ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger believes his team are still capable of sustaining a challenge for the Premier League title despite seeing Manchester United ominously climb back to the summit, with a game in hand, following last night’s defeat at Old Trafford.
Ji-Sung Park’s splendidly improvised header four minutes before half-time proved the difference and extended Arsenal’s miserable record against their principal title rivals.
The Gunners have now lost 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games against United, who could even afford to miss a late Wayne Rooney penalty, and Chelsea in all competitions, but Wenger (inset) believes it would be wrong to write his side out of the title race on the basis of those statistics.
“Calm down,” he said when asked why his side consistently struggle against the elite. “You have to be realistic and objective and not reach big conclusions.
“It is a big frustration and a big disappointment but what is important is that we bounce back in our next game. Overall on what I have seen tonight there is no reason not to believe.”
Wenger will hope to regain the ground lost last night when United travel to Chelsea on Sunday, while the champions in turn visit the Emirates in a fortnight, where Arsenal should be able to call on Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, who were only fit enough for cameo roles from the bench here.
Despite an abundance of possession, Edwin van der Sar was only seriously tested on one occasion, from a Samir Nasri daisy cutter, which he pushed out in the direction of Marouane Chamakh, but the Morocco striker could not force the ball beyond Nemanja Vidic.
At the other end, Wojciech Szczesny, 20, making an assured Premier League debut, saved well from Anderson and Rooney in the second-half, but had no chance with Park’s deft flick in the 41st minute after Nani’s deflected cross squirted across the penalty area.
Rooney blew the opportunity to make the closing stages comfortable when he went for power rather than placement following the harsh award of a penalty against Gael Clichy for handball.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson added: “We have a difficult game against Chelsea on Sunday but it is also a very important game. If our back four maintain their level of consistency we will have a chance.”
NEMESIS: PARK STRIKES AGAIN
Ji-Sung Park’s winner last night was no one-off occurrence; he has terrorised Arsenal time and time again since joining United.
The Korean applied the coup de grace as United completed a Premier League double over Arsenal last season, Park scoring the third in a 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium
North London has proved a happy hunting ground for Park, who struck the opening goal as United dumped Arsenal out of the Champions League 3-1 in May 2009
As early as April 2006 Park was rippling the Gunners net, this time scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win at Old Trafford as United finished runners-up to Chelsea