LONDON, January 3 – Arsene Wenger praised Arsenal’s grit and determination as they moved two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a tense 1-0 win over Newcastle United.
After watching Laurent Koscielny’s 72nd-minute strike secure three points at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Wenger said winning ugly will help his players believe they can do so again if they are unable to overwhelm an opponent with their attacking play.
“It was a difficult game against a good Newcastle side,” the Gunners boss said. “Our legs were a bit heavy and we were tested against a team with a lot of good technical quality.
“Our fluency and our movement were not there. From then on it was: Let’s stick together and try to win the game however we can.
“The mental aspect of our team was tested and our defensive solidity more than our ability going forward.
“If you’re in Newcastle’s place you’re sorry for them because they played very well. But I’m in the game long enough that when you’re capable of winning and you don’t play well, that shows the mental aspect of your team.
“Not to drop points when you play like we did is very important. I think it helps the team as well because we go through moments in the season when we will not play well and the memory of having done that before and still having won the game helps you to hang on sometimes.”
A valuable element of Arsenal’s resilience was the reliability of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who made two excellent saves from Georginio Wijnaldum either side of half-time.
“He made two big saves, one in the first half and one at the beginning of the second and on top of that he stays calm, never panics and today we needed that,” Wenger said.
– Satisfied –
As he surveyed a haul of nine points from a Christmas programme of matches against Manchester City, Southampton, Bournemouth and now Newcastle, Wenger agreed that his team had not been consistent but pronounced himself satisfied.
“We have given a lot over Christmas and we had games before like that,” he said.
“At the end of the day, four games, how many points have you made? We knew nine would be acceptable or even good, 10 close to ideal because last year Man City made 10, the second-best made seven, we made six.”
Newcastle manager Steve McClaren was also pleased with his team’s display, which was only lacking quality finishing.
“Goalkeepers win you matches and Cech certainly did that,” he said.
But as well as Cech’s saves, there were times when Newcastle players failed to hit the target when well-placed, and the result was a third successive 1-0 defeat for his relegation-threatened club.
“I’m scratching my head as to how we got nothing from that game,” he said.
“Not many teams will come here and do what we did. But it’s about putting the ball in the back of the net.
“I couldn’t fault what we tried to do. Great spirit, fantastic energy, defended well -– a complete performance without getting the result.
“You’ve got to score first and we didn’t. We always talk about performance and we delivered that. I’d be more worried if we weren’t creating chances.
“In the last three games we’ve been dealt blows but we’ve come back and we have to do that again.”