Arsenal struggles never led Arsene Wenger to doubt his players

A 2-0 win away to Southampton kept Arsenal's hopes of finishing in the top four alive

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has insisted that he has not once doubted the character or mental resilience of his Arsenal players despite their struggles this season.

A 2-0 win away to Southampton at least gives Arsenal hope of finishing in the top-four and securing Champions League football for next season, although with just three games remaining Wenger’s side are still reliant on Liverpool or Manchester City to drop points before the end of the season.

Wenger admitted ahead of his side’s victory against Manchester United on Sunday that Arsenal would have to win all of their remaining league fixtures to have any hopes of pinching a spot in the top-four, and their victory against Southampton means they are still on course for a positive end to the season.

Arsenal had not won at St Mary’s since 2003, when they went on to win the league title, but goals from Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud won the Gunners all three points and ended their barren run at the stadium.

And after the winning performance, Wenger insisted that he had never doubted the character of his players, many of whom have been vociferously criticised by both the press and even the club’s own supporters.

“I never questioned the character of my side because it is not because you lose games that people expect you to win that show you have no character,” Wenger said after the match.

“We went through a bad patch. But that is a good opportunity to show your character — to show how you come back and how you recover. Maybe the Manchester City game gave us confidence. But let’s not go too quickly jump to conclusions. We have to focus and give everything at Stoke on Saturday.”

Arsenal were made to work hard for their victory — only their second win from their last seven Premier League away matches — and toiled without effort throughout the first-half and the beginning of the second.

But Alexis Sanchez broke the deadlock in exquisite fashion, leaving both of Southampton’s central-defenders flat on their backsides with an outrageous dummy in the box before slotting the ball confidently beyond Fraser Forster.

And for Wenger, the goal represented everything that makes Sanchez one of the most highly-rated forwards in the world.

“He has invention in his head. He is creative and not phased by anything, and surprised everybody in the stadium tonight with his goal,” Wenger said. “Everyone was expecting him to take a shot, but he's very quick on the move. The goal he scored tonight shows what he's about: very good technique in a short space. He always scores important goals.”

Perhaps the only sour note for Arsenal was an injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started the game confidently before being withdrawn in the first-half with an apparent hamstring injury. Wenger was unsure how bad the injury was but said he hoped it was more a question of fatigue than anything more sinister.

He said: “It’s a hamstring problem but we don't know how bad it is. Personally I didn't see any incident where he had to stop a sprint. It was more fatigue, but it's difficult to assess so close to the match.

“He is still walking properly and it was tight, not a knife in the thigh. But I do not know about the FA Cup final.”