ARSENE WENGER today admits making mistakes which have cost Arsenal the title.
The most successful manager in the club’s history has suffered some savage criticism from angry fans this season as the Gunners’ bid to end a four-year wait for silverware threatened to implode.
Wenger’s under-fire youngsters were even in danger of finishing outside the top four for the first time in his 12-year reign.
But now Arsenal have an FA Cup semi-final date with Chelsea at Wembley next Saturday, while a 0-0 draw against Villarreal at the Emirates on Wednesday will guarantee their place in the last four of the Champions League.
However, Wenger confesses he under- estimated the damaging effects of last season, when his kids blew the title and then had a summer of transfer turmoil.
And in an emotional interview the Frenchman insists:
* He is a prisoner to his own transfer policy;
* Emmanuel Adebayor’s threat to walk out destabilised the players;
* He never expected Mathieu Flamini would quit the club for AC Milan;
* Buying Gareth Barry or Xabi Alonso last summer would have “killed” his youngsters.
Wenger declared: “It wasn’t so much in my choice of teams that I made errors. I have been doing that for 35 years now and, even if I am not invulnerable, I do know what I am doing.
“But I did make a mistake in perhaps underestimating the harmful effects of last season, especially the loss of the title. I asked myself a lot of questions during the close season about the influence losing the title in the last two months might cause.”
Arsenal’s end-of-season collapse began after a 2-2 draw at Birmingham, in which they lost striker Eduardo to a sickening broken leg, conceded a needless penalty in the last minute and then witnessed skipper William Gallas’s incredible sit-down pitch sulk.
Then followed midfielder Alexander Hleb’s move to Barcelona, striker Adebayor’s threat to join him if he didn’t get a substantial wage rise, Flamini’s transfer to Milan after refusing a new contract and Tomas Rosicky’s injury problems.
Wenger added: “And we lost Hleb, Flamini and Rosicky. There was a midfield for me to rebuild. Should I have anticipated Flamini’s departure? I couldn’t because I really didn’t think he was going to leave.
“The Adebayor business: ‘I’m going, I’m staying, I’m going, I’m staying’ was also an important factor. One thing followed another. Earlier this season, our game wasn’t there. Even the people who love Arsenal were saying: ‘This is a disaster.’
“You wonder why, with the same players, our game could crumble so much. The staff and I wondered whether we had made mistakes, if the training was being done badly.
“The most worrying match was our 3-0 defeat at Manchester City in November. That was one loss too many. We hit the bottom.But, just after that, we won 2-1 at Chelsea and I thought my team were not ready to totally go under.
“The barometer is confidence and when that seizes up . . . now we are unbeaten for 18 Premier League matches and that leaves with me with a lot of regrets.”
Fans booed and jeered the team after the City defeat and there were even mutterings that the board should sack him.
“I don’t mind criticism,” he said. “Win or lose, I try to look in the mirror and think I do the job as well as I can. What you cannot fault is my commitment. When the results are not at the right level, people have the right to criticise. I know what I do and why I do it.”
But now the “In Arsene We Trust” banners are flying again at the Emirates as Wenger strives to pull off a European and FA Cup double.
He added: “I think I have been tough because I have continued to believe in this team when nobody else did.
“And I remained faithful to my policy when everyone told me I was heading straight for a brick wall. People reproach me for not having bought Gareth Barry or Xavi Alonso.
“But I am a prisoner of my own policy. Buying Barry or Alonso is killing Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby and Denilson.”
Ironically, Wenger will be given the biggest transfer kitty in the club’s history this summer – £40million. But he insisted: “I stood back from the criticism. I am not running after personal glory. Everything I do is for the club, the players and the supporters.
“You can’t do a public job in a big club, not win matches and say they are all imbeciles.”
Wenger identifies Arsenal’s Champions League penalty shoot-out win in Rome as the real turning point of the season.
He explained: “When I look at that match, we are away from home and missed the first penalty. We had kids taking the penalties, yet still managed to win. There is a key moment in all stories and Rome was ours.
“We were not losing before, but we weren’t convincing. Since Rome, we are scoring again and we are better linking up as a team.”
Arsenal’s season has also been blighted by injuries to Cesc Fabregas, Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Rosicky, Kolo Toure, Johan Djourou, Gallas, keeper Manuel Almunia and Gael Clichy.
The latter three will all miss Wednesday’s Euro crunch against Villarreal. But Wenger added: “We have quick, skilful players, so they do take knocks.
“When you see the treatment suffered by Theo Walcott against Manchester City, he can only get injured. The advantage is we have been able to see other players, like Song.
“We have been able to integrate them. Previously, if I had taken off Fabregas to play Song, people would have said: ‘He’s mad!’ Somewhere along the line, these injuries have been a bad thing for a good thing.
“We believe in our qualities and our strengths. I believe this team has mentally grown this season. We were under a lot of negative pressure but we always came out and just kept going.
“The fact that we are remarkably consistent shows we have quality. That is no coincidence.”
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