Belfast Telegraph

Arsene Wenger demands perfection in order for Champions League qualification

Arsene Wenger has admitted Arsenal have to win each of their remaining seven Premier League games if they are to secure a 20th successive top-four finish.

The Gunners hauled themselves to within seven points of fourth-placed Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, with a 2-1 victory at struggling Middlesbrough on Monday night, but the Frenchman knows they can afford no more slip-ups.

Wenger said: "For us, the clarity is there - we have to win every game to have a chance to get in the top four, starting tonight.

"I think it will make the team a bit more serene. You could see that one some occasions, we were a bit over-cautious tonight. Hopefully that will give us a bit more confidence.

"Mathematically it is still possible, even if it is difficult, but we have to give it a go."

Arsenal, who face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday, had to fight all the way for their win on Teesside after Alvaro Negredo had cancelled out Alexis Sanchez's superb 42nd-minute free-kick.

It took Mesut Ozil's strike 19 minutes from time to clinch victory as Wenger's decision to play three at the back for the first time in his 20 years with the Gunners ultimately paid off.

He said with a smile: "Yes, it is the first time in 20 years. That shows you that even at my age, you can change.

"Sometimes when your team lacks confidence, just to have something new to believe helps them to focus. The fact we conceded three at West Brom, three at Crystal Palace, I felt it was needed.

"It was a committed game that we needed to win. In the first half, it was tight because they defended very well. We were tested just after half-time when they came back to 1-1.

"We were tested mentally and we found a response to win the game. That is what we needed and that's what we wanted.

"Of course, Middlesbrough did fight because it was one of their last chances to stay in the league. That's why we never gave up.

"We maybe rode our luck a little bit one or two occasions on crosses, but overall, we were a bit more solid defensively."

Boro head coach Steve Agnew was left to bemoan one that got away after Petr Cech pulled off a fine reaction save to deny central defender Daniel Ayala with 61 minutes gone.

Agnew said: "I think that was the moment. We have been waiting for it for a few weeks and I just felt that when we scored, we had Arsenal on the back foot. We pushed them back, and you're just thinking the ball is going to bounce in the right area.

"Dani has done everything right, but the ball has got right down the line of Petr Cech."

Boro performed creditably, but find themselves still six points adrift of safety with just six games remaining, and knowing time is running out fast.

Agnew said: "Obviously we missed an opportunity. We all realise the task ahead, but equally we are six points off it, a game in hand and a terrific goal difference.

"The players were amazing in terms of their effort and commitment and attitude towards the game. They played with such an intensity, I couldn't ask any more of them."

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