Arsene Wenger has said it was unacceptable for his Arsenal players to publicly admit that Crystal Palace “wanted it more” following Monday’s defeat at Selhurst Park.
The Gunners were beaten 3-0 in south London as the wheels continued to come off their season – leaving them sixth in the Premier League and seven points adrift of the top four.
Sam Allardyce’s Palace were deserved winners as they eased their own relegation fears at the same time as inflicting a seventh defeat in 12 games on Wenger’s side.
Theo Walcott captained Arsenal on the night and, after the game, he conceded the Palace players had been more up for the contest.
“That wasn’t us tonight,” he told Sky Sports.
“We are all disappointed in the changing room, like the fans are. We let them down. We can only apologise. They wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off.”
Walcott’s comments sparked fury among Arsenal fans on social media and Wenger said at his press conference on Friday that it was wrong for the England forward to make such remarks.
“It is not acceptable,” he said.
“But the players were conscious of that when we were in the decisive duels. That’s what I said straight after the game. We were beaten, and you have to face reality and respond.”
The recent run of poor form has coincided with continued speculation over Wenger’s future, with the 67-year-old yet to announce whether he will stay at the club beyond the end of the season.
The Frenchman’s current contract expires then but a number of fans are protesting over any new deal being offered.
Wenger again offered no indication over his plans, simply replying “nothing” when asked if anything had changed on that front.
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He did say that his relationship with owner Stan Kroenke had not changed and that any division at boardroom level was nothing to do with him.
“What is happening at board level is not down to me,” he said.
“I focus on what is down to me, the performance of the team and what the fans are interested in is the performance of the team.
“I believe our relationship has always been the same and that has not changed.”
Wenger also said he could give no assurances that Arsenal will bounce back from their disappointment at Palace with a win at struggling Middlesbrough on Easter Monday – conceding they may finish the season out of the top four.
Asked whether his players would give a positive response, he said: “You can never guarantee that.
“In football, you have to accept that the risk is part of it and that you can win, lose or draw. What you want – the real response – is to play with total commitment and with total belief in what we do.
“We might get there (into the top four), we might not get there, but the only thing to get there is to believe we can do it and that’s what we have to focus on.
“It’s not the fear to fail, it’s the desire to make it and that’s the only chance we have to make it.”
Alexis Sanchez has been nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award having scored 22 goals and laying on 17 assists so far this season.
Wenger praised the Chilean forward but also refused to reveal whether reports of a contract worth £300,000 a week had been offered to a player whose deal expires in 2018.
“First of all, I cannot confirm that we have offered that,” he said.
“Secondly, we will do as always. We have to consider our financial potential to sustain the wages for the whole squad.
“What is for sure is that what is paid per week today was 20 years ago per year. Will that continue to go up? I don’t know. I’m always tempted to say no but I was wrong on that front.
“I’m very happy (Sanchez has been nominated) because it rewards a very strong season if you look at his numbers.
“His goalscoring record is good, his assists are good and I believe that the combination of goalscoring and assists always shows the quality of a player.”