Arsene Wenger admits his major failing this campaign has been underestimating the effect of missing out on last season’s Premier League title was going to have on his players.
The Gunners’ poor start to this season has cost them the chance of winning the championship, although a 17-match unbeaten run in the league has helped them consolidate fourth place and they are only six points off third-placed Chelsea with seven matches left.
Last term was a different story – they were firing on all cylinders until mid-February when they imploded, and won just one of their next eight matches to relinquish their title ambitions.
Wenger, who has managed to turn things around after being criticised this season when Arsenal’s campaign was going off the rails, admits he had not expected his team to struggle so much early on.
When asked what errors he has made this season, he said: “They aren’t so much in the choices of my team – I’ve been picking teams for 35 years and even if I’m not flawless, I still know what I’m doing.
“But I perhaps made the mistake of underestimating the ill-fated effects of last season and notably the loss of the title.
“In the close season, I asked myself a lot of questions about the influence that could be brought about by the disappointment of the loss of the championship in the last two months.
“And then we lost Alexandr Hleb, Mathieu Flamini (who left in the summer) and Tomas Rosicky (to long-term injury). I had to rebuild the midfield.
“The (Emmanuel) Adebayor incident (the striker was unwilling to commit his future to Arsenal) has equally been an important factor. All this came together and our game wasn’t there. Even people who love Arsenal were saying, ’This is a disaster’.”
Wenger stands by his decision to replace departed holding midfielders Flamini and Gilberto Silva with youngsters Alex Song and Denilson, rather than buying more established players.
Arsenal were linked with moves for Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry and Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso last summer.
“Firstly I really thought he (Flamini) was going to stay,” Wenger continued.
“Also, I believed and still believe in (Abou) Diaby, Song and Denilson. People have reproached me for not having bought Barry or Xabi Alonso but I am a prisoner of my policies – buying Barry or Alonso is to kill Song, Diaby and Denilson.”
Wenger has stuck to his principles this season despite Arsenal’s early foibles - he has refused to splash the cash in the transfer market and continues to have faith in a technical and fluid game even though many believe he needs to add some bite into his team, especially at centre-back and central midfield.
“I believe I have been strong because I’ve continued to believe in this team when nobody else believed in it,” he added.
“I stayed loyal to my principles when everyone was saying to me that I was going wrong.
“I took a step back from the criticism. I’m not running after personal glory. Everything I do is for the club, the players and the supporters.
“You can’t do a public job, at a great club, not win matches and say that they are all imbeciles.”
Wenger insists the turning point this season was the win over Roma in a penalty shootout last month that allowed Arsenal to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
“There is always a key moment and Rome was that catalyst,” he told L’Equipe.
“Before that, we weren’t losing but we were not convincing. Since Rome, we are scoring again and we have the best run going, and that is a barometer of confidence.
“Now we are unbeaten in 17 matches and that leaves me with a lot of regrets.”