Manchester United vs Arsenal: Arsène Wenger demands rapid reaction to rescue Arsenal's title hopes

This should have been Arsenal’s best chance of a first victory at Old Trafford since 2006

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger argued that only a “quick and strong” response to Arsenal’s latest defeat at Old Trafford will save their Premier League title ambitions. Five points adrift of leaders Leicester and three behind Tottenham with 11 matches left, the Arsenal manager said the club’s situation was far from irretrievable.

However, an immediate comeback was required in Wednesday’s fixture at home to Swansea and what is likely to be the most intense north London derby in years at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

“Nobody knows how this defeat will impact on the title race,” said Wenger after the 3-2 loss. “We have dropped three important points and now we have to show we can fight on Wednesday night and not feel sorry for ourselves. The title is still possible but the answer will have to come quick and strong.”

Given that United had a dozen players absent through injury, this should have been Arsenal’s best chance of a first victory at Old Trafford since 2006. However, while admitting his defence struggled to cope with United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford, Wenger tartly commented that his opposite number Louis van Gaal was still able to “put a few million on the pitch”.

“The player who was surprising for me, talent-wise was Rashford,” Wenger said. “The timing and intelligence of his movement was great and he could be a very positive surprise for Manchester United.

“We struggled to be dangerous because they defended very well. Every time we got into a flow, they stopped us with little free-kicks in the middle of the park. On set pieces I  expected us to do more. We were not dangerous enough.”


Wenger said he did not want to comment on why Van Gaal should have thrown himself at the feet of the fourth official, Mike Dean, apparently to complain about Alexis Sanchez’s propensity to dive. “You would say I am a bitter loser,” he said, before correcting himself with a smile, “but, of course, I am.”

For Van Gaal this was an extraordinary finish to a week in which, had results against Shrewsbury and FC Midtjylland gone differently, he might have been sacked as United manager.

Danny Welbeck, center, scores for Arsenal in the defeat by his old club Manchester United

Those three games have produced 11 goals for United and three straight wins, of which this was the best and most surprising. Van Gaal was right to argue that, with its reliance on attacking play and youth, it was in United’s finest traditions. He was, however, strangely reluctant to discuss his touchline theatrics.

“That was too emotional,” he said. “That was not good for the referee, the linesman or the fourth official. I was emotional, which does not happen too much to me.

“Usually, I receive a lot of criticism because I am always sitting on my bench. I have to control my emotions because I am always telling the players to control theirs.” 

When it was pointed out to him that the supporters had loved the sight of him diving on the touchline and started singing his name, Van Gaal grinned and said: “That is great but the fans are not always wise.”

The Arsenal performance drew strong criticism from the Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness, who branded the north London side “insipid” and “pussyfooted”.

“Arsène Wenger must be tearing his hair out,” Souness said. “And there’s a word I want to use, but I can’t use it, which describes a lack of something that real players have and this Arsenal team lack it in abundance. Just don’t have it, none.

“And I’ll stand on my head if they prove me wrong and go and win this league, because that today was totally unacceptable. I thought today they would come here with an opportunity to put a marker on the wall and say, ‘We’re back in this race.’ And they’ve come back here today and been so insipid, so weak and pussyfooted. 

“All they’ve done today is said to the opposition this team can be rolled over. If I was an Arsenal supporter I would be so angry right now,” Souness declared.