Football: All's not lost, says Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger's team were nine points behind fourth-placed Liverpool before Sunday's (April 16) games though they had played two matches less.
Arsene Wenger's team were nine points behind fourth-placed Liverpool before Sunday's (April 16) games though they had played two matches less.PHOTO: REUTERS

Arsenal boss believes team have character to beat Boro and reignite waning top-four bid

LONDON • Arsene Wenger has insisted his Arsenal players have the character to halt a run of four successive away defeats when they visit Middlesbrough today, as they look to revive their bid to finish in the Premier League's top four.

His team were nine points behind fourth-placed Liverpool before yesterday's games though they had played two matches less.

And he knows Arsenal need a dramatic improvement if they are to qualify for the Champions League for a 21st successive season.

The dismal 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace last time out highlighted how far the team have fallen since the period before Christmas, when they were viewed as genuine challengers for the league title.

Theo Walcott's admission after the loss at Selhurst Park that Palace "wanted it more" reflected badly on a group of players who have lost their way, and strengthened the belief of all those who believe the veteran French manager should leave Arsenal when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder currently on a season-long loan to Bournemouth, offered his view that the players must take their share of responsibility for the club's current problems.

"Sometimes a manager can only do so much, as in prepare a team and then the team have to go out there and perform," he told Sky Sports.

Despite the recent setbacks, Wenger has backed his players to turn the situation around. "When things don't go your way, you are tested on the mental front more than on technical quality," he said. "Our test at the moment is there - can we be united and not divided?

"Top-level sport is about character. I can find you hundreds of players with technical ability at the same level as our players.

"What makes the results is the character. These players are at this level because they have the character."

Caretaker manager Steve Agnew said second-bottom Middlesbrough could yet avoid relegation, despite not having won in the Premier League for four months, a run spanning 14 games.

The top flight's lowest scorers (22 goals) still have to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the remaining six games after hosting Arsenal, but Agnew insisted: "We're still confident we can stay up, we will keep believing we can get out of the bottom three."

Boro's on-loan defender Calum Chambers is ineligible against his parent club, but midfielder Gaston Ramirez is available after an ankle problem and full-back George Friend is set to make his first appearance for six weeks after recovering from an calf injury.

They have taken just six points from the last 42 to put them in grave danger of an immediate return to the Championship, but Agnew feels his side can earn a much needed victory, with Arsenal conceding three goals in each of their last four away league defeats.

He said: "It's massive to have George back, he brings great energy and ability to the side. He's a solid performer... so his return helps us go into the game in positive mood."

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MIDDLESBROUGH V ARSENAL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'All's not lost, says Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe