Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Wenger praises mental strength

Arsene Wenger was thrilled with Arsenal's resilience at St James' Park
Arsene Wenger was thrilled with Arsenal's resilience at St James' Park

Arsene Wenger praised Arsenal's new-found resilience as they withstood a late onslaught at Newcastle to climb back to the top of the Barclays Premier League table.

The Gunners found themselves having to defend deep and in numbers as they clung on to the advantage given to them by Olivier Giroud's 65th-minute header at St James' Park, taking three precious points in the title race.

Wenger said: "There is something in the team that is special on that front, on the mental front.

"We have many times been questioned, but we have shown that at West Ham, where we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today, where we were a bit backs-to-the-wall in the last 15 minutes.

"There's a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side. For years, we were younger to resist this kind of pressure, but we have always been up there at the top.

"If you analyse our results, we have always been up there. Last year in this period, we were out of the championship race, but in 2013, we have been quite consistent."

The game never lived up to the clash between the sides at the Emirates Stadium 12 months ago to the day when the Gunners ran out 7-3 winners.

This time around, both were more cautious and largely frustrated each other with neither goalkeeper having a great deal to do.

Wojciech Szczesny had to tip away a stinging drive from Moussa Sissoko in first-half injury time and Mathieu Debuchy headed against the bar from the resulting corner, but that was as close as the Magpies came until Szczesny blasted an 82nd-minute clearance straight at striker Loic Remy and saw the ball run just wide of the target.

Ultimately the game was settled by one defensive error when Giroud got away from Mike Williamson to meet Theo Walcott's free-kick with a glancing header to score his 11th goal of the season, although he was later guilty of a glaring miss which would have wrapped up the win.

Wenger said: "It was a very intense game against a good Newcastle team, who made it a big physical challenge today, and overall I felt we were in control of the game until we scored.

"At 1-0, we missed a second chance that would have certainly sealed the game, but in the last 15 minutes, we showed another aspect of our team, and that means resilience, fight.

"We threw our bodies in the box and have shown a lot of resilience, so we have shown today a technical aspect of our team that was quite good, but as well a mental aspect that was needed in a game of that stature."

Opposite number Alan Pardew was convinced the Magpies should have been awarded a free-kick seconds before the Cheick Tiote foul on Santi Cazorla which led to the decisive goal, but was still able to take positives from his side's performance.

He said: "There was definitely a foul before then on (Vurnon) Anita, without a shadow of a doubt; there was a foul on (Moussa) Sissoko that he (referee Lee Probert) didn't give.

"In terms of the breaks of the decisions, I don't want to say the referee had a poor game, but sometimes he sees those calls and they go your way, sometimes they don't.

"Against Stoke, we had all the calls go our way and today, perhaps, we were on the other side of it.

"It's just frustrating that we have not got something on the scoreboard in terms of a point, no more than that.

"One set-play where we didn't defend well has cost us and we have been good at them all year."

Meanwhile, Wenger distanced himself from speculation that he will make a renewed bid to sign Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye next month.

He said: "We don't look for midfielders because today, we had not (Mesut) Ozil, not (Aaron) Ramsey, who stayed at home, and we had still three good midfielders and had still (Mikel) Arteta on the bench, so there is no real need in there."

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