Football: Wenger - `We made a huge tactical error'

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The Independent Online
ARSENE WENGER refused to concede the Premiership title last night - but he expects to. He will wait until after Manchester United's match this evening, when he hopes Blackburn Rovers will come to Arsenal's aid. He is not confident.

"You have to be realistic," the Arsenal manager said. "I would expect it is 70 per cent in United's favour they will get something out of the game and 30 per cent that Blackburn will win. But I wouldn't bet all my money on Blackburn."

Was he optimistic? "If I wasn't I wouldn't have survived 16 years as a manager," he replied.

Arsenal's defeat means United need only four points from their matches against Blackburn tonight and Tottenham on Sunday which left Wenger, who spent the closing minutes of last night's game prowling the touchline with his arms folded against disappointment, regretting the host of opportunities his team squandered and the defensive mistake that led to Leeds' goal.

"We could have regret that because even a point would not have been too bad," the Frenchman said. "We made a huge tactical error, which is unusual for us to make a mistake like that. Nelson Vivas was in a very bad position at the far post.

"It was a strange game, like a cup tie where Leeds gave everything. In the end they had the desire, they made it difficult for us, and they closed us down. We also got some early yellow cards in midfield, which made it hard for us to play our normal game.

"It was a battle rather than a technical match. We were not fresh enough. It was very difficult. It's unbelievable, we created so many chances and didn't score."

David O'Leary, a former championship winner with Arsenal and now the Leeds manager, said he could not be sympathetic to his former team. "You win the championship by winning off your own back. I take no great pleasure in beating Arsenal but I have to look after my own club.

"I said to the players in the dressing-room: `Let's treat this as our Cup final' and, with respect to other clubs who have come here, we couldn't have had a better team to play. It was a question of `let's give it a go' and we did.

"I think it showed people who wondered whether we would be committed. I knew we would be up for the game because we have pride in ourselves. We had a little luck, but we all need that."

The goalscorer, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, said the fate of the title had not dictated the way Leeds played. "We didn't think about Manchester United or Arsenal," he said. "We just wanted to perform for our supporters and give them a good finish to the season. We battled hard and I think we deserved the win because we created more chances."

That was endorsed by Jonathon Woodgate, who cleared off the line when Arsenal were pounding at the Leeds goal. "We're a young side and we matched them," the young defender said. "Hopefully we will be challenging for the title like them in the next couple of years."

Arsenal's bad night was compounded by a facial injury to Nigel Winterburn, after he received an accidental kick in the face that may have broken his nose.

"He had a bad knock," Wenger said. "He wants to travel back with the team, but we will consult a doctor. I think he might stay in hospital overnight as a precaution."

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