Wenger in no mood for crocodile tears

ARSENE WENGER compared the English media to a rampant crocodile, snapping up international managers for tea, and maybe it suited him that no-one even noticed his Arsenal side had just gone three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Gunners, inspired by a late goal from captain William Gallas and another from Tomas Rosicky, highlighted their title potential by breaking down a stubborn Wigan defence just when it seemed they would be denied all three points.

It was a dramatic finale that should have allowed Wenger the pleasure of discussing his side’s championship ambitions and revelling a little in Manchester United’s surprise defeat at Bolton.

But just in case you haven’t noticed — and such has been the constant bleating and breast-beating this week it would be hard to believe — England failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals. Oh, and Wenger, having chosen to fill his team with high-quality foreigners rather than hard-running Englishman, is partly to blame.

You will find few Arsenal fans complaining, however, because such is the quality of their team’s passing and attacking play that if the front line consisted of Martians and the back-four of David Icke-inspired lizards, nobody inside the Emirates Stadium would care a jot.

Wenger’s philosophy is simple. He believes that every youngster across the world, no matter where they are born, rich or poor, black or white, should be able to dream that one day they can play for Arsenal — providing they have the talent.

Judging by the way he has got his current team to play, there shouldn’t be a young footballer on the planet who doesn’t relish such a prospect — and certainly a few in Ireland will be sharing that dream.

Yes, there are bigger clubs to play for — the likes of Manchester Untied, Juventus, Milan, Real Madrid. But the style of Arsenal’s football makes them almost unique.

On Saturday they missed an entire first-choice midfield of suspended Cesc Fabregas, ‘fatigued’ Gilberto and injured Alexander Hleb and yet were still able to play the fluent football they are famous for, with the likes of Brazilian teenager Denilson, Frenchman Lassana Diarra and even Englishman Theo Walcott filling the gaps.

Wigan, who had new manager Steve Bruce watching from the stands, made a real match of it as they defended for their lives, with Titus Bramble and Emmerson Boyce impressive.

They also had a goal from Marcus Bent disallowed while the much-travelled striker also headed an excellent chance over the bar.

But if there is one thing we have learned about Arsenal this season it is that they are far more dangerous in the final 15 minutes than in the opening 15, and it was a lesson that Wigan failed to heed.

After 83 minutes of chasing shadows and throwing themselves into tackles their mental and physical defiance finally waned when a determined Gallas strode forward, pushed the ball out to Bacary Sagna on the right wing and then raced to the near post to head Arsenal in front.

The celebrations no doubt reminded Arsenal fans of the recent 2-2 draw against Manchester United when Gallas’ never-say-die attitude saved their team from defeat in injury-time, but on this occasion it sealed three points with Rosicky smartly firing home from a Nikolas Bendtner pass two minutes later.

“I think we showed that this club is really strong and it doesn’t matter who is on the pitch because they all did a good job and that’s good news for the rest of the season,” said Gallas’ defensive team-mate Kolo Toure, who had fulsome praise for his captain.

“William gives everything for the club, he helps the young players, he gives everything to get the result. Both on and off the pitch, he is a really good captain. He is loud in the dressing room, he has a big heart and everything he says and does is for the team and the club.

“We have had some great captains. When Thierry Henry was here he was outstanding, Patrick Vieira was strong and Tony Adams as well. But I think he deserves to be mentioned among those names because he is such a strong figure.”

That is certainly good news for Arsenal and — despite the baring of journalistic teeth in his post-match press conference — Wenger rightly dismissed suggestions that he employed too many foreigners.

“I feel the fact that players are exposed to higher competition is good — they can use that in a positive way,” he said. “For example, I feel our U-17s now, they will have the technical quality to compete with the Arsenal players, but you need a little bit of patience.

“I spoke with Trevor Brooking about that before the game, and he agrees we have some of the best players in England here and we will produce English players.”

So, there you go. Not only is Arsene Wenger building one of the most entertaining teams in Premier League history he is also quietly saving English football in his spare time.

Even the crocodiles went home smiling.

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia 6, Sagna 7, Toure 7, Gallas 8, Clichy 6, Eboue 6 (Eduardo 68, 6), Denilson 7, Diarra 6, Rosicky 7, Adebayor 6, Walcott 7 (Bendtner 79, 7). Subs Not Used: Lehmann, Senderos, Song.

WIGAN (4-5-1): Pollitt 7, Boyce 8, Granqvist 7, Bramble 8, Kilbane 6, Brown 7, Scharner 5 (Skoko 90, 5), Landzaat 6, Olembe 5 (Heskey 68, 6), Koumas 6, Bent 7 (Sibierski 84, 5).

Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Hall.

REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire) 7: Unlike many referees he was lenient, only booking Gallas and Heskey for a fracas when they could have been sent off.

MATCH RATING: *** A dramatic final seven minutes sent Arsenal fans home happy but there was plenty of attacking football from the home side and impressive defending from Wigan to admire before that.

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