Wenger: Blame me, not my players

Arsene Wenger insists he is to blame for Arsenal’s failed title bid, not his players, who have displayed "an outstanding attitude".

Heading into Sunday’s clash at Bolton nine points behind Manchester United and three behind Chelsea, the Gunners knew only victory would be good enough against a team hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing by Stoke in the FA Cup semi-finals.

On-loan Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge gave the hosts a 38th-minute lead and, although Kevin Davies’ missed penalty was swiftly followed by Robin van Persie’s equaliser, Bolton kept fighting and were rewarded by Tamir Cohen’s late winner.

It was an emotional moment for the Israeli, whose father Avi died in December following a motorcycle accident, and he removed his shirt to reveal a picture of the former Liverpool defender before collapsing in tears.

Sunday’s defeat followed draws with Liverpool and Tottenham in games where Arsenal had held seemingly decisive leads, and Wenger said of their title hopes: "The chances are very minimal now, that is for sure, but we have to continue to fight.

"We dropped too many points today. It is very frustrating because we should have come home with nine points this week and we came back with two. It’s a bit the story of our season."

Arsenal have been criticised for not showing enough mental strength but Wenger again defended his players and took responsibility for what is set to be a sixth season without silverware.

The Frenchman added: "I feel the players have had an outstanding attitude this season. They are not to blame. If somebody is to blame, it’s me. I pick the team.

"It’s very unsatisfactory because it’s one of the easiest run-ins we’ve had for a long time and we didn’t take our chances many times. That’s frustrating because you feel the potential is there but you have to take your chances.

"We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations."

The pattern of the match would have been frustratingly familiar to Arsenal fans as Wenger’s side dominated possession without pressing home their advantage.

Set-pieces have been the Gunners’ Achilles heel and from a 38th-minute corner Gary Cahill powered in a header that was cleared off the line by Samir Nasri but straight to Sturridge, who nodded in his seventh goal from nine Bolton games.

Cesc Fabregas fired a shot against the post as the first half drew to a close, and things got worse for Arsenal in the opening minute of the second period when Johan Djourou was adjudged to have felled Sturridge in the box.

Davies stepped up but his penalty was weak and easily saved by Wojciech Szczesny, and that looked like being a turning point when Van Persie fired Arsenal level in the 48th minute.

Nasri was denied by Jussi Jaaskelainen in a one-on-one situation after 75 minutes but in the end it was Bolton who created the key late opening when Johan Elmander was denied by Szczesny.

From the resulting corner, and with the clock ticking through 90 minutes, Matthew Taylor picked out the head of substitute Cohen, who buried his header in the back of the net.

Bolton boss Owen Coyle hailed not just the result but the performance of his players after last weekend’s Wembley horror show.

He said: "We were obviously intent on trying to win the game but the biggest thing today for me was we gave a big performance. We showed strength of character, resilience, everything you could ask of a group after having such a horrible day.

"We could have gone 2-0 in front and then Arsenal scored within a minute and, given last week, it would have been easy to feel sorry for ourselves. But we didn’t do that, we got blocks in, and it was fitting that Tamir got the winner on such a wonderful day."