Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW YATES
Arsene Wenger hailed Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 win over Burnley as proof they have the character to catch runaway leaders Chelsea in the Premier League title race.
Wenger’s side were on the brink of suffering a damaging setback at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser.
Having taken the lead through Shkodran Mustafi’s first goal for the club, Arsenal saw Granit Xhaka sent off for a needless foul and then nearly imploded as Andre Gray struck from the spot following Francis Coquelin’s foul on Ashley Barnes.
Wenger was sent off for rowing with fourth official Anthony Taylor, an argument that included the Frenchman pushing Taylor.
But Arsenal still snatched the points as Alexis Sanchez scored a penalty with virtually the last kick when Laurent Koscielny was kicked in the head by Ben Mee.
The remarkable finale lifted Arsenal into second place, eight points behind Chelsea, and Wenger is confident his players are mentally tough enough to withstand the twists and turns of the title chase.
“We got an unlikely win, when it is 10 against 11 with two minutes to go it is difficult to win,” Wenger said.
“I felt it was a bit frustrating to concede the penalty. Coquelin says he didn’t touch him.
“It was a tense game against a team that made it uncomfortable for us.
“We are a team that keeps going no matter what happens and that is a good thing.”
Wenger apologised for his clash with the officials but he was less forgiving about Xhaka’s second red card for Arsenal, and his third in total this season after also seeing red for Switzerland.
Blaming Xhaka for failing to follow instructions to stay on his feet, Wenger warned the midfielder to curb his over-zealous challenges.
“Once we were 1-0 up we made it more complicated by going down to 10 men,” he said.
“Xhaka has to control his game and not punish the team with a lack of control in his tackling.
“We don’t encourage our midfielders to go down in their tackles and make this type of tackle.”
– ‘Bad taste’ –
Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Hull just hours after Arsenal’s success keeps the west Londoners firmly in control of the title fight.
But Arsenal have won four of their last five league games and with a trip to Stamford Bridge looming on February 4 Wenger challenged his players to keep the pressure on the leaders.
“It is not important to look at the table, it is important to build consistency. We need to build up a winning run,” he said.
Wenger also revealed he was surprised to see Sanchez take the decisive penalty.
The Chilean doesn’t usually have penalty duties, but he avoided a tongue lashing from Wenger with a cheeky chipped finish for his 15th league goal of the season and Wenger said: “He was too cool.
“He was the second penalty taker today, but as long as he scores you have to say well done.”
Burnley boss Sean Dyche was in less sanguine mood after his team were condemned to their ninth defeat in 10 away league games this season.
Blaming the officials’ failure to rule Koscielny offside before he was fouled for the penalty, Dyche fumed: “You can’t believe the decision.
“He had just put his flag up because he thinks he’s offside, then the ref gives the penalty and now the linesman has to be brave.
“He’s offside, simple as that. It’s really disappointing.
“You need the officials to do well. I don’t think at this level you can get that wrong.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”