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.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little