Arsene Wenger: Arsenal ‘hanging on’ in race

Arsene Wenger fears Arsenal are just hanging on in the Premier League title race. The French coach is also astonished his tired players have to play a second match in two days at Bournemouth tonight, describing the festive fixtures as “unbelievable.”
Arsene Wenger: Arsenal ‘hanging on’ in race

Wenger acknowledges clubs cannot quibble having sold their soul to television rights, but he is still not happy today’s opponents have enjoyed a whole day’s extra rest, while title rivals Chelsea and Tottenham have also been afforded longer breaks.

Arsenal trail Chelsea by nine points, having lost two games in quick succession at Everton and Manchester City last month. But back-to-back home wins since then has still left Wenger concerned.

“The interesting thing about the league this season is all the big teams are beating the smaller teams and are only dropping points against each other. That can change again, of course, but while Chelsea wins every game we just have to try to hang on, to win our games and then hope they make mistakes.”

Arsenal face four matches they are expected to win before they go to Chelsea on February 4. Wenger added: “I hope that shock [of the two defeats] is out of our system. Every game is so difficult but now we have a big handicap [with so little rest] and I have to try and find some fresh legs.

“In my 20 years here this has been the most uneven Christmas period I have seen on the fixture front. The difference in rest periods is unbelievable. I don’t know if the Premier League masters know the the fixtures any more. We sold the rights to TV for a lot of money, so have to accept they choose the games, but I must say some teams have had more luck.

“We are privileged in our job. We get a lot of money to play football but sometimes it goes for you and sometimes against you.”

Wenger expects again to be without Mesut Ozil but is relieved Bournemouth are not allowed to field Arsenal loanee Jack Wilshere, even though he said there has been no progression on the midfielder’s contract.

“They are still a very good team without Jack,” Wenger concluded. “It was his birthday [on New Year’s Day] so I sent him a message.”

Meanwhile Benik Afobe has rejected the chance to play at the African Nations Cup so he can fight for his long-term future at Bournemouth. The former Arsenal striker has withdrawn from the DR Congo squad in a bid to consolidate his position with the Cherries.

Former England U21s forward Afobe switched allegiance to the African country in March, but will now face a longer wait for his senior international debut.

Afobe claimed his second goal of the season as Bournemouth eased past Swansea on New Year’s Eve, and he can now face Arsenal.

“For the last couple of months I have been talking to my family and thinking about what is best for my development,” said Afobe. “I have a lot of respect for everyone at DR Congo: the staff there, the players and fans.

“It’s a massive tournament for everyone, but thinking about my development and being at this stage in my career where I’m trying to establish myself in my first full Premier League season, I just want to keep improving.

“I have a great chance here now and I think by going away and missing six or seven weeks it could hamper my season personally.”

Afobe joined Bournemouth in a then club-record £10m deal in January 2016, hitting four goals in 15 Premier League appearances last term. Afobe was unable to make his DR Congo debut in November after the FA sent his registration to the wrong country, neighbouring Congo.

This time Afobe himself has opted for another false start on his DR Congo career, but insists his international manager is comfortable with his decision.

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