Wenger deflects from Arsenal’s repeated failings

Premier League Stoke City 1 Jese 47 Arsenal 0

The dummy-sucking goal celebration performed by Stoke match winner Jese was a tribute to his newborn child but, after Arsene Wenger’s response to this unexpected early-season setback, it might as well have been directed at the Arsenal manager.

Yes, Wenger had some cause for external complaints after failing to win the opening away league game of a season for the eighth straight year.

After all, there were at least two penalty appeals that might have gone his way, plus a disallowed goal from Alexandre Lacazette, which was only millimetres offside, though it would be crass to accuse officials of guessing at a decision which, ultimately, they got right.

However, the Arsenal manager would have been better served saving his criticisms for closer to home after seeing his side carve out numerous chances, while failing to take any, and continue to display their worrying defensive weaknesses.

“Well, let’s not go overboard. We lost one game,” said Wenger.

“I can understand that, but overall I believe there were a lot of positives in the game as well, because we created many chances.

“We had great domination and, unfortunately, we dropped, I agree with you, three points.”

Those missed chances — Danny Welbeck alone wasted three glorious ones and Aaron Ramsey a couple — are probably not of major concern, given that Arsenal scored four in their opening game and Lacazette, among others, will surely sharpen up as the season progresses.

However, the defence that leaked three goals against Leicester, and was badly exposed as new Stoke striker Jese played a one-two with Saido Berahino before beating Petr Cech on Saturday, is surely of greater concern.

Not that Wenger agreed. He brought in Shkodran Mustafi for Rob Holding after the opening day defensive collapse, utilising Nacho Monreal at the middle of a three-man defence, but there was no discernible improvement.

Wenger tried to shift the focus onto his misfiring forwards, but while title rivals, such as the two Manchester clubs have not looked like conceding a goal yet in their combined three games to date, Arsenal have managed to leak four in two.

“Well, at the moment, I believe that we conceded three last week, so I changed a bit, because Mustafi came back and Holding had lost a little bit of confidence,” explained Wenger.

“Overall, centrally, we did quite well. When you lose a game, you lose a game, but we didn’t lose the game only today because of bad defending.

“On the goal, I agree with you, but when you have the number of chances we have away from home and you don’t score, you can always complain about the offence and defence.”

As if concerns at the back and up front were not enough for Wenger to contend with this week as he prepares for the visit to Liverpool on Sunday, there was also the performance of Mesut Ozil.

His perfunctory effort from midfield was highlighted mercilessly by television pundit Steven Gerrard, no stranger to grafting in the engine room in his own playing days, who questioned the German’s work ethic.

Not surprisingly, given the delicate status of Ozil at Arsenal and the fact he is entering the final year of his contract with no sign of him agreeing a new one, Wenger was in no mood to agree with the former Liverpool star.

“Look, I cannot comment on the commentators, you know,” said Wenger. “They say what they say. I believe that he did fight like everybody else and he’s very disappointed after the game.”

One small consolation to emerge from Saturday at least was the news that Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez, like Ozil a player in contract limbo with the club, emerged from a hard training session and should be able to play some part at Anfield.

“We’ll see how he goes through the week. He has not played for a long time,” said Wenger.

“Look, we will prepare him well. He was out with a muscular strain and hopefully he will survive the tests first before he comes back.

“He’s not played now for six weeks and it’s difficult to be at your best in the first game, straight away.”

For Stoke, Jese’s debut and match-winning goal hogged the headlines, but there was also a very solid defensive showing from the on-loan Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma and, to hear Stoke manager Mark Hughes talk about him afterwards, one wondered whether Wenger might privately wish he was playing for his team.

“He’s a big guy. He’s a big athlete who can get around the pitch,” said Hughes. “He’s quick, he’s strong. He’s a great kid, fantastic personality and he lights up the place when we’re at the training ground.

“He’s got a big, beaming smile all the time and he’s happy to be playing week in, week out, which we hope he will be this season, so it’s good having him around.”

STOKE (3-4-2-1):

Butland 9; Zouma 8, Shawcross 6, Cameron 6; Diouf 6, Fletcher 7, Allen 7, Pieters 6 (Martins Indi 88); Shaqiri 5 (Berahino 24, 6), Jese 8 (Ramadan 70, 6) Choupo-Moting 7.

Subs not used:

Grant, Johnson, Crouch, Bojan.

ARSENAL (3-4-2-1):

Cech 6; Mustafi 6, Monreal 6, Kolasinac 5 (Giroud 66, 6); Oxlade-Chamberlain 8, Ramsey 6, Xhaka 5 (Iwobi 78), Bellerin 7; Ozil 5, Welbeck 5; Lacazette 6 (Walcott 78).

Subs not used:

Ospina, Mertesacker, Coquelin, Elneny.

Referee:

Andre Marriner.


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