysed. Every pass you make, every first touch, how far you run, how much you fight, everything.

“There is a verdict on everything so that kind of stress has increased and it’s much more difficult to deal with than it was a few years ago.

“Twenty years ago you could lose a game and people would say, ‘Next time Arsenal will play better’. Today you lose a game and it is always a crisis. It’s not easy for the players to deal with that.”

– Physical games –

Wenger insists his team selection against the Hammers will not be influenced by the looming Monaco game despite his side’s tiredness.

“We were at a high level of fatigue because we played against Monaco, Everton, QPR, Manchester United, all very physical games,” he said.

“I will have to test medically, physically, how the players are on Friday, and I will make my decision then. The big priority is of course West Ham.”

West Ham are likely to be without striker Enner Valencia, who cut his big toe after an accident at home.

Hammers manager Sam Allardyce said: “Enner has had an accident at home and has cut his big toe quite severely on a broken cup.

“We’re not exactly certain but we think it will be too soon for him be considered for the game at Arsenal on Saturday.

“It was a freak accident at a time when we could have done without it due to our lack of available strikers.”

Centre-back Winston Reid is out with a hamstring problem but Alex Song is expected to be fit to face his former club.

“I watched Arsenal’s game away at Manchester United and everyone could see the quality they have,” Allardyce said.

“We know how difficult it is at the Emirates, where we’ve actually gone in front a few times but not managed to hold on.

“We’ll go there and give it our best shot and see what happens. We’ll try and do what we did against Chelsea and see if that’s good enough to get us a result.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Welbeck admits mixed feelings over knocking out Man Utd

Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck admitted to mixed feelings after his goal knocked former club Manchester United out of the FA Cup.

Born in Manchester, Welbeck joined United at the age of eight but was allowed to sign for Arsenal last September after new manager Louis van Gaal decided he was surplus to requirements.

The 24-year-old scored the decisive goal to give holders Arsenal a 2-1 win over United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup semi-finals on Monday, but said it had not been a case of claiming revenge.

“Manchester United is a club that means so much to me,” Welbeck said, in quotes published by the BBC on Tuesday. “I’m a fan and it’s hard to knock them out.”

Despite celebrating his 61st-minute winner, which came after United captain Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Nacho Monreal’s opener, Welbeck was granted a warm reception by the supporters of his former club.

“I’ll always respect the fans,” he said. “I had a lovely reception from them and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal, who had not won at United since September 2006, were drawn to face either Championship side Reading or third-tier Bradford City in the semi-finals.

Photo Credits : AFP

Larry Asego’s love letter to Manchester United

Manchester United lost 2-1 to Arsenal Monday night at the FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford. For classic 105 drive presenter, Larry Asego who is a United die hard a 12-year wait for the FA Cup victory is a sad affair.

United now have one sole focus which is the race for Champions League qualification in which they are currently trailing Arsenal by a point. Larry Asego was quick to post on his facebook that he still loves his team United. He says, “ At least there’s hope that some day we will win the league and not just have preset ambitions of fourth place. That said a gifted win to Arsenal, enjoy the semi-finals. I still hope you lose that one but for now you have bragging rights. You played well, not spectacular but well enough to win. We hope Wenger remains at Emirates forever too.”

Will Larry Asego need to write another love letter at the end of the Champions League? Check out his heartfelt post below

Screenshot from 2015-03-10 08:45:37

Wenger thrilled as Arsenal knock Man United out of FA Cup

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said that Danny Welbeck had been motivated by a desire to prove Manchester United wrong after he knocked his former club out of the FA Cup.

A Manchester-born United academy graduate, England striker Welbeck left for Arsenal in a £16 million ($24.2 million, 22.3 million euros) deal last September after falling out of favour under new manager Louis van Gaal.

The Dutchman claimed Welbeck was not good enough to hold down a starting place at Old Trafford, but his words returned to haunt him as the 24-year-old earned holders Arsenal a 2-1 win on Monday that set up a semi-final meeting with either Reading or Bradford City.

“We want all to do well when we play against our former club to show that we are a great player, but it’s not easy to deal with the mental situation of it,” said Wenger, whose side had not won at United since September 2006.

“But he focused just on his game and didn’t do anything special, just played football like you want him to play. I think he has shown mental strength, because it’s not always easy to deal with that.”

Wenger added: “He wants to win. He is a team player. What I like with Danny is he’s intelligent, he wants to do well for the team, he’s a great talent and recently has done extremely well for the national team.”

Welbeck was moved on at United partly to accommodate Radamel Falcao, who signed from Monaco in a reported £6 million loan deal with a view to a £43.5 million transfer.

The Colombia star has failed to impress in Manchester, scoring only four goals in 20 appearances, and Van Gaal offered an unconvincing justification of his motives for bringing him in at Welbeck’s expense.

