Arsene Wenger admitted his “concern” over Arsenal’s precarious league position, jeopardising their chances of Champions League qualification, as they slipped to seven points off fourth place after losing 2-1 at Chelsea.
Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 15 consecutive years but that famous record is increasingly under threat after another league defeat left them trailing Chelsea in third and Tottenham Hotspur in fourth.
“It's very damaging for our position in the league, and difficult to swallow,” Wenger said.
“We have lost two big games in the last week,” Wenger said, referring to last Sunday’s 2-0 home loss to Manchester City. “And that is very damaging for us. We cannot afford to drop points any more if we want to be in the top four. That is a concern.”
Wenger ascribed the loss to another slow start and the pressures of fixture congestion, which have left his squad tired and jaded.
“It was similar to last week,” Wenger said. “The team has fantastic quality and spirit, but we come into the game when we're 2-0 down. At the moment, that's worrying. In the big games, once you start 2-0 down, it's very difficult.”
“We had a physical problem to get going today. It was better in the second half, but when you play every three days it's difficult to know what's psychological and what's physical. There's a psychological part of it, for sure, because we didn't really go for it at the start again.”
Wenger disputed two of Martin Atkinson’s decisions, allowing play to continue in the build-up to Juan Mata’s opener and the awarding of a penalty after Wojciech Szczesny tripped Ramires: “We were unlucky because there was a free-kick in the first goal, and it wasn't a penalty.”
Rafael Benitez was delighted with his third home win as interim manager, which leaves Chelsea comfortably in third place and just six points behind Manchester City in second.
“Today we had a lot of chances in the first half, were on top of them, controlling the game,” he said. “Even in the second half we had situations on the counter-attack where we could have scored another. Really pleased. The players put in a great effort and a great game.”
Benitez confirmed the news that veteran left-back Ashley Cole would sign a new one-year contract at the club. “The contract was running out next summer,” Benitez said. “Now the club has an agreement with the player, really pleased, the paperwork has to be done but the agreement is done.”
John Terry was an unused substitute again yesterday and Benitez explained that his captain was working back towards full fitness after a bad knee injury. “He has been out 16 weeks,” Benitez said. “He's doing a specific plan, doing well. He's coming back. It's good to have different options, but still it's too early. He has to play for match fitness, but not these kind of games where he has to play high.”