SUNDERLAND, United Kingdom, February 10 – Arsene Wenger insists England star Jack Wilshere deserves more protection from referees after he was injured during Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Wilshere limped off with a thigh injury early in the second half of Saturday’s Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light following an aggressive challenge from Sunderland’s Alfred N’Diaye.
Wenger was clearly angry during the match as he protested about Sunderland’s tactics and, even though his side held on to win despite Carl Jenkinson’s dismissal, the Arsenal manager was still raging after the final whistle.
The Frenchman felt Sunderland had roughed up Wilshere and he was unhappy that referee Anthony Taylor didn’t take action to discipline the offenders.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the tackling, especially on Jack Wilshere,” Wenger said.
“He didn’t get the free-kicks he deserved. The referee let two or three things go that were hard on Jack.
“I don’t think Jack was singled out, but they wanted to stop us from playing.
“We don’t want any special protection – the referee is not a bodyguard – but I want him to watch the fouls.”
Fortunately for Wenger, the performance of Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla, scorer of Arsenal’s first half winner, helped his team overcome Sunderland’s physical approach.
“Cazorla was top class,” said Wenger. “He is not a regular in Spain’s national team, so that shows you how good they are.”
Cazorla’s decisive contribution came in the 36th minute of a first-half dominated by Arsenal, who squandered at least five other chances.
But the Spaniard had to share the plaudits for this success with the Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and his back four, who dealt with Sunderland pressure in the second-half.
Szczesny was at his busiest after the 62nd minute dismissal of Jenkinson, who only played because centre-half Laurent Koscielny was injured in the pre-match warm-up.
“Wojciech was excellent, but I believe the whole defence was excellent,” Wenger said.
“Bacary Sagna had been told just 15 minutes before the start that he would be playing at centre-half and he did very well. He and Per Mertesacker were excellent.
“It was tight at the end, but it was a game of high-level intensity where we showed some brilliance going forward.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t score the second goal and had to show another side, especially in the last 20 minutes when we were down to 10 men.
“We lacked quality in our finishing and didn’t finish what we created. Sometimes we score five or seven, sometimes we score one, but maybe the team is still learning and needs to be more efficient.
“We dealt with everything that Sunderland offered though. It was a typical Premier League game with top quality on both sides.”
The win was the ideal way to start a crucial spell for Arsenal as they attempt to end a trophy drought stretching back seven seasons.
An FA Cup tie against Blackburn and their Champions League games against Bayern Munich are next on the horizon, but Wenger is still targeting a top four finish in the Premier League.
“We were under pressure to win and couldn’t afford to drop points,” he said. “No matter where we play, we need three points.”
In contrast, Sunderland’s season is fading away, but manager Martin O’Neill was encouraged by the part they played in an entertaining match.
“It was a great game from start to finish with a high tempo,” he said.
“Arsenal are a top quality side and caused us a lot of problems in the first-half.
“But we came roaring back at them in the second and I don’t know how we didn’t score from a couple of our chances. We are really disappointed because we played against a very good team and we should have got something out of the game.”