The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, admitted on Sunday night that Manchester United retained a psychological grip over his Premier League leaders, who blew their chance to make a first substantive statement of title intent this season because of their own “nervousness”.
Wenger said the team had been “insecure” against a United side whose eighth win out of the last nine matches at Old Trafford against Arsenal takes them up to fifth in the Premier League. Nemanja Vidic’s departure to hospital with a head injury, after he clashed with David de Gea, was their only setback.
“Maybe with the fact we haven’t won for a long time here and it was a big game [caused our] nervousness,” said Wenger, who did not try to hide behind the sickness bug which had affected five of his players and ruled out Per Mertesacker.
The Arsenal manager said that Robin van Persie’s set-piece goal, which the Dutchman celebrated exuberantly after suffering severe abuse from Arsenal’s fans, was something the side “knew could happen”.
Wayne Rooney, whose display of energy and guile was the afternoon’s outstanding performance, added that United had been working on that precise weakness in Wenger’s team. “We worked on free-kicks and corners because Arsenal have got a lot of smaller players in the team and we thought that could be an opportunity where we could get a goal and, thankfully, it paid off,” Rooney declared.
A week after Tottenham’s manager, Andre Villas-Boas, controversially told his goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to play on despite being knocked out in a collision at Goodison Park, Wenger admitted that he had not sought assurances that his keeper Wojciech Szczesny was fit to continue, after appearing to suffer the same fate. The concussion rule states he must be removed if unconscious.
“Nobody told me anything about him. If he said there was a problem I would have taken him off,” Wenger said. “I listen to the doctor. If he says to me he has to come off, he comes off – no matter if we have seven men on the field, I do it. You have only one life and you have 60 games per year.”
David Moyes agreed this was his most significant win as United manager, extending the club’s unbeaten run to nine games, though he insisted on another topsy-turvy day when Manchester City lost at Sunderland that there would be more setbacks.
“We have got a lot of big steps to make,” he said. “It is going to take a while for me to get it where I’d like it to be. I don’t know if [this] puts out any statement. Everybody for years has known how good Manchester United can be. My job and the team’s job is to continue that. We are going to get a few bloody noses along the way.”
The team selection pointed to his personnel problems, with Marouane Fellaini not even second-choice central midfielder after Vidic’s injury forced the excellent Phil Jones back to central defence. Ashley Young, whose future looks deeply uncertain, was not even on the bench. But Jones and Chris Smalling were causes for optimism. “Jones I think has been improving. I thought Smalling was fantastic today as well,” Moyes said. “Manchester United were champions last year and there’s a lot of people written them off very quickly but, hopefully, by the end of the season we will not be too far off.”
Dismissing the significance of the virus, Wenger said: “I don’t want to speak about that. They declared themselves fit so they play.”
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