Wenger tells Arsenal to smarten up

Manager concerned by 'naivety' which allowed AZ their last-minute equaliser
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has admitted his side were "naive" in conceding a late equaliser against AZ Alkmaar in the the Champions League on Tuesday, but insists they remain in pole position to qualify for the next stages.

"We are still in a strong position," said the Frenchman, after David Mendes da Silva scored an injury-time equaliser to cancel out Cesc Fabregas's first-half goal. "We have three games left, and I believe to win one game will qualify us. What I want is for us to continue to play like we do, focus to play better. We are still learning. You do not need to give a free-kick away on an offside in the last minute. We were caught a bit naively on the second ball – but that can happen sometimes."

The defender Gaël Clichy admitted that the late equaliser was a blow after Arsenal had once again dominated proceedings in Europe.

"It was frustrating to concede in the last minute of the game," he said. "They are a good team and played well even though they did not have many chances – they kept the ball quite well. It is a disappointment to lose two points. It feels like a defeat when you concede a goal like this. I thought we played well and had a few chances to kill the game. So, yes, it's disappointment but we have to move on.

"You still have seven points from three games," Clichy added, a tally that leaves the side one point clear of Olympiakos at the top of Group H. "The situation is not too bad but we always want to be the best and we could have gone back to London with three points. But it's okay."

Asked whether the side needed to be more ruthless when they are dominating matches, the Frenchman insisted that scoring goals was not Arsenal's problem. "Sometimes you score goals like we have done recently [40 goals in 14 games]," he said. "This was not the night to get four. Once again, there are still positives from this game. We have one more game to win and we want to finish top of the group."

With Liverpool and Barcelona suffering defeats and Internazionale held to a draw, the Champions League looks as tough a test as ever, and Clichy is determined to learn from Tuesday's disappointment and minimise the risk of a similar upset for the north Londoners. "We drew against AZ, but like I said, not many teams will come here and win," he said. "We don't care about the other teams but it shows you anything can happen, you have to focus from the first minute to the last."

Striker Robin van Persie is also confident of making progress, both in Europe and in the Premier League, where he believes that the big four's apparent susceptibility to defeats at the hands of so-called lesser sides stands Arsenal in good stead this term. "We're very encouraged by this [trend] because when you look at last weekend, Liverpool lost three points, Chelsea lost ... we've played eight games now, won six so it's looking good for us," the Dutchman said. "As long as we stay consistent against the smaller teams. We need to keep winning the three points against them."

Van Persie maintains that the squad is also well set to avoid a repeat of the poor run of results that Arsenal suffered this time last year, when they lost three games in the Premier League.

"Yeah, last season we had four draws as well back to back, [actually five in January and February] so we have to avoid that. Time will show if we are stronger now."

Next up for Wenger's men is a Premier League trip to West Ham on Sunday, where the hosts will be desperate for a result as they look to move away from the bottom of the table.

Crucial to Arsenal's continued good form will be Fabregas, who has endured a tough time of late, with family reasons prompting his withdrawal from the most recent Spain squad. But Clichy claims that the added pressure has brought the best out of the midfielder. "In the dressing room and the pitch, he has been the same – a good example for everyone," said Clichy. "Sometimes, you go through bad moments in your private life and maybe it's one for him. But he showed his character and I hope everything will be good for him and his family. On the pitch, he is still the big man."

Group H

Results so far: Olympiakos 1 AZ Alkmaar 0, Standard Liège 2 Arsenal 3; Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 0, AZ Alkmaar 1 Standard Liège 1; AZ Alkmaar 1 Arsenal 1, Olympiakos 2 Standard Liège 1.

Arsenal remaining games: 4 Nov: AZ (h); 24 Nov: Standard Liège (h); 9 Dec: Olympiakos (a).