According to Arsene Wenger, a lack of comfort, luck and defending was the perfect storm that undid Arsenal in tonight’s 3-3 Champions League draw with Anderlecht.
Conceding that Anderlecht were due credit for their impressive three goal comeback, Wenger explained his side’s collapse.
“We had a poor defensive performance from the first to the last minute today. We never felt comfortable and somewhere we got punished because of bad luck. The first goal was offside but defensively our performance was not good enough to do it. Secondly at 3-0 we thought the job was done and it was a combination of switching off and fatigue as well. You could see we couldn’t win the challenges and they finished stronger and sharper – we got punished.”
As Arsenal clung onto their three goal lead, Mikel Arteta turned to the sideline to indicate he needed a substitute. Worry fell upon Wenger’s face and, like clockwork, Anderlecht scored. Visibly frustrated and injured, Arteta walked off the pitch clutching his left hamstring. For Wenger, this was a defining moment of the contest, saying, “I think when we lost Mike Arteta, we lost out because he was one of the few who defended well. That didn’t help.”
At 3-1, a palpable anxiety fell over the Emirates crowd. Whether it related to the loss of the clean sheet or another player to injury, something felt wrong and, as Wenger noted, “we underestimated subconsciously Anderlecht and got punished.” For the Frenchman, it comes down to mental strength, saying “[in] the Champions League you need to be at the mental level or you get punished and certainly we were not.”
Wenger also addressed the issue of whether his side may have underestimated the young Belgians. “I know people in life that have underestimated 100 times. I just think it can happen again. I don’t know if you have played football, but at 3-0 up after 60 minutes, subconsciously you can think that the game is won.” That said, Wenger went on to say he thought Anderlecht were a good side, noting the many chances they had in the first half and how a number of players impressed him.
Harping on the defense which Wenger described as “very, very poor,” he refused to allow that to serve as speculation for transfers in January, which he said was “not the worry tonight.” Looking forward, Wenger explained “the target is to go to Swansea with another [good] defensive performance.”
All is not lost, however, as qualifying for the Round of 16 is still very much in the cards for Arsenal. But, “for winning the group, tonight you can say that’s nearly impossible now.”