Cesc Fabregas said yesterday that Arsène Wenger told his players they "did not deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt" in an unprecedented half-time rant, which inspired them to come from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 with a stunning winner from Andrei Arshavin.
The Russia international, who scored four goals in this fixture last season, fired an extraordinary winner with a right-foot that, Wenger said, had given him so much pain that he was barely able to hit a shot with it in training last week. But it was Wenger's reaction to Arsenal's first-half performance, that saw them trailing to Dirk Kuyt's goal that captured the imagination of his players.
Fabregas said that he had "never seen him [Wenger] like it before" when he tore into his players after a dismal first-half performance. "He was really disappointed with us for the first half and said that we did not deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that," Fabregas said. "He was right, we were not good and in the second half we turned it around and played one of the best second halves of our season."
An own goal from Glen Johnson got Arsenal back in the game and Arshavin's winner meant that Rafael Benitez's side are now five points behind Aston Villa, who occupy the fourth all-important Champions League place. Liverpool are 13 points off leaders Chelsea. Benitez blamed his team's lack of confidence for the second-half collapse in a game in which Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres started together for the first time since 4 October.
The Liverpool manager, whose team have now won one in six of their league games, said that his team's confidence was shot to bits after Johnson's calamitous own goal five minutes after half-time. "Then we gave the second goal away and everything changes," he said. "The confidence was low and we were giving the ball away. It was the opposite to the first half when we controlled the game all the time. It is not a question of quality, it is a question of confidence."
Benitez would not concede that his team's chances of winning the title this year had gone but he did say that now "the target" was finishing in the top four of the Premier League. "We know that the only way to reduce the gap is to win our games. The target is the same: the top four. We have to keep going and try to improve and win our games and if we play at the same level as we did in the first half we can win games."
Wenger said that his team in the first half had played "with the handbrake down and with the fear of not winning because we lost to Chelsea and Manchester United". As for his own half-time performance, he said: "I believe you respond sometimes to what you think the team needs. I rarely get angry. I try to keep my composure. It is good because after 13 years it shows I can still surprise them."
Wenger confirmed that Arsenal are considering a legal case against the Dutch Football Federation whose insurance does not cover the wages of Robin van Persie, badly injured in a friendly against Italy last month.Reuse content