Stunned Wenger hoping players bounce back from crushing defeat
Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on as a fan behind makes his feelings known. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
The afternoon began with fresh hope but by the end there was a familiar sense of despair and anger crackling around the Emirates. Arsenal supporters were either looking on in mortified silence or walking away spitting fury, with the most angry chanting “spend some f****** money” in the direction of a visibly stunned and shaken Arsene Wenger.
Afterwards the Arsenal manager defended his lack of activity in the transfer market this summer, insisting work was being undertaken “24 hours a day” to add to the arrival of the 20-year-old French striker Yaya Sanogo, and backed his players to “bounce back” from this loss. Maintain your patience and trust was the message to the fans, yet there was also an admission that even at this earliest of stages Arsenal are facing another examination of their talent and temperament.
“I do not deny this is a massive disappointment for us and what is important is to rebuild the confidence of the team,” said Wenger. “I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat.”
Much, then, hinges on Wednesday’s Champions League play-off first-leg tie with Fenerbahce, but Arsenal hardly travel to Istanbul in the best of shapes. Not only is confidence low but the squad’s injury list has now reached a critical level.
Prior to the weekend Mikel Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal had already been ruled unavailable for some weeks, and it now appears Bacary Sagna and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are out for lengthy spells after suffering respective neck and knee injuries against Villa, with the latter seen leaving the Emirates on crutches.
Miss Fenerbahce match
The pair will definitely miss the game against Fenerbahce – who finished second in Turkey’s Super Lig last season – as could Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, who also departed with concerns over their fitness.
“We have some trouble to recover some players for Wednesday but we have given the (squad) list to Uefa so we can only play with the players we have,” said Wenger. And that, fuming Arsenal fans would suggest, is the point. The club have had three months to add to their squad, and appeared set to do so when, in early June, the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, boasted about an “escalation in our financial firepower”. Yet targets such as Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo have moved elsewhere while links to Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez are burning away.
There has been a quality shortage for some time and now there is a quantity shortage to deal with too just days before a tie which threatens Arsenal’s participation in the Champions League for a 16th straight season, a level of consistency Wenger has increasingly pointed to as the trophies have dried up.
With so little business done, Wenger was asked if it is simply the case that Arsenal are no longer an attractive proposition for Europe’s top talents? “I believe we are,” he insisted. “For instance, I think Arsenal are more attractive than Monaco but it doesn’t stop players going to Monaco. In that case it is about the money.”
Wenger has just two more weeks to spend Arsenal’s money on a team that consistently created chances against Villa but were ultimately out-thought and out-fought by Paul Lambert’s side. The visitors looked doomed after going behind to Olivier Giroud’s early flicked finish but, inspired by the outstanding Gabriel Agbonlahor, they took the lead through two Christian Benteke penalties, the second of which came about in controversial circumstances when the referee, Anthony Taylor, deemed Laurent Koscielny had caught Agbonlahor as he drove into the area.
Replays suggested the defender got the ball first, making the booking he received particularly harsh, and even more so after he was sent off after receiving a second yellow for a foul on Andreas Weimann.
Villa deserved their victory, however, which was sealed by Antonio Luna’s late finish, displaying a level of organisation and ruggedness that was lacking last season as they battled against relegation. “We got off to a bad start and we know what happened last year when we went a goal down. We’ve learned a lot from that,” said the Villa captain, Ron Vlaar. “Mentally we are a stronger team.”