Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle: Wenger hails depth of quality in Premiership

By Glenn Moore

For a moment Arsene Wenger sounded like a manager explaining a defeat by talking up the opposition: "When you see Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Mitrovic - the quality of his ball protection - Janmaat, when he goes forward, there's power and quality there."

Arsenal had, though, not only beaten Newcastle United on Saturday to ease two points clear at the Premier League summit, they had kept a clean sheet against this fearsome foursome. But Wenger had a point, and not just because he recognised the 1-0 victory owed much to several fine saves by Petr Cech.

Moussa Sissoko is a current France international with 34 caps. Georginio Wijnaldum last season captained a PSV Eindhoven team who have since knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League. He and Daryl Janmaat were part of the Dutch team that reached the last World Cup semi-finals. Aleksandar Mitrovic topped the Belgian scoring chart last season.

These are good players. That they are part of a team in the relegation zone reflects badly on Newcastle's recruitment, and the performances of their playing and coaching staff, but also underlines the strength of the Premier League. In terms of depth, it is peerless. Television wealth has enabled every team to sign good players.

"The clubs which are a little bit smaller now have the financial potential," said Wenger.

"At half-time I saw the scores, no goal anywhere basically. That shows you the teams are very tight quality-wise.

" It is surprising that everyone can lose everywhere. I believe as well that, organisation-wise, everybody has improved.

"What is even more important is that physically you won the games in the last 20 minutes when you were superior technically. That's not the case any more. The players on the bench of the smaller clubs are good as well. They have the quality to finish you off."

As if to illustrate the point Newcastle brought on Florian Thauvin and Siem de Jong, and left Yoan Gouffran on the bench. All three arrived on these shores with much bigger reputations than the match-winner Laurent Koscielny.

His maturing into a high-class defender with a handy eye for goal shows bargains can be had in the French market so keenly scoured by Newcastle. The trick is to develop them within an experienced core, as Arsenal do, not throw them all in at once. Even then it has taken them time to mature.

"When we moved into the stadium [in 2006], on the day we could play everybody off the park," said Wenger, "but when you had to dig deep, come out with your knowledge and your experience, it was a bit more difficult."

Arsenal can do that now. Newcastle were sharper in midfield and created better chances, but Cech kept them at bay.

Then Koscielny punished a lapse in concentration. Newcastle have now lost their last three matches 1-0 and desperately need goals.

With Papiss Cisse out for "two to three months", according to manager Steve McClaren, they may enter the transfer market. Finding the right striker will, though, be difficult.

It would be so much simpler if one of the good players they already possess could regain confidence in front of goal.

Belfast Telegraph


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