When it was put to him that Falcao was struggling, he told a journalist: “He has scored four goals and has three or four assists, so that is his contribution. He stimulates also the other players, so that is an aspect of the profession.

“But it is now easy for you to say that. You are very happy to say that. I see that in your face.”

– Di Maria ‘not smart’ –

To the suggestion that four goals was a meagre return for a world-renowned striker, Van Gaal replied: “I cannot change that. I cannot change facts and you know that, but you can continue (asking).”

Welbeck’s 61st-minute goal saw him seize on a back-pass from Antonio Valencia before rounding David de Gea to score, and he celebrated by clenching his fists in an apparent show of vindication.

It came after Nacho Monreal’s 26th-minute opener had been cancelled out by a flying header from United captain Wayne Rooney.

Angel di Maria provided the assist for Rooney’s goal, but the Argentine’s night ended in disgrace as he was booked for diving and then sent off after tugging referee Michael Olivier’s shirt in protest.

Oliver also booked United substitute Adnan Januzaj for diving and Van Gaal admitted he could have no complaints over Di Maria’s dismissal.

“I know of course and also Angel di Maria knows that he doesn’t have to touch the referee, so that is not so smart of him,” he said.

“But to control emotion is not so easy in such a match, but I have mentioned it also before (to the players) … because I know that in these kind of matches a red card is easily given.”

United now have only Champions League qualification to aim for, with Arsenal one of the teams competing with them for a top-four finish in the Premier League, and Wenger said his side’s victory would give them extra belief.

“Every win makes you stronger,” he said. “We have won at Man City and that helped us to deal with another big game.

“And when you can win big games, it’s more mental. We know we have the football level, but the belief is important.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Old boy Welbeck fells Man United in FA Cup

Danny Welbeck claimed revenge for his departure from Manchester United by scoring the winner as holders Arsenal reached the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 away victory on Monday.

The Manchester-born United academy graduate, who joined the club at the age of eight, left in a £16 million ($24.2 million, 22.3 million euros) deal last September after being deemed surplus to requirements by new manager Louis van Gaal.

And he returned to haunt his former club as Arsenal claimed a first victory at Old Trafford since 2006.

Welbeck pounced on a mistake by Antonio Valencia to score a 61st-minute winner after Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Nacho Monreal’s opener, and United’s evening ended in ignominy when Angel di Maria was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for manhandling referee Michael Oliver.

United’s wait for FA Cup success will now stretch into a 12th year and their sole objective is now the race for Champions League qualification, in which they currently trail Arsenal by a point.

With Jonny Evans beginning a six-game ban for spitting at Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse, Luke Shaw came into the United defence, but although that was the only change to the hosts’ line-up, they displayed uncertainty from the off.

Van Gaal again played Marouane Fellaini in support of Rooney and the Belgian illustrated his unique strengths by chesting down a flighted pass from Di Maria and teeing up Ashley Young, who shot over.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the right for Arsenal, with Mesut Ozil in the centre, and in the 26th minute the England midfielder marked his return to the starting XI by creating the opening goal.

Having earlier been granted the space to put a cross-shot wide, Oxlade-Chamberlain wriggled between Daley Blind, Shaw and Valencia before stabbing a pass to Monreal, who beat David de Gea at his near post.

– Delight –

United’s fans were quick to voice their annoyance, but they were off their feet just three minutes later when Rooney met Di Maria’s right-wing cross with a fine diving header to claim his 14th goal against Arsenal.

Encouraged, United finished the first half strongly, with visiting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saving from Rooney, Di Maria and Fellaini, although Santi Cazorla worked De Gea with a free-kick at the other end.

United made two changes at half-time, introducing Phil Jones and Michael Carrick for Shaw and Ander Herrera, while Oxlade-Chamberlain had to hobble off five minutes in after appearing to injure his hamstring, with Aaron Ramsey coming on.

There were half-chances for both teams, De Gea saving a deflected Alexis Sanchez shot and Di Maria shooting wide, before Valencia’s blunder allowed Welbeck to put Arsenal ahead.

United’s supporters have bemoaned their team’s predilection for back-passes in recent weeks and it was from such an action that the goal stemmed, with Welbeck seizing on Valencia’s under-cooked pass, touching the ball past the onrushing De Gea, and rolling home.

There was no muted celebration either, with the former Stretford End favourite clenching his fists in a clear show of delight.

Smalling should have equalised when he blazed Carrick’s flick over the bar from six yards, while Fellaini tested Szczesny with a header, but it took a stunning De Gea save to prevent Cazorla swelling Arsenal’s lead.

Di Maria saw red with 13 minutes to play when he was booked for diving and responded by tugging Oliver’s shirt, completing a miserable night for United.

Photo Credits : AFP