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.”