Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

I'll shoulder blame if Arsenal fail, says Wenger

Is he leaving? Bacary Sagna
Is he leaving? Bacary Sagna

Arsene Wenger is not about to play down Arsenal's chances of winning the Barclays Premier League and will take "full responsibility" if they fail this season.

Both Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini have been keen to stress why their clubs should be considered as favourites for what has become the most open of championship battles.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, claimed his side were the "Chihuahua that runs in between the horses' legs" following a dramatic midweek win at Fulham, which cut the gap on the leaders to four points.

That comment brought a response from Mourinho, who in turn insisted the Reds were in a "privileged position" because of not playing in Europe, unlike their three rivals. However, Wenger does not intend to speak anything but positively about his team's chances of success as they prepare for tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round tie against Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium.

"If you're not in the race you cannot lose it, if you declare yourself not in the race you cannot lose it, simple as that," said Wenger, whose side are a point behind Chelsea in second place, albeit having played a match more than City.

"I think just that our job is to be ambitious and to try to win, if we do not win to take full responsibility for that. That's as simple as that and that's how I see it.

"I say yes we are in it, yes we will have a go for it, we will absolutely give everything to go for it and if we don't do I will take responsibility for it, but I just see it like that."

Having had to listen to pundits claim all season his side do not have what it takes to last the distance, Wenger is not about to be concerned with any reverse psychology tactics from Mourinho, who previously stated Chelsea were the "little horse" in the title race.

"We live in a league and in a country where we have one advantage – everybody can think what he wants, (but) it is very difficult when you're first in the league to distract people," Wenger said.

"It is very open, only Chelsea can lose it because they are in front and all the other teams can win it."

Asked why every other manager says they are not contenders, Wenger responded: "It is (because of a) fear to fail."

Wenger rejects any suggestion Liverpool prefer to have so much rest between fixtures instead of having to prepare to take on the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

"If you win and you have no big injuries, it's better you play competitions," said Wenger.

"On a physical front, (yes) it is a huge advantage for Liverpool, but if you give them the choice - would you like to play in the Champions League? They have not played in the Champions League for several years, so they would say yes, don't worry."

Arsenal were thumped 5-1 at Anfield in the Premier League last weekend, but responded with a goalless draw against Manchester United on Wednesday night.

Midfielder Santi Cazorla is doubtful this weekend because of illness, but Mathieu Flamini returns from suspension.

Wenger is expecting a much-improved display when they tackle Liverpool again, looking for a repeat of Arsenal's 2-0 home league win in November.

"These guys are winners. When they lose in that way believe me they are hurt," said the Arsenal manager.

"When you can put things right, you want an opportunity to do that and we have an opportunity."

Right-back Bacary Sagna, 31, is out of contract in the summer, and there have been reports he was close to agreeing a three-year extension worth some £100,000-a-week – but Wenger said that he "wasn't close" to signing.

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