Arsenal supporters turned on Arsène Wenger and his players labelling them “not fit to wear the shirt” after the club’s chances of finishing in the top four were dealt a potentially critical blow with a humiliating defeat at Crystal Palace.
The visitors’ fans reacted furiously to this 3-0 loss, only their second ever to Palace at Selhurst Park, with their captain, Theo Walcott, apologising for the manner of this spineless performance. Supporters screamed abuse at those few players, led by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who dared to approach the away section after the match and barracked the team as they boarded the coach. Wenger, who was reluctant to discuss his own future, admitted he fears for his team’s prospects of qualifying for the Champions League.
“The defeat is damaging, of course, but I’m disappointed and determined to put things right,” said Wenger, who was subjected to chants of “get out of our club”. “You understand that our fans are very unhappy. They came here with the hope they’d win the game. They are extremely disappointed and I can understand that, like we all are, but Crystal Palace were sharper than us. Every defeat is a big worry. I’ve managed over 1,100 games for Arsenal and we’re not used to that [kind of performance], so it’s a big worry. We have to respond very quickly and not accept it.”
Asked if doubts over his own future beyond this season were affecting his players, who have now conceded three goals in each of their last four Premier League away games, Wenger added: “No, I don’t think so. Look, I face questions about my future all the time but tonight I’m not in the mood to speak about it.
“Honestly I’m disappointed tonight so much. To see us lose the game in the way we did … that’s very disappointing. It would be ‘inconvenient’ for me to speak about my own future tonight. It was more painful for us to lose this game in the way we lost it.”
The defeat left Arsenal seven points behind the top four, with a game in hand on Manchester City and two on Liverpool, with eight matches to play and no real sign of improvement on the pitch. “That’s not Arsenal,” admitted Walcott. “Tonight wasn’t us at all. All we can do is apologise for that performance tonight. Palace just wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off and it was an uphill battle towards the end there. We thought we had got out of this little patch and, hopefully, we haven’t been dragged straight back into it. But, judging on that performance tonight, it looks like we have.”
Wenger was adamant his players had not downed tools as they subsided to goals from Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and a Luka Milivojevic penalty. “No, I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “Maybe the fact that we’ve lost a few away games. It’s really strange … we were unbeaten for a long time away from home and now we cannot win away from home. It had an impact on us after the second goal. The top four is very difficult, certainly.”
A fifth win in six matches took Palace six points clear of the bottom three, with a game in hand on Swansea and Hull City below them, and followed up their eye-catching victory at Chelsea earlier this month. “It was an incredible victory,” said Townsend. “Sam Allardyce has been incredible. I was on the wrong end of the ‘Sam Allardyce factor’ when I was at Newcastle last season [when the manager was in charge of Sunderland] but he looks to have worked his magic. Hopefully we can get enough points to survive.”