Arsenal boss backs flops despite cup humiliation

BRADFORD CITY 1 vs ARSENAL 1

AET; BRADFORD WIN 3-2 ON PENS

CRESTFALLEN Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger refused to blame his players after one of the most humiliating defeats of his 16-year tenure raised further questions about his long-term future at the club.

League Two Bradford’s 3-2 penalty shoot-out victory sent them into the last four of the Capital One Cup for the first time in history and wiped out the Gunners’ hopes of ending their eight-year trophy drought.

Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen went from saviour to scapegoat, forcing extra-time with an 87th minute header that cancelled out Garry Thompson’s opener, but then missing the decisive final spot-kick.

He was by no means the only culprit at Valley Parade – Gervinho wasted an open goal, Santi Cazorla and Marouane Chamakh also spurned penalties – yet a visibly upset Wenger rejected criticism of his players.

“I cannot fault the effort,” he said. “We have put the effort in, have given absolutely everything until the last minute. It was a typical English cup game and Bradford got on top of us in the end. We missed three penalties – that’s a lot to take.

“What is disappointing is [we played for] basically over an hour with five strikers, and couldn’t score. We created a lot of different situations. You have to say they defended very well. It’s difficult to play this kind of game.”

The home side’s success marked their ninth consecutive penalty shoot-out win – an English record – and came despite Wenger picking an almost full-strength team, minus injured striker Olivier Giroud.

Bradford are 65 places below Arsenal in the English game but stunned the visitors by taking the lead in the 16th minute, Thompson volleying home after the Gunners failed to clear a right-wing free-kick.

Francis Coquelin hit a post and Gervinho failed to connect from three yards with the goal gaping, but the expected Arsenal onslaught never emerged as they foundered against Bradford’s diligence.

Bantams forward Nahki Wells prodded inches wide just before the break, and it was not until three minutes from time that Vermaelen forced extra-time with a back-post header from Cazorla’s cross.

Cazorla’s bar-rattling strike was the nearest either side came to avoiding penalties, and Bradford took an early 2-0 lead after the Spaniard’s kick was saved and Chamakh hit the post.

Wojciech Szczesny saved from Stephen Darby and Ritchie Jones to leave Vermaelen needing to net Arsenal’s fifth to ensure sudden-death, but the Belgium defender fired against the upright.