Wenger lays down 9-pt gauntlet for resurgent Arsenal

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring their second goal to seal the 2-0 win over Southampton. It was the Frenchman's 10th goal of the season, helping the Gunners to a fourth win in their last five games.
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring their second goal to seal the 2-0 win over Southampton. It was the Frenchman's 10th goal of the season, helping the Gunners to a fourth win in their last five games.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his side to carry the intensity they showed in Wednesday's win over Southampton into their three remaining Premier League games.

The Gunners' 2-0 win at Southampton lifted them up to fifth place, three points behind Manchester City, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualifying berth. They are four points behind third-placed Liverpool but boast a game in hand on Jurgen Klopp's side.

While a 20th successive season of Champions League football is dependent on the results of their rivals, Wenger expects the Gunners to do their part by getting nine more points on the board.

"I don't know more than you," the Frenchman told reporters after the game. "But I believe that, for us, it's important to maintain the focus and intensity in every single game. We'll need another strong performance at Stoke.

"We came to a difficult ground today and we go to another on Saturday. We know we can only win our games.

"So let's just continue."

Wenger gave credit to his players following a first win away to Southampton in 14 years as his decision to give Alexis Sanchez a more central role in a 3-4-2-1 formation paid dividends.

The Chilean broke the deadlock in the 60th minute at St Mary's, gathering Mesut Ozil's pass and leaving two defenders sprawling before firing home his 20th league goal of the campaign. Sanchez then set up a late Olivier Giroud header to seal a fourth win in five matches.

"I never questioned the character of my side," Wenger said when asked about his team's recovery after they were beaten at Crystal Palace last month.

"It's not because you lose games people expect you to win that you have 'no character'. We went through a bad patch. It's a good opportunity to show your character, how you come back and how you recover from that. Maybe the City game (a 2-1 victory in the FA Cup semi-final) gave us confidence but let's not jump too quickly to conclusions."

Wenger is likely to be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Stoke after he left the field in the first half with a hamstring problem. But it is too early to say whether the England international will be back in time for the FA Cup final against Chelsea on May 27.

Southampton remain 10th after failing to find the net for the third game in succession.

"We cannot find the good clinical edge," said the beaten Saints manager Claude Puel. "Every time it was interesting, I think, the play.

"Just not enough. All the games the same thing... Opportunities, chances, good play, but no clinical edge."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Wenger lays down 9-pt gauntlet for resurgent Arsenal'. Print Edition | Subscribe