LONDON — Arsene Wenger cut a frustrated figure high up in the stand at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
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Serving the third match of his four-game touchline ban, he TV cameras often panned to Arsenal’s manager struggling to get messages down to this assistant coaches on the bench.
In truth, even if he was on the touchline it wouldn’t have made much difference.
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Arsenal put in an inept defensive display and now trail Premier League leaders Chelsea by 12 points with 14 games to go.
“Of course it was a foul,” Wenger said bluntly. “But he allowed the goal and after that, I feel we started well, but after that it was a much more difficult task because we were 1-0 down and Chelsea is very strong at defending and very good on transition in counter attack. We paid for that.”
The decision to take Bellerin off, who looked extremely dazed, came very quickly and Wenger has called for more fouls given for aerial battles. He also confirmed that Bellerin was confused after suffering the blow to his face from Alonso’s elbow and “didn’t know what the score was” as he walked off the pitch.
“The decision was for me very quick but you have to respect that, it’s the head,” Wenger said. “One of the particularities of the games today is that referees are much more severe with tackles on the ground and let more go with elbows in the face. It is not only today but in many, many games I see that. It is more dangerous to hit in the head than in the legs.”
Bellerin’s injury aside, Wenger admitted that plenty of his players weren’t up to their usual levels at Stamford Bridge.
Asked if Arsenal’s slim title chances are now over, he wouldn’t throw the towel in and said he would be focusing on the next game.
“We were maybe not good enough in possession to get our game more dangerous. We lost many balls in positions where you can’t afford to lose it when you play against a team who is good on counter attack. Overall, look at all their shots. Our goalkeeper didn’t have a lot to save today, even if I concede we did not create a lot in the final third. It was the kind of game Chelsea loves and they mastered it very well.”
What about Chelsea, are they the champions elect?
“They look at the moment in full confidence, powerful, strong, they don’t concede goals. It’s theirs to lose. They are in the best position. They don’t play in Europe. They can wait every week for the next game and prepare properly. They are in a very, very strong position.”
Arsenal are not.
After a fourth defeat in nine games in the Premier League they are now embroiled in a battle for a top four finish. Arsenal has 47 points, with Tottenham on 47 points, plus Liverpool and Manchester City on 46 points ahead of the later games in Week 23.
That means one of those giants won’t finish in the top four and given Arsenal’s back-to-back defeats and slack defensive display at Chelsea, the Gunners will be looking over their shoulders nervously.
With Wenger’s contract running up in the summer, plus the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (both of whom had off days) up in the air. There’s a massive few months coming up in Arsenal’s future.