Football: Wenger looks back on anger as motivated Arsenal rediscover their early season form

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Arsenal 3 Southampton 0

After 18 months of urbane leadership at Highbury Arsene Wenger was suddenly on the defensive, unable to fend off the question with his customary poise and patience. "I will keep that to myself," the Frenchman said guardedly.

The topic under discussion was how the Arsenal manager communicated his anger, an intriguing concept that conjured visions of glasses wiped more ferociously than usual or the use of a particularly shocking French swearword. You don't throw tea cups, he was asked. "I can if you want," he replied with a smile, making it quite clear that this was not his way. Cappuccino cups maybe.

The issue arose after Wenger had disclosed his reaction to Arsenal's home defeat by Blackburn last month, their fourth reverse in six matches. "I was really annoyed because I had the feeling that we were just throwing our season away," he said. "I'm very angry whenever we lose, but I had the feeling then that something really wasn't right."

Not that it led to a Fergie-style dressing-room inquest. Even in extremis Wenger preferred to express his feelings in the cool of a Monday morning, though just how he did so the Frenchman kept to himself. "The players know me. When you live every day with somebody you know when he is happy and when he is angry."

The team's response has been to put together a run of 10 games unbeaten, one that has seen them retain their interest in both cups and move back among Manchester United's chasing pack. In recent matches they have also started to echo some of the outstanding football that characterised their autumnal rise to the top - a passing and pressing style that went missing through most of the troubled period.

"When you lose, you lose all the confidence quickly and you gain it back slowly," Wenger explained. "When you gain it back you have to fight more than to play. The instructions were the same, but it is something that comes spontaneously, or not. When you have a little bit less confidence, everybody makes just one step a little bit late to get the ball, and the whole thing is less good."

That the confidence is returning can be seen in the superb form of Ray Parlour and Manu Petit, who commanded midfield with an irresisitible combination of verve, power and skill. The suspended Patrick Vieira was not missed at all.

The same could certainly not be said of Southampton's absent trio of Kevin Davies, Carlton Palmer and Francis Benali. Under pressure for most of the match they could have done with their contrasting talents to relieve the siege. Even so the visitors might have sneaked the lead, and as the game approached the hour mark there was growing concern among the Highbury faithful that Arsenal would pay heavily for their profligate finishing. Dennis Bergkamp's well-struck goal eased the tension, and nine minutes later the home team were three up and cruising.

Southampton, for whom Matt Le Tissier and David Hirst packed more paunch than punch were never likely to come back from that, especially with Tony Adams and Steve Bould in vintage form. Wenger thought it was Adams' best display under his management while Bould "looked at times like Beckenbauer". It is an observation the Arsenal manager may find quoted back at him when negotiations on Bould's new contract open this week.

Goals: Bergkamp (62) 1-0; Adams (67) 2-0; Anelka (69) 3-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2) Manninger; Grimandi, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Petit, S Hughes (Platt, 65), Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka (Wreh, 80). Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Garde, Boa Morte.

Southampton (4-4-2) Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam, Todd; Le Tissier (Williams, 69), Oakley, Richardson, Spedding (D Hughes, 69); Ostendstad, Hirst. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Dryden, Johansen.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Booked: Arsenal: Adams, Platt. Southampton: Dodd, Hirst, Richardson, Monkou.

Attendance: 38,056.

Man of the match: Parlour.

Comments