Mar 18, 2014

    Wenger praises Koscielny, Mertesacker


    ARSENE Wenger insists that Arsenal's hard-fought 1-0 win over north London rivals Tottenham proves they won't crack under the strain of the Premier League title race.

    Wenger's side have often been accused of lacking the mental strength and physical power to survive the gruelling battle for supremacy at the top of the English table.

    There have never been any questions over the Gunners' technical ability, and that class was clear for all to see as Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky took just 72 seconds to open the scoring at White Hart Lane on Sunday, with a sublime half-volley from an acute angle.

    But Wenger's players spent the remaining 88 minutes engaged in the kind of trench warfare from which they rarely seem to emerge unscathed.

    This time, it was different.

    Arsenal centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker subdued fired-up former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor, while the rest of their teammates threw themselves into the fray with abandon.

    Wenger said: "Today, we had to be tough because Adebayor was sharp, like he always is against us. We needed a good defensive performance and we got it from Mertesacker and Koscielny.

    "Mentally, in the last three games against Everton, Bayern and Tottenham, we have had to be absolutely focused, and that is where our defenders have done very well. They kept their focus for 90 minutes.

    "In the dressing room now, you can see it means a lot. We had a disappointing result against Stoke and that was still on our minds. To stay in the race, it was vital to win here."

    By the time the dust had settled on the 999th match of Wenger's Arsenal reign, the Gunners were firmly back in the title shake-up.

    They trail leaders Chelsea by just four points, with a game in hand, and a titanic showdown with Jose Mourinho's men looms at Stamford Bridge next weekend.

    Fifth-placed Spurs were left to rue a lack of cutting edge as they suffered a third defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours this season.

    Spurs manager Tim Sherwood conceded that their bid to qualify for the Champions League looks destined to end in failure. "I think it was difficult (to make the top four) anyway," he said.