Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger scorns Premier League sides who 'have a breather' at the end of the season

West Ham and Crystal Palace have been beaten too easily by Liverpool and Manchester City respectfully

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has scorned how Premier League teams no longer feel a moral obligation to give their all throughout the 38-game season. The Arsenal manager believes mid-table teams now stop trying once they are safe, jeopardising the integrity of the competition.

Arsenal are currently fighting for fourth place but Wenger was clearly frustrated at how easily West Ham United were beaten by Liverpool on Sunday, just as Crystal Palace rolled over for Manchester City the previous weekend. Arsenal now need City or Liverpool to drop points in the final week if Wenger’s side are to scrape back into the top four.

City face West Bromwich Albion at home then Watford away, Liverpool play already-relegated Middlesbrough at home. Realistically Arsenal, who host Sunderland tonight and Everton on Sunday, need a disaster from City or Liverpool to give them the room to squeeze into.

Wenger sounded pessimistic, but also frustrated. He believes that the inequality in the league gives the teams outside the top six nothing to play for. This means that they start to relax rather than pushing themselves all the way to the end, as they always felt obliged to do in the past.

“We have two leagues,” Wenger said at his Monday morning press conference. “For example, we had to fight very hard at Stoke and Southampton. But some teams once they are safe have a breather, which didn’t happen 10 years ago. The league has changed mentally. Morally it has changed a lot.” Asked to expand on what that meant, Wenger promised that he would “explain another time”. But the implication was clear enough: teams do not feel the same duty once they are safe.

Those teams who have survived, Wenger accused of “releasing their focus” and thinking too much about their holidays rather than their remaining games. “This season it looks at the end of the season that many teams who have been assured to stay in the league have just released their focus,” Wenger said, before pointing again at the structural inequality that fuelled this problem. “As well, you had basically two leagues, the top six and the rest of the Premier League. Everybody took too many points from lower teams. That usually did not happen in the years before.”

Wenger kept returning to variations of this point; that while Arsenal’s future was out of their hands, they could take pride in their consistent efforts all the way until the end. “Some teams turn up, some teams are on holiday,” Wenger shrugged in frustration. “It is very difficult to plan. You just want your team to do well and to focus completely until the last. To be professional is to do your job properly until the last second of the season.”

Arsene Wenger said the league had changed morally (Getty)

Arsenal could easily win on Tuesday night, beat Everton, finish on 75 points and still end up in fifth. Wenger admits that they could take some pride out of that, even with the disappointment of dropping out of the Champions League. “The fact that we can look in the mirror and say ‘we did it properly’, that’s for me absolutely vital,” he said. “I work every day not to turn up halfway, [but to] turn up properly and do my job properly. If we don’t have the results, I’m very disappointed. But what is not excusable is not to give your best.”

Wenger promised that if Arsenal are in the Europa League that he will take it seriously and that he does not need a bigger squad than he currently has to do so. “A bigger squad is impossible,” Wenger said. “We have a very big squad at the moment that is already difficult enough to manage.”

Asked whether he would use the Europa League simply to field youth teamers, Wenger pointed to his record in the FA Cup to show how seriously he takes cup competitions. “Apart from the League Cup, where we play always the younger players to give them a chance to develop, we take all the other competitions seriously,” Wenger said. “I think I play in my eighth cup final. You don’t do that if you don’t take competitions seriously.”

Arsenal would rather not be there but it is out of their hands now. All they can do is try to beat Sunderland and then hope. “You have to put yourself in a position where you depend on your own results only,” Wenger said. “Unfortunately for us it’s not the case now but the only thing we can have a chance is to influence our own results and keep going.”