Wenger: Blame me, not my players

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.”