Arsenal news

Wenger seeks positives

April 3, 2011

Arsene Wenger maintains his battle-weary Arsenal squad must not dwell on recent failures if they are to salvage their season by staying in the race for the Premier League title.

The Gunners boss was lost to explain the team's "flat performance with a lack of energy'' in Saturday's hugely frustrating goalless draw against ten-man Blackburn at Emirates Stadium.

It was, though, a familiar below-par display which led to a third consecutive draw and allowed Manchester United to extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points after they had come from behind to win at West Ham earlier in the day.

Wenger, however, challenged the squad to show the necessary character not to allow the bitter disappointments of a spell which saw Carling Cup final failure at Wembley swiftly followed by European exit and FA Cup defeat at United to hang over them for the remainder of a campaign which again promised so much.

"You cannot worry about yesterday and lose the targets you have in front of you,'' the Arsenal boss said. "That is part of our job and mental strength as well, to deal with all these things.''

Wenger added: "I had not seen most of the players for two weeks and we got them back altogether on Friday morning for the first time, so it was very difficult to predict what would happen. Players have come back from international duty and they are not sharp - half of the team has not recovered.''

Arsenal had started brightly, with fit-again Theo Walcott causing Rovers plenty of concern. However, the tone for another afternoon of frustration was set when chance after chance went begging, England midfielder Jack Wilshere a chief culprit when he sidefooted wide from 12 yards.

As tensions mounted among the disgruntled Emirates Stadium faithful, Rovers - who had not won since January 23 and lost five of the last eight - grew into their gameplan.

Indeed, Steven Nzonzi was unfortunate to see his backward header drop just wide at the end of the first half when Manuel Almunia got nowhere near a long punt into the Arsenal penalty area.

The midfielder, though, would not finish the game after a clumsy two-footed challenge on Laurent Koscielny resulted in a straight red card from referee Phil Dowd.

Yet even the introduction of captain Cesc Fabregas, who had been nursing a hamstring problem, could not spark the Gunners into life, as Nicklas Bendtner saw a late effort blocked on the line by Michel Salgado.

The final whistle was greeted with boos from some sections of the home support, who will now be less than confident Arsenal can cut the deficit by winning their match in hand at Tottenham and then beating United at Emirates Stadium on May 1. Wenger, though, will not let anything distract the focus of his men.

"That is not our concern,'' the Gunners boss said. "We are responsible for our performances and for our attitude, not for the attitude of anybody else.''

Arsenal may have viewed the result as two points dropped, but it was certainly one gained for Rovers in their scrap at the other end of the Premier League table. The race for survival looks much more tight than the title quest may prove to be.

Rovers boss Steve Kean feels his squad are heading in the right direction.

He said: "We have had good momentum, even in the Fulham game a few weeks ago where we came from behind twice and then in the last minute had a decision where a penalty was given against us, which was a point snatched away.

"Against Blackpool before the international break, we came back from 2-0 down, then getting the point at Arsenal when we were down to ten men shows the togetherness we have got in the group. We can take massive encouragement and when you look at the remaining games, it is going to be so tight.

"I have got a great relationship with the players, the staff and the young guys coming through, so hopefully we can continue to pick up points and look forward to climbing the table.''