Belfast Telegraph

Wenger: Cup defeat damaged belief

Arsene Wenger feels Arsenal never really recovered from the loss of a "subconscious belief" as their season unravelled following their shock defeat in the Carling Cup final at Wembley.

The Gunners host Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United on Sunday with their title hopes in tatters, now nine points adrift and back in third place behind Chelsea. While the Arsenal manager feels his team have continued with the right focus, underneath the bitter disappointment of a last-minute defensive mix-up against Birmingham which gifted Obafemi Martins a winner continues to play on their minds.

"I feel the team gave a lot in the last two months," Wenger said. "Since we lost in the Carling Cup, everything has turned a little bit against us."

When Wenger led his young side out against the Blues on February 27, they were on the cusp of winning a first trophy since 2005, which would be the first of many as they challenged for domestic and European honours.

Two months later, though, and Wenger has been forced to defend the character of his squad after all those dreams evaporated once again.

He added: "When we were on all fronts this team had fought very well. I just feel that after the Carling Cup we continued to be absolutely spot on with our attitude, but we missed a little bit of that subconscious belief which makes you win - that frustrates you because you know that it is there and you want to fight against it."

Arsenal had been on a 16-game unbeaten run before losing 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium on Easter Sunday, but a succession of draws already had looked to derail their realistic title hopes.

Wenger added: "If you look at all the numbers, it is the closest we have been.

"Just look at the last week - we could have had nine points quite easily against Liverpool, Tottenham and Bolton, in the end we finished with two.

"We feel more frustrated than ever because we are closer than ever to win this league. Of the two trophies, the most important above all for me is the league - and this year we had the quality to win it."

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