Tetchy Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger defended his decision to sacrifice 18-goal top-scorer Olivier Giroud following Per Mertesacker’s early dismissal after his side’s title bid stuttered against old foes Chelsea yesterday.
Wenger’s decision was met with a chorus of boos, while the Gunners registered just one shot on target during the entire clash as they forlornly attempted to redress the balance after Diego Costa’s first-half strike.
The Gunners are now winless in their last three Premier League matches and have slipped to third in the table, three points behind leaders Leicester and adrift of Manchester City on goal difference.
“Do you want to make a poll for every decision to see who does what?” said Wenger, whose side have gone more than nine hours of league football without scoring against Chelsea.
“I made the decision and for me it was a normal decision because we had to go from long distances and needed pace to go from one goal to another.
“We knew we had to drop deeper and to use pace to get forward. I thought that was the most rational decision when all the factors were included in that decision.”
Chelsea extended their unbeaten run to seven matches since Guus Hiddink assumed interim charge and victory moved them to 13th, while skipper John Terry’s post-match optimism about a charge for a top-four finish was echoed by the Dutchman.
“There is a gap [14 points to Tottenham in fourth] and if you see how competitive all teams are, at the bottom or high in the rankings, it’s difficult to go into fourth position,” said Hiddink. “But if the captain is saying yes then I will go with my captain.”
Arsenal have now had four players sent off during their last five league matches against Chelsea, who have not lost to the Gunners for nine top-flight showdowns, with Mertesacker the latest culprit.
Striker Costa hared onto a Willian through ball only to be brought down by the lunging German 25 yards from goal in the 18th minute, which prompted referee Mark Clattenburg to issue a straight red.
Wenger hauled off Giroud in favour of centre-half Gabriel, while Costa doled out maximum punishment moments later by meeting an enticing Branislav Ivanovic cross at the near post and sweeping past Petr Cech.
Full-back Nacho Monreal cleared a towering Ivanovic header off the line and, aside from a miscued Mathieu Flamini volley in first-half stoppage time, the most Arsenal could muster were a pair of goalmouth scrambles in the second period.