Arsene Wenger backs Arsenal to prove critics wrong in Premier League title chase.
Arsène Wenger has admitted that Arsenal’s critics are right to doubt his players’ Premier League-winning credentials and that now is the time to prove they will not buckle again this season.
Despite insisting that the 6-3 drubbing at Manchester City last Saturday should strengthen his squad’s belief they could end their decade-long drought, Wenger acknowledged that such extreme optimism would not be shared by those already questioning their ability to stay the course.
The showdown with Chelsea on Monday night should provide the biggest clue yet as to whether the doom-mongers will be dubbed prophets or charlatans come the end of a campaign in which Arsenal have given their long-suffering supporters real hope that this finally could be their year.
With almost 10 years having passed since they were last crowned champions, Wenger acknowledged that it was not wrong to be sceptical about their chances of finishing 2013-14 on top.
“We haven’t won it for a long time — that’s why they question us,” said the Frenchman, who claimed that the Christmas period – during which they will play four times in 10 days – was the moment to convert more non-believers.
“Yes, because at the moment everybody still questions us, even more after our defeat at City. But I see the game at City the other way round. We can have even more belief after the game at City.”
Despite dismissing the short-term impact of such a result against a title rival – Arsenal’s biggest domestic defeat since being humiliated 8-2 at Manchester United two years ago – Wenger revealed that the cumulative effect of not winning the Premier League had taken its toll.
Arsenal have also failed to lift any silverware since 2005 but Wenger said: “If you win the League Cup it doesn’t change anything. It’s the Premier League that is the most important thing and we haven’t won it for nine years. Of course, it doesn’t strengthen your belief. If you win it every year, you go in there and it’s just ‘ours’. It makes the challenge more interesting.”
It is not only their recent failure to win the league that Arsenal are up against but the scars of seeing trophies repeatedly snatched from their grasp in recent years.
That spiral began when Jose Mourinho first arrived on the scene at Chelsea, weeks after Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ swept to the 2004 title. The combination of Mourinho and Roman Abramovich’s millions proved too much even for a team that have gone down in folklore, with Arsenal failing to beat their new rivals at any stage during the first incarnation of the self-styled ‘Special One’.
Their first meeting of Mourinho’s second coming, a League Cup win for Chelsea’s second-string side in October, suggested the Portuguese still had the measure of his old rival.
Yet Wenger denied needing a radical new game plan to turn the tables on Monday night, saying: “No, because sometimes they have equalised in the last minute at Chelsea and that’s not down to a game plan. That just reflects the strengths of the teams. I must say for a while Chelsea were stronger than us. You do not have to accept it but it was the reality.”
If that was a hint that this was no longer the case – Chelsea have been beaten seven times this season in all competitions – Wenger refused to expand on whether they were now more vulnerable. “I will answer that question on Tuesday.”
Another question we will know the answer to tomorrow will be who will be top of the table on Christmas Day. Not only that, but who will be second, third and fourth in the closest title race for years.
“It adds pressure but you cannot play in the Premier League without pressure,” said Wenger, whose side could lie first, second or even fourth. “There are periods where the pressure is a bit bigger and periods where it is smaller. You have to live with that and resist that kind of stress.”