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Wenger relieved as Arsenal end bad week on a high

sports Updated: Dec 06, 2009 13:35 IST

AFP
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Arsene Wenger cut a relieved figure after Arsenal ensured their manager's miserable week ended on a high with a 2-0 win over Stoke.

Arsenal have been subjected to strong criticism after a dismal run of three defeats against Sunderland, Chelsea and Manchester City, all inflicted without the Gunners managing a single goal in response.

Wenger's own character had also been subjected to unprecedented attack, with pundits and supporters alike openly questioning whether his much-vaunted project in north London has come apart at the seams.

That spate of negative headlines should at least be abated by a result which, while it has surely come too late to reignite the club's title ambitions, at least lifted Arsenal back into the English Premier League's top three and bought Wenger some very welcome breathing space.

"It was needed," Wenger said. "You could see there were some times when the recent run was playing on our mind. It's a relief for the team. I want us to be successful and we had big disappointments recently in the league. They were difficult to take.

"Had we not won, you could question whether we had been mentally affected but winning this game was important for us."

The day was not entirely without blemish for Arsenal. Tomas Rosicky, the Czech Republic international, failed to re-emerge for the second half after suffering a groin injury which is likely to keep him out for around three weeks.

Rosicky joins Nicklas Bendtner, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Eduardo on the list of Arsenal forwards sidelined with fitness problems and the Frenchman admitted he will have little choice but to field his youngest ever team in the Champions League for Wednesday's meeting with Olympiakos.

The consolation for Wenger is that nothing hinges on the trip to Greece - Arsenal having secured top place in their qualifying group with victory over Standard Liege a fortnight ago.

Wenger would doubtless appreciate it if his stand-ins showed more ruthlessness in front of goal than his first teamers, who somehow contrived to keep the home fans on edge despite their overwhelming superiority to a timid Stoke.

Arsenal created a welter of chances at the Emirates stadium but were once again alarmingly profligate.

Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri had both seen shots well saved by Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen before the Dane palmed aside Cesc Fabregas' penalty in the 20th minute, although he was powerless to prevent Arshavin's well-directed effort finding the bottom corner seven minutes later.

Abdoulaye Faye twice hit his own woodwork and Emmnauel Eboue inadvertently blocked Fabregas' effort on the line as Arsenal pressed for a second goal. But it only arrived with 10 minutes remaining, Aaron Ramsey advancing to the edge of the area and planting a low shot past Sorensen.

"When we missed the penalty I thought it would be one of those days," Wenger added. "When you play Stoke, they are well organised, mentally strong and they don't need many chances to score.

"They take advantage of the mistakes you make through throws and set-pieces. But, in the end, we got the second goal and that killed the game."

Stoke manager Tony Pulis admitted his side had struggled to cope with Arshavin, who delivered perhaps his most impressive display of the season.

"Arshavin was brilliant and he caused us a lot of problems - but, then, they're a good team, a very good team," he said.

"We did our best and I can't ask for much more from my lads. We like a team ethic as we can't compete in terms of players. We're trying to bring in more quality without losing he spirit that we have but that takes time."