London: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team had answered some of their critics after blowing Premier League title rivals Manchester United off the park in a resounding 3-0 victory.
Wenger was roundly criticised in the British press after his side’s 3-2 loss to Olympiakos last week left them struggling to avoid a group-stage exit in the Champions League and hit out at the media for focusing on his decision to select blundering second-choice goalkeeper David Ospina. But his players responded in dazzling fashion at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, scoring three times in the first 19 minutes en route to a win that sent them up to second place in the table.
“That’s what you want in games of that stature,” Wenger said. “We started very strong, we decided to press very high, to play at a great pace, and we did that very well. “In the second half we decided to be disciplined, control the result, and we did that very well as well, so we had two aspects in our game that are pleasing and were convincing today (Sunday). “It gives a strong answer to all the questions that were raised during the week.” Arsenal now trail leaders Manchester City by two points, with United below them on goal difference, and Wenger concurred when it was put to him that his side had sent out a message about their title credentials.
“To win in a big game is always a statement,” said the Frenchman, whose side also hit the bar through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain late on. “We are in it, we are two points off the leaders, Manchester City, so I hope that result today will give us belief and ambition to fight for it.” Alexis Sanchez scored Arsenal’s first and third goals, a cheeky back-heel in the sixth minute followed by an 18-year thunderbolt, with Theo Walcott teeing up Mesut Ozil to slot home 74 seconds after the Chilean’s opener.
Wenger revealed that Sanchez, who went off in the 81st minute, had sustained a “little groin problem”, but said that he expected him to be fit for Chile’s opening 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Peru. United manager Louis van Gaal admitted that he was “amazed” by the lack of aggression shown by his side in the opening stages, particularly after a run of four successive wins in all competitions.
The visitors created only two real chances, Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech saving smartly from Anthony Martial and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and were badly overrun in midfield in the early stages. But Van Gaal dismissed suggestions that he had erred by leaving out holding midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, having instead fielded Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick, and refused to discuss a disappointing display by captain Wayne Rooney.
“I never can answer that question because when I say it in a positive way, it’s maybe not good and when I say it in a negative way, then it’s in all the headlines tomorrow that I am not satisfied about the performance of Wayne Rooney,” he said. “I talk about ‘team’ and Wayne Rooney is a very important part of our team because he’s the captain. That’s much more important than individual evaluation in a newspaper.” Van Gaal will not see his players again until after the international break and he expressed frustration that he will not have an opportunity to help them shake Sunday’s result out of their systems.
“We’ve lost in a way you cannot lose when you’re top of the league. You cannot start like we have started,” said the Dutchman, whose side visit Everton in their next league game on October 17. “The worst thing is that everybody is going away, even from London airports. And I cannot build up a new situation so that they have the confidence to play football and win the next battle away at Everton, for example.”