London (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expressed hope his side’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City will represent a turning point after an extremely testing period in the club’s recent history.
Criticism of Wenger from angry fans escalated during a run of four defeats in five Premier League games that saw the club slide out of the top four.
But while uncertainty about his future continues to linger, he hopes Sunday’s battling performance against City will help the team move on.
“Overall I felt it was a mental test and you could see the team was touched on the confidence front,” he told his post-match press conference at the Emirates Stadium.
“It will help us to rebuild confidence because the players felt that we showed some mental strength. That will help us come back to our natural fluency.
“Mathematically, for both teams it’s not the best operation. But hopefully it will help us to restart now.”
The result kept Arsenal seven points below City, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualifying berth, but they retain a game in hand.
Fans protested against Wenger once again before the game.
An advertising van carrying a huge poster calling for him to leave was parked near the ground, while leaflets were handed out to supporters urging them to join the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade.
But Wenger praised the supporters inside the stadium for throwing themselves behind the team.
“Despite all that happened, I felt our fans were fantastic,” said the Frenchman, whose side entertain West Ham United on Wednesday.
“In very difficult moments in the game — at 1-0 down, 2-1 down just before half-time — our fans could have turned against us.
“I think they were absolutely sensational and helped the team to get through that difficult moment.”
There was no update on Wenger’s future, but in a sign he may be starting to think about life after Arsenal, he vowed to “always support the club”.
Arsenal fell behind in the fifth minute when Leroy Sane scuttled onto Kevin De Bruyne’s hopeful pass and rounded David Ospina to score.
– Toure ‘a master’ –
Theo Walcott levelled, only for Sergio Aguero to restore City’s lead 131 seconds later, but Shkodran Mustafi brought Arsenal level again with a header from Mesut Ozil’s 53rd-minute corner.
Wenger was unable to provide a prognosis on the Achilles injury that forced centre-back Laurent Koscielny to leave the fray at half-time.
But he is optimistic that midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom were absent through injury, will be fit to face West Ham.
Arsenal appeared to be at City’s mercy in the first half and visiting manager Pep Guardiola explained his side’s failure to capitalise by saying his players “forgot to play”.
He also expressed regret that City had been denied an injury-time penalty for a handball by Nacho Monreal that the Spaniard supposedly admitted to Guardiola after the game.
City trail leaders Chelsea by 11 points ahead of Wednesday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge.
Guardiola heralded Yaya Toure for bringing poise to City’s play after replacing Raheem Sterling in a half-time tactical switch.
“If you want to play, you need this quality of pass,” he said.
“Yaya in there is a master. That is why he helped us a lot in the second half to do that.”
The City manager also hailed Jesus Navas after an injury to Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta’s lack of fitness saw the Spanish winger surprisingly selected at right-back.
“His performance was outstanding. He faced maybe one of the best players in the league by far, Alexis (Sanchez),” Guardiola said.
“It’s not easy to be full-back, but how he defended him and how he played with the ball offensively…
“I am so, so happy to give him the chance to play because he did not play much in the last period.
“But he is one of the most fantastic guys I have ever met in my life.”
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