Arsene Wenger has called for Arsenal to “keep the faith” in his vision for the future of the club after the young Gunners delivered the performance of champions to beat Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal made sure United’s lead at the top of the table stayed at just three points over Chelsea, whom they face at Old Trafford next weekend, with a second-half goal from Aaron Ramsey – the 20-year-old Wales midfielder only in the side because of an injury to captain Cesc Fabregas.
It was a welcome first home league win since the end of February, as Arsenal’s hopes of a ending a six-season barren run unravelled before defeat at Bolton finally put paid to any hopes of overtaking United and left them now fighting to secure third ahead of FA Cup finalists Manchester City.
Wenger praised his team but will always be left to reflect on what might have been as they can now have no more say on the destiny of the title.
“If you look at the age of the team, I think it is a big encouragement for the club because we had a very young midfield and were still very positive in our play,” he said.
“We want to add what is needed, but it is very important for the club that we keep faith in what we do.
“You can see that the players grow when they get a chance, like Wojciech Szczesny compared to two months ago, he has grown.
“It is a law in our game, you can only grow at some stage if you play.
“People want both. They want to win every game and they want to produce as well fantastic quality young players.
“But if [Jack] Wilshere has grown this season, it is because he has played.
“However, on the other hand, if you do not win, the same people say ’why do you play young players?”’
Wenger accepts his young squad were just unable to cope with the mental demands of battling for honours on all fronts – the beginning of the end of which was a dramatic late defeat in the Carling Cup final at Wembley.
“The team maybe lacks a bit of maturity under pressure, they also had to deal with some big disappointments, and I felt that had a subconscious effect on our team,” he said.
“For me, it was immense pressure to be out of the title race, believe me, because I felt so strongly we would win this championship.”
Good fortune probably evened itself up over the course of yesterday’s encounter after the officials missed two clear penalties, a handball by United skipper Nemanja Vidic in the first half and also a late trip by Arsenal defender Gael Clichy on substitute Michael Owen.
“We were really unlucky this season until now, let’s hope we have a bit more luck in the final three weeks – you never know,” Wenger added.
Midfielder Samir Nasri was replaced at half-time with “a small hamstring problem”, with Wenger hopeful both he and Fabregas will be fit for next Sunday’s trip to Stoke.