Arsene Wenger said his Arsenal players “lacked conviction” when they got their chances and were guilty of “soft defending” for Tottenham Hotspur’s goal, as they face up to the fact that they will finish behind their rivals for the first time in 22 years, having been beaten 2-0 in the last north London derby at the old White Hart Lane.
The Arsenal manager admitted it will be “very difficult” to make the top four after blowing the chance to keep the prospect in their own hands, but wouldn’t be drawn on falling so far behind Spurs, merely describing it as a “good subject for the media”.
The reality was that his side had been a distant second best to Mauricio Pochettino’s, and the final score could have been a lot heavier than the 2-0 supplied by Dele Alli and Harry Kane goals, making Wenger’s belief that his side “had clear-cut chances in the first half” all the more surprising.
The best Arsenal had was an Aaron Ramsey long shot and blocked Alexis Sanchez effort, before a half-chance for substitute Theo Walcott late on, amid what was a conspicuously meek and timid response given the stakes of the game.
“It was a tight game until they scored the first goal,” Wenger said. “Then, we conceded straight away a soft penalty and the 2-0 was a shock. We gave Spurs big confidence and I think it took us time to recover from that and in the end they created chances from then on and we were a bit lucky to keep it at 2-0. In the last 15 minutes, we dominated the game but without being capable to create clear-cut chances or to take any chances that we created. Overall, I think you come to the conclusion that Spurs deserved to win the game. Well done to them.
“I felt that there is plenty of room, especially in the first-half to score goals that we didn't use well because we played a little bit with a restricted attitude and I felt we lacked a little bit freedom to play and desire to hurt them more than what we did. We had clear-cut chances in the first-half. We didn't take them well. Not with enough conviction and not with enough determination.”
Asked whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have done better for Alli’s opening goal, having appeared to try and clear it with the wrong foot, Wenger said: “Honestly, I haven't seen it again. I have to watch it. From the bench, it was not very clear. It just looked like we were not out-numbered. We had six against two or three. It was soft defending.”
It means the hard reality is that Arsenal are 17 points behind Spurs.
“The points are the points,” Wenger said. “They do not come from heaven. You earn them on the pitch. That's it.
“Look, do I believe [it] or not, the gap is there. Often, in the final part of a season, that can go one way or the other without really reflecting the difference between the teams but … I know it's a good subject for the media.
“It will be very difficult [to make the top four] now but we have to fight. We have a cup final. We still have a chance to get into the top four. We have to recover from today and prepare for our next games.”