Arsenal v Manchester City: Arsène Wenger denies any pattern in heavy Arsenal defeats

Manager is confident his side can conquer City at the Emirates

Arsène Wenger hopes that when his team host Manchester City, it will not be like those other painful afternoons. Even in this, their best season for six years, Arsenal have been sharply reminded too many times how far they are from the very best.

City, Chelsea and Liverpool all treated the Gunners with dismissive contempt at their grounds, knocking a total of 17 goals past them. Those are the games that gave weight to Paul Scholes’ claim that Arsenal are “a million miles away” from the title.

Wenger knows there can be no repeat on Saturday. But how different will it be this time, against title-hunting City? Arsenal’s problems against the best are well known: too fragile away, too cautious at home, with little confidence in their ability to win or clear plan for how to do so.

Wenger again denied that there was a pattern to these results, saying that while Arsenal were genuinely outplayed at Anfield, the results at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad owed more to similar combinations of extreme bad luck. “The only game, for me, where we were really beaten was at Liverpool,” Wenger said. “The rest [Chelsea and City away] is a bit more coincidence going negatively together. Because at Chelsea the game was over after 10 minutes. At Liverpool we were outplayed on the day, and there is not a lot to say.”

Many observers, though, will have seen worrying parallels in the three defeats. The main difference – that Arsenal collapsed in the first half at Chelsea and Liverpool and in the second half at City – is less important than the main similarities. Wenger acknowledged that one thing in common was starting “a bit too cautious, or a bit on the back foot”.

Arsenal have been accused – again by Scholes – of being too passive in big games, of neither imposing themselves on the match nor neutering their opponents. It is not in Wenger’s nature to park the bus but when asked about his plan, it rested again on his own side. “By playing our game, and focusing on our strengths,” Wenger said, “and of course getting it right defensively because they are a good offensive force.”

It is an approach that has worked well against the lesser teams, against whom – even allowing Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City – Arsenal have been far more efficient this season. But playing the best is different, and Arsenal struggle at it. They average just 0.71 points per game against top-four finishing teams since the start of the 2011-12 season. By the same analysis, Chelsea average 1.58 points per game, Manchester City 2.0.

Manager Arsène Wenger yesterday said that his Arsenal side has plenty of experience (Getty Images) Manager Arsène Wenger yesterday said that his Arsenal side has plenty of experience (Getty Images)
The explanation cannot be wholly technical, given the evidence, but Wenger again defended his team against accusations that they lack conviction or leadership. Liverpool have flourished this season, working with sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters, and while Wenger did reveal that he “believes in mental help”, he spoke like a man who believes in technical explanations first.

“Does that mean that you think England will win the World Cup, because of a sports psychologist?” Wenger joked, when told that Dr Peters had been recruited by Roy Hodgson too. “It is good players that win the World Cup. A guy who has come to that level, at the start, it means that he has mental strength. He can deal in adversity, or he would not be there.”

Steve Archibald famously said that team spirit “is an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory” and Wenger suggested that he felt similarly about positive psychology. “The players are like everybody else,” he said. “When they win the game they say everybody is great, when they lose the game they say everybody is not so great.”

Confidence can grow out of leadership and it has been a very well-worn critique of Arsenal that they have never replaced the generation of leaders that Wenger’s first sides had: Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira and so forth. Of course, no manager would ever admit that, even if they thought it, and Wenger defended his players forcefully, again saying that these were easy explanations for difficult issues.

“That is unfair,” Wenger said of the criticism. “I have leaders in my team. It’s always exactly the same. When you lose games people say you have no leaders. The other night we conceded a goal when we have in midfield [Kim] Kallstrom,  who is over 30 with over 100 caps, [Mikel] Arteta is over 30, [Mathieu] Flamini is 30. We had plenty of experience in midfield and you can still concede goals.”

Ultimately, Wenger remains confident about Saturday's game, even with none of his injured midfielders close to returning. He recognised that this is a mental test, but is “convinced” that his players will meet it. He pointed to the 2-0 home victory over Liverpool, a rare but impressive example of his team seizing control of a match against a rival. Wenger even found positives in the 6-3 defeat at the Etihad, with lessons that he believes his team can take into today.

“We had chances, we had plenty of opportunities there to score,” Wenger said. “There are plenty of positives in that game to convince us that we can beat City.” There is a lot of convincing to be done.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London