FA Cup: Wenger praises Gunners’ character

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted that his side had got away with a draw after seeing Newcastle fight to the death for an FA Cup semi-final place.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted that his side had got away with a draw after seeing Newcastle fight to the death for an FA Cup semi-final place.

Brazilian midfielder Edu had put the visitors in front with just 10 minutes gone, but United’s 53rd-minute equaliser from Laurent Robert was just reward for a barnstorming display which fell just short of sending them through to the last four for the fourth time in five seasons.

Wenger was full of praise for the character shown by his side, who started with Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires on the bench ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League clash with Spanish side Deportivo la Coruna.

But he also acknowledged that Bobby Robson’s men had made life desperately difficult.

‘‘It was a difficult game, yes,’’ he said.

‘‘I would say, on the chances, maybe Newcastle were more threatening, but we’ve shown the resilience of a big club.

‘‘I think as well successful teams and big teams get away with it because they show that kind of intelligence and maturity.

‘‘It was a big, big game, and I think maybe we already had a few minds on Tuesday night. We play another big game and we’re already focussed on that.’’

However, Wenger insisted that his team selection had not been as radical as it appeared as no fewer than six of the men who started the 1-0 win over Derby in midweek made way.

‘‘I felt that I wanted to give Richard Wright a chance and I’m very pleased for him, he did very well,’’ said Wenger.

‘‘Pires had a hamstring problem and yesterday, I even considered leaving him at home completely. I wanted to give him a breather completely, and up front it was either Kanu or Bergkamp.

‘‘Bergkamp needed a breather as well and in the next couple of months, we will need Kanu. And the rest were injured.

‘‘It was a real cup game. Newcastle gave everything physically from the first to the last minute.

‘‘They played very direct football with Shearer on the end of the long ball and Cort as well, and gave us a lot of problems.

‘‘But we were up for it physically and were committed for 90 minutes, and we needed a lot of commitment and a lot of character and a lot of intelligence, and I would say maturity as well not to make the mistake that could have killed us.’’

Robson was delighted with the fight shown by his side, but admitted that the advantage was now with Arsenal.

‘‘It’s not all over,’’ he said. ‘‘I think we’ve lost the advantage because there was no better time than today.

‘‘Parlour didn’t play, Henry was suspended and he decided to leave out Bergkamp and Pires, and we said ‘This is it, this is the chance we’ve been waiting for, take it’.

‘‘But I’m pleased we haven’t lost. I think that was quite important for us.

‘‘I thought the way we played today proved that we are certainly a fourth position Premiership team.

‘‘We played some nice football, we had all the battling qualities that you need, tenacity and resolve, and if we can repeat that every Saturday here, we will get sufficient points to make it not a disappointing season for sure.’’

Robson was particularly pleased with the performances of central midfield pairing Clarence Acuna and Jamie McClen, who stepped into the breach in the absence of Gary Speed and Jermaine Jenas.

‘‘A lot of people thought we would struggle, but I thought they were absolutely magnificent,’’ he said.

‘‘I thought Acuna and McClen were brilliant.

‘‘I wouldn’t say they bossed the midfield completely, but they were never outshone. Vieira was obviously a monster, but we didn’t lose the midfield.’’

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