Wenger vents anger as tame Arsenal spurn victory
Arsenal threw away a three-goal lead to leave their Champions League qualification less than certain
Arsenal 3 Anderlecht 3.Arsenal threw away a 3-0 lead at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday evening in a shambolic display of defending that left Arsene Wenger fuming.
The Arsenal manager stormed down the tunnel at the final whistle, unable to believe that he had just seen his side concede three goals in 29 minutes against an Anderlecht side that had lost seven of their last eight encounters against English sides in Europe.
"We gave a poor defensive performance from the first to the last," Wenger admitted. "Our defensive performance was not good enough. Across the pitch defensively, we were very, very poor."
Few of the Arsenal faithful would disagree with their manager's assessment. Nor the Arsenal players. Captain Mikel Arteta – who limped off with a hamstring injury on 62 minutes – was similarly scathing about his teammates capitulation.
"It is just not good enough," said the Spaniard. "We have thrown everything away today. Even after conceding the first goal we still had a two-goal lead. It has blown our chances of winning the group and that is the main aim at the start of the competition."
Arteta had opened Arsenal's account on 25 minutes, chipping a penalty into the visitors' net after Chancel Mbemba had fouled Danny Welbeck. Four minutes later it was 2-0 as Alexis Sanchez rifled home a low shot after his initial free-kick had struck the Anderlecht wall. As the rain came down in north London you could almost hear the sound of floodgates opening, and when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 3-0 on 58 minutes the small band of Belgians who had made the trip across the Channel feared the worst.
But it was Arsenal who went to pieces. There was no question that Anthony Vanden Borre was a yard offside when he struck on 61 minutes but few of the home crowd groused that much. A consolation goal, they thought. But the tension inside the Emirates began to mount on 73 minutes when Nacho Monreal brought down Aleksandar Mitrovic and the French referee pointed to the spot. Vanden Borre converted the penalty and then, on the stroke of full-time, Mitrovic outjumped the Arsenal defence to head home the equaliser.
"We dropped off too much and we didn't go into the challenges anymore," Wenger said. "Then, you are always open. We didn't stop the crosses, the long balls. In the second half, it was bad defending more than being out-numbered…maybe, we subconsciously underestimated Anderlecht and we got punished."
Sub-consciously, some of Wenger's fury will be aimed at himself. He was told by the fans in the summer that he needed additional defensive reinforcements, but he demurred, although he admitted at last month's AGM that a reliable defender would be bought in the New Year transfer window.
On the basis of last night's performance, Arsenal will need more than just one defender to strengthen their back four if they are to launch a credible challenge in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
First they still have to qualify. Had they won last night, Arsenal would have progressed to the last 16 of the tournament, along with runaway group leaders Borussia Dortmund, who thrashed Galatasaray 4-1 and are now five points clear of Arsenal. As it is, Wenger's men still require a point from their final two games, not a given if they carry on defending like Sunday morning amateurs. "In the Champions League you need to be at the right mental level," reflected Wenger. "Certainly, we were not."