Fightback gives Wenger belief in title

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed that he decided only on Saturday to include match-winner Danny Welbeck in his squad and confessed that he had glimpsed the grim apparition of past Premier League title failures during his side's 2-1 win over leaders Leicester City.

At half-time of Sunday's table-topping showdown at the Emirates, Leicester led 1-0 through Jamie Vardy's penalty and Arsenal were staring down the barrel of an eight-point deficit to the summit.

But, after Leicester's Danny Simpson was sent off, substitutes Theo Walcott and Welbeck struck to lift Wenger's side to within two points of first place and rekindle hopes of a first league crown since 2004.

"A loss would have been massive," Wenger told his post-match press conference. "Even after that you get all the negative vibes, the belief goes down. It would have been much more difficult.

"We would not have given up, but eight points is three games to come back (with 12 left). We would need to win three, they would need to lose three."

Welbeck's goal, a 95th-minute header on his return from a 10-month injury layoff, sets Arsenal up nicely for a run of games that sees them tackle Hull City in the FA Cup and holders Barcelona in the Champions League before returning to league action at Manchester United on Feb 28.

They must also visit second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and fourth-placed Manchester City over the season's closing weeks, but Wenger said the nature of the victory over Leicester would give them great heart.

"It will strengthen our belief that we are in the fight," said the Frenchman, whose side had won 2-0 at Bournemouth on their previous outing. "Because we had a bit of a dodgy spell - with Liverpool 3-3, Stoke 0-0, we lost (0-1) against Chelsea, played 0-0 at home against Southampton - so now after that we win two games.

"We're still mathematically in the fight and that will strengthen our belief of course."

Wenger had waited until the last minute before deciding to put Welbeck on the bench following his return from a long-term knee problem.

"He is a great guy, with a great mentality. He worked extremely hard. That is why he is fit," Wenger said. "In the last two training sessions he was very strong and I decided just in the end to include him in the squad. Everyone is extremely happy for him."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Fightback gives Wenger belief in title'. Print Edition | Subscribe