Wenger: Arsenal are back on track
Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal have finally recovered from the mental damage caused by their recent poor run as the Gunners got their title challenge back on track with a 3-1 win at Blackpool.
At the end of February, Wenger's side were dreaming of a quadruple but they lost the League Cup final against Birmingham and crashed out of the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, while their Premier League hopes were derailed by three successive draws.
Wenger admits those setbacks left his squad seriously traumatised but he saw signs in Sunday's victory at Bloomfield Road that a return to the title race is on the cards. Goals from Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Eboue and Robin van Persie moved Arsenal to within seven points of Manchester United and the Gunners also have a game in hand on the leaders, as well as a May clash with Sir Alex Ferguson's side at the Emirates Stadium.
"It was a massive disappointment," Wenger said. "You go through a period of grief and of denial first and then you have to stand up and show you have the mental strengths to respond. The team has done that remarkably well.
"This was only three points but it could help us to keep a chance. We have promised ourselves to give everything until the end of the season. There are still seven games. It is a long time - there are many games."
Wenger was also encouraged by the way German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann played on his first appearance in 11 months. Lehmann, 41, came out of retirement in March to help his former club following Wojciech Szczesny's finger injury against Barcelona.
After first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Almunia broke down with a knee problem in the warm up at Bloomfield Road on Sunday, Lehmann was called into action for the first time since he left Stuttgart in May last year. Wenger is unsure of the severity of Almunia's injury and Szczesny's injury could clear up before Sunday's match against Liverpool.
But the Frenchman insists he would not hesitate to use Lehmann once again if he has to. Wenger said: "I was not concerned because I replaced a good goalkeeper with a good goalkeeper. The only concern was we had no goalkeeper on the bench and if something had happened to Jens, because he had not played for a long time, we would have had a problem. He did well. He was commanding, organising and showed authority, and he was exceptionally good at set pieces."
Lehmann himself believes Arsenal should still be confident of overhauling United. The German, now in his second spell with Arsenal, said: "There are only four points when we win our game in hand. Look at me, you never know what is going to happen in life. Manchester United are a good team but they have to play a lot of competitions in the next weeks and I know from my own experience how exhausting that can be."
Diaby and Eboue put Arsenal ahead in the first half and, after Gary Taylor-Fletcher pulled a goal back, Van Persie rounded off the win late on.
Blackpool remain only one point above the relegation zone after a run of one win in 12 matches. But manager Ian Holloway insists his players must believe they can still pull away from the relegation zone. "We're not even David and Goliath, we're like a gladiator going into the arena with a toothpick," Holloway said. "I might come up against a sword and a shield but we aren't half having a stab at it and I need the lads to keep believing."
Holloway felt his team should have been given at least one penalty and added: "We need a five-second delay and a monitor for the fourth official. Then we'd get every one right. Sir Alex Ferguson wouldn't get fined, no-one would get fined and it would all be perfect."