Arsène Wenger issued a reminder that you do not have to be young to be modern after his side ended a run of four successive away Premier League defeats with a 2-1 win featuring a brand-new formation at Middlesbrough last night.
Arsenal’s manager, 67, arrested his slide by showcasing an unexpected back three against spirited opponents fighting to avoid relegation. “It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve played it,” he said. “It shows that, even at my age, you can change.
“We’ve lost a lot of direct fights centrally so it gets us a bit stronger in the air. It gives the team confidence to have something new to believe. I felt it was needed. We were vulnerable. Confidence in life goes away quickly but comes back slowly. There was some nervousness for us.”
Goals from Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, either side of Álvaro Negredo’s equaliser lifted Wenger’s team to sixth, seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, albeit with a game in hand. A manager simultaneously engaged in a similarly draining power struggle with his club’s chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, accepted that qualifying for the Champions League is an uphill task but was relieved to end Arsenal’s worst league run on the road for 88 years.
“We needed to win,” Wenger added. “We were tested and maybe rode our luck on one or two occasions with crosses but we were committed and the back three worked well in the first half, we were solid. Now we have to win every game to have a chance of getting in the top four.”
Asked if the reluctance of Sanchez and Özil to sign new contracts had affected Arsenal’s form, Wenger gave a cryptic reply. “Despite sometimes difficult situations, or some situations that lack clarity, we are professional people, our job is to perform and we can still perform,” he said.
While he, once again, declined to reveal whether or not he intends to remain in charge at the Emirates next season, Steve Agnew hopes to persuade Steve Gibson, Middlesbrough’s owner, to offer him the job on a permanent basis. Although he has taken only two points from his five games since succeeding Aitor Karanka, Boro’s performances have improved considerably and there was a second half period when they threatened to win.
“My players were amazing,” said Agnew whose side are second bottom, six points behind 17th-placed Hull City with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference. “They played with such intensity I couldn’t have asked for any more from them. I’m so, so pleased with their spirit and effort but disappointed to lose.”
Not that he is resigned to relegation. “We’re still only six points behind Hull with a game in hand and a terrific goal difference,” he said.