Wenger finally says it: Arsenal risk losing status as top club
2-1 defeat to Chelsea 'very difficult to swallow for Wenger, while Benitez finally avoids Chelsea boos
Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1. For the first time this season, perhaps even in his Arsenal career, Arsene Wenger admitted his side is in danger of losing its status as one of the Premier League's top clubs.
The Gunners' 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at a snowbound Stamford Bridge leaves them in sixth, seven points behind Tottenham in fourth, and a massive 22 points adrift of leaders Manchester United, who were held by Spurs to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane last night.
"It's a concern," said Wenger, when asked about Arsenal's chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League. "We have lost two big games in the last week and that's very damaging for us. We cannot afford to drop points anymore if we want to be in the top four."
Having been beaten at the Emirates by Manchester City last Sunday, Wenger knows that the visit of West Ham on Wednesday is a must win game if the Gunners are going to take advantage of their game in hand and keep Tottenham within their sights. "What is important is that we focus on giving our best in the next game and our next game is on Wednesday," said Wenger, who admitted that defeat to Chelsea was "very difficult to swallow".
Chelsea deserved their three points. It was only the Blues' second home win in the league since Rafa Benitez took over as manager two months ago and for once the Spaniard wasn't booed down the tunnel by those home fans still seething at his appointment.
"We have been doing well and creating chances in all our games," said Benitez, who last saw his team win at home when they thrashed Aston Villa 8-0 two days before Christmas. "In the games we didn't win we deserved to win. It was just a matter of time until we had a performance like this."
Chelsea took the lead on six minutes when Juan Mata fired home, and Frank Lampard doubled the Blues' advantage ten minutes later when he beat Wojciech Szczesny from the penalty spot after the Arsenal keeper had fouled Ramires.
If Arsenal thought they were unlucky not to have been awarded a free kick in the lead-up to Chelsea's first goal when Ramires caught Francis Coquelin, the Gunners must have breathed a sigh of relief when referee Martin Atkinson gave Szczesny a yellow and not a red for the foul on the Brazilian.
Arsenal played with far more assurance after the break and when Theo Waloctt pulled a goal back just before the hour mark, running onto a sweet pass from Santi Cazorla and firing home for his ninth league goal of the season, Chelsea fans feared they might be in for a repeat of Wednesday night when Southampton came back from two down for a share of the points.
This time, however, Chelsea held on for the win although Olivier Giroud almost snatched a stoppage-time equaliser for the Gunners but his header went the wrong side of the crossbar.
The Blues remain in third spot, six points behind Manchester City in second but four clear of Tottenham. "Today's game was important for us in different ways," said Juan Mata later. "We first kept going and reduced the gap to Manchester United and City. Then we played well in front of our supporters, who were very nervous."