LONDON, March 15- Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal players believe they can overturn a 3-1 deficit against Monaco in the Champions League on Tuesday, but the Gunners manager is less confident about their chances of winning the Premier League.
Goals from Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini secured a 3-0 win over West Ham that left Arsenal in buoyant mood ahead of their tricky last 16 second leg trip to Monaco in midweek.
It also moved them just six points behind Chelsea in the league, albeit with the leaders having two games in hand.
So, Wenger was asked, are Arsenal back in the title race?
“Not at the moment,” he responded. “We just keep going. We have won eight of the last nine.”
While it might be too late for Arsenal to mount a title charge, Wenger claimed it was only the effects of the World Cup that prevented his side being in a position to put more pressure on Chelsea.
And he said they are now a different, more fluent, team because the players know each other much better.
“Today we are a different team. We suffered a lot post-World Cup,” he said.
“What is for sure is the players understand each other much better than six or seven months ago and that makes everyone much more dangerous.”
That could be seen throughout Saturday’s game at the Emirates Stadium, especially for the key first goal from Giroud on 45 minutes.
– Laid siege –
Arsenal had by that point laid siege to the West Ham goal, although with no reward, because goalkeeper Adrian was putting in a supreme performance.
Adrian’s display was all the more impressive because West Ham assistant manager Neil McDonald revealed that the Spaniard had dislocated a finger in the warm-up, but insisted on playing on.
West Ham had already had to reshuffle their team with so many injuries, resulting in Cheikhou Kouyate playing in defence.
“He’s had it strapped up,” McDonald said of the keeper’s injury. “He’s stood up and been counted, which is great.”
Even Adrian’s heroics weren’t enough however.
Mesut Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud interchanged exquisitely, before the French striker rifled the ball in off the far post to make it 1-0.
Giroud had received criticism for his misses against Monaco, but has now responded with two goals in his last two league games and Wenger praised his resilience.
“Always, it’s one of his great strengths. This is a boy who played at 22-23 in division two in France. You need mental strength for that. There’s no red carpet there,” he said.
West Ham put Arsenal under pressure in the second half, which was oddly disrupted by a calf injury to referee Chris Foy, who had to go off for fourth official Anthony Taylor.
But Arsenal eventually picked off the visitors.
Giroud combined with Ramsey for the Welsh midfielder to fire past Adrian in the 81st minute, before Flamini made it 3-0 with an easy finish three minutes later.
The final score was somewhat unfair on West Ham and McDonald said boss Sam Allardyce didn’t attend the post-game press conference because he wanted to pick the players up, who “were feeling really sorry for themselves”.
There was none of that with Arsenal, whose week had started with an FA Cup quarter-final win at Manchester United, and Wenger was gushing about their belief that they can do something special in Europe on Tuesday.
“We now go to Monaco, come out of big week, played at Manchester United, played today a derby. We have a little belief,” he said.
“If you have no belief, you have no chance. We have to have belief and give everything.”