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Wenger has a blast at the officials as Guardiola hails side's fighting display qualities

By Ian Herbert

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger launched a bizarre attack on match officials who he said were to blame for his side's 2-1 defeat to Manchester City, declaring that they were immune from attack like "lions in the zoo".

Wenger's players looked to have inadequate fitness levels to cope with a second half comeback by Pep Guardiola's men and he admitted they had "dropped physically" after leading 1-0 at the interval.

But both City's goals came after borderline offside calls went against the Gunners and for the second time in five days he blamed officials.

"We conceded two offside goals which is hard to accept in a game of that stature," Wenger said.

"The referees are protected very well and that is right - like the lions in the zoo. I want them to be protected and be very safe but if they could make the right decision it would be better. It's too long a subject and I don't want to make a question of referees in a press conference. But it's difficult to lose a game of that stature with two offside goals. City look very happy and I would as well."

Pressed on why he could cite fitness levels when his players are supposed to be prepared to elite top flight standard, Wenger also blamed the Premier League for its scheduling. He complained that last week's game at Everton, in which his players also sacrificed a lead to lose 2-1, was on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, giving his squad a day less to prepare. Yet if they had played at Goodison Park on Wednesday, there would have been a day less to prepare for City, who leapfrog the north London team to reclaim second spot after their win.

"We played many games," Wenger said. "We've had one day less recovery. There are plenty of teams who don't play in Europe who are big teams and could have played on Wednesday. I think it's the accumulation of teams who we have played."

The complaint about yesterday's referee Martin Atkinson comes after Wenger severely criticised Mark Clattenburg for incorrectly awarding a corner from which Ashley Williams scored an 86th minute winner on Tuesday. Alexis Sanchez was not awarded a penalty which Arsenal also thought should have been theirs.

Wenger, who had to withdraw substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a hamstring problem only 11 minutes after sending him on for Alex Iwobi, said it had been a "horrible week."

"We have to come back next week and win our game (at home to West Brom on Boxing Day). We have had a horrible week and, what is worse, out of two good performances we get zero points and out of two leading positions we lose two games," he said.

City manager pep Guardiola said: "Now we are second. At least we are there and can be there until the end of the season, fighting for the title."

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