Football: Belief is stronger now: Wenger

Liverpool players celebrating after midfielder Joe Allen scores a 90th-minute equaliser for the Reds at Anfield. The match ended 3-3, with Arsene Wenger's men level on 43 points with Leicester City at the top of the league table.
Liverpool players celebrating after midfielder Joe Allen scores a 90th-minute equaliser for the Reds at Anfield. The match ended 3-3, with Arsene Wenger's men level on 43 points with Leicester City at the top of the league table.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite draw, he says Arsenal showed they can contend for title

LONDON • Arsene Wenger buried the frustration of conceding a 90th-minute equaliser at Liverpool to insist Arsenal's display in a 3-3 draw at Anfield had strengthened his belief in his team's Premier League title credentials.

Arsenal fell behind twice to Roberto Firmino goals and led through Olivier Giroud's exquisite turn and finish. But in the final minute, three Liverpool substitutes helped produce a merited point for Juergen Klopp's team.

Centre-back Steven Caulker, on loan from second-tier Queens Park Rangers, was sent on up front when he made his bow in the 88th minute.

Two minutes later, with the emergency centre-forward causing bother in the box, Joe Allen met fellow replacement Christian Benteke's knock-down with a volley that nestled in the bottom-left corner.

As a jubilant Klopp took off from the technical area, Wenger looked downcast. The Frenchman's decision to remove the influential Joel Campbell for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with 15 minutes left had invited Liverpool on even more.

  • Liverpool v Arsenal: The talking points

  • MIGNOLET MADNESS

    Juergen Klopp's decision to ruthlessly drop Adam Bogdan after the Reds goalkeeper conceded direct from a corner in their FA Cup tie against Exeter City was the right one. However, such mercilessness jars with Liverpool's indulgence of Simon Mignolet.

    The Belgium international has been substandard for years, and was again on Wednesday, yet Liverpool have handed him a new five-year contract. The 27-year-old was first beaten at his near post by a relatively weak Aaron Ramsey shot, and was then easily nutmegged by Olivier Giroud for Arsenal's second.

    THRILLS AND SPILLS

    For the second successive night, a top Premier League fixture was notable for its excitement as defensive cohesion took a leave of absence. As was the case with Newcastle's 3-3 draw against Manchester United, Liverpool versus Arsenal was memorable for some excellent finishing and high-energy play.

    In terms of defending though, it was shocking. Weak headers, half-hearted tackles, poor organisation, a failure to go with runners and non-existent marking were on show.

    MUSICAL CLASH

    In contrast to Klopp's passion play on the touchline - all whirling arms, verbal outbursts and occasional confrontation - Arsene Wenger was relatively tranquil. The Frenchman even had to tell the German to calm down at one point.

    The behaviour of the rival managers was mirrored on the pitch, where Liverpool's heavy-metal football clashed with Arsenal's more sedate symphony.

    THE TIMES, LONDON

Campbell might have been tiring but he was contributing defensively as well as attacking and was missed. Arsenal's failure to preserve their lead meant they remained level on points with Leicester City at the top of the table.

Wenger insisted his team had shown the characteristics demanded of a genuine title challenger.

"I am frustrated by the result and not disappointed by the performance, even if we started a bit apprehensively," the Arsenal manager said. "The dressing room is frustrated but I feel they need to transform that frustration into more motivation for the next game because there are more positives than negatives tonight.

"What happened tonight strengthened my belief that we can have a big part to play in this league."

He hopes he can bolster his team before the weekend visit to Stoke, traditionally a tough fixture for his men, with the injured Alexis Sanchez and new signing Mohamed Elneny both potentially in contention.

For Klopp, strengthening his defence will be key ahead of Manchester United's visit on Sunday.

"It's an explosion of goals but at the final whistle, you cannot ignore there were problems," the German told the BBC. "Organisation is one thing and sometimes we have a little problem with concentration.

"We gave them two easy goals, after we had to work really hard for our goals... At the end, we made a real good game and needed luck to make the draw and I think we deserved it."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Belief is stronger now: Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